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I was looking for an online cloud storage system to backup precious family photos and videos. Around 50 GB worth. I already had backed them up on CD ROM, and with a house move coming up, I was starting to go through my things, throwing out anything I no longer needed, when I came upon my boxes of rewritable CD ROMs and remembered I had only transferred a handful of them to my Seagate external Hard Disk Drive (HDD) a long time ago.Some of these CD ROMs were looking rather discoloured and I began to worry they won’t last much longer – or may have already been damaged by the cold, as my husband had left them outside in the metal shed when we moved in here 6 months ago. Judging by the minus temperatures we’ve been having since Christmas and what with all the papery stuff in the shed that I’ve retrieved recently all seeming pretty moist and curled up, sadly, I had to bin some of my books because of this. Wish I had known this before I had allowed my husband to stick them in the shed. I’ve never used sheds to store anything before, when I used to live in houses at some points of my life, so never knew that things in sheds get very moist. I am really a born-and-bred city girl who grew up in apartments (and some of these bigger than some of the tiny little houses we’d lived in in England so far)… but I live an learn. I got worried for my other stuff so I began to dig out my external HDD 3 days ago, and tried to have all of the CD ROM files copied onto the external HDD as a second backup.

I’d shelled out over £50 for that external HDD a few years ago and when I first got it, I had it plugged into my desktop computer so it came on whenever the computer came on, and switched off whenever the computer switched off. Since my computer was on a fair few hours each day, it was on for a fair few hours each day. Ever since I got rid of my desktop computer like 2 years ago and used a good laptop, I hardly ever took the external HDD out except when I needed to find some file that I remember I’d stored on it. It stayed in the cupboards for quite a while.

Now in the past day, I started reading up about the longevity of these external HDD. At the time when I bought it, I thought it a good investment, as I mistakenly assumed it would last longer than CD ROMs. Well I done some research on Google searches and found that the inverse was true! Apparently external HDD – in fact, all HDDs whether external or internal – have around a 12% failure rate for each year that you use it after the first 3 years. And since I had bought it about 4 or 5 years ago… yikes. Okay the statistics were made on external HDDs that were always plugged into desktop computers and so came on whenever the computers were on. Since I haven’t had that sort of setup since I got rid of the desktop computer 2 years ago like… I think my external HDD should be okay for at least a year more or two. Still, it made me think about putting copies of my photos and videos somewhere else. Just to make it more secure. Oh and I thought about buying a new external HDD… but that’s another £50 odd to spend on a new one so I’ll leave that decision for a while.

I started looking at online cloud storage facilities. I already make use of Dropbox and Google Drive. Google Drive not so much, because I uninstalled it from my laptop about a year ago after noticing the syncing that happened whenever I turned my laptop on was taking a bit longer than I’d like. I only had Dropbox installed on my laptop until a couple days ago, when today I opted for Google Drive storage because I was already quite deeply entrenched in the Google system and well, it was the cheapest, so I paid the $2 something monthly fee by card. So far so good. Yay, I’ve got my 100GB cloud storage.

Then I installed the Google Drive application on my laptop once again, hoping this time it was an updated and better version than the slow one before. I then tried to copy and paste the entire photo and video collection from my external HDD and pasted it onto my Google Drive. And left my laptop alone for a good hour or so. When I checked back, I was so disappointed to find that after all that time, it only managed to sync about 18 digital photos and 2 videos. Damn it was slow. Over the next 3 hours, I tried pausing and resuming upload, following tips online for speeding it up, etc. Nothing improved the speed. Granted one of the first mistakes I made, which I found out then, was to try and copy and paste my ENTIRE collection of photos and videos into Google Drive. Apparently it is always going to take longer to sync a huge load of files, than one single file. And it would be best if I synced small groups of files one group at a time. But still it was slow. If this kept going on, I thought, it would take maybe 3 months to upload everything onto my Google Drive, and maybe more. Not wanting to be too pessimistic, I did a quick Google search online for comments on the speed of the service, and the general consensus seems to be that Google Drive is indeed, slow. Read the T&Cs and was disappointed to find that they don’t give refunds at all. Oh well… yeah, I should have read that before I paid, I guess, but for that small price, it’s not that bad a loss. But I was quite disappointed still, as I felt like I’d wasted a few hours of time trying to make this work.

I then did a little more research on all the other cloud storage facilities available and were suited to my data needs, and read the reviews on all of them. Decided finally to settle on Dropbox. Yes, it was a lot more costly to use Dropbox’s paid facility considering I only need about 100 GB of storage max, really, as my collection of family photos and videos over the last 10 years only amounted to about 50 GB so far. I don’t envisage it going to 100 GB for another good 5 years at least. However, Dropbox, unlike Google Drive, only had one paid subscription option for individuals, which is the 1 TB cloud storage for £7.99 per month. Oh well, I thought… just try it out for a month. I checked the T&Cs. No refunds again. Hmmph! Seems like I’ll just have to take the somewhat minor financial plunge in order to see how good the service is!

Well let me tell you I wasn’t disappointed. Yes this time I did make sure I only synced a couple of files each time to avoid causing the upload speeds to be slow. Still, Dropbox managed to sync each group of files in about 5 mins per batch. That to me was quick, compared to Google Drive sync speeds earlier in the day.

I think I will just stick to good old Dropbox for now and the foreseeable future. Also, with the 1 TB storage (that’s a lot for someone like me…), I can now backup any other files I have without worrying about my account going over the quota. I guess the only concern I’d have right now is whether Dropbox might close shop suddenly one day and lose all of my files. I hope they will give me ample time to buy a new external HDD to stick all my files into! Oh yeah, I read one of their T&Cs which said that if I decide to cancel my 1 TB storage subscription in future, therefore downgrading my account to a free one with a 2 GB storage, they wouldn’t delete any of my files. However, they would sortta freeze my account in a way, as in I wouldn’t be allowed to sync my Dropbox account anymore, until I have removed the necessary files to ensure that my total Dropbox file size does not exceed the free account’s 2 GB maximum quota.

Sounds okay to me.

EDIT (10th Jan 2015) : Well, after using Dropbox for a few days, let me tell you, it was not so easy. I started getting error messages saying “Hard drive is full, Dropbox cannot sync”. It was so mystifying to me – I don’t know much about technicalities in computers. Really don’t. At first, I just clicked it off and tried cutting and pasting smaller file groups into my Dropbox PC app. And then files synced fine. Later on though, I was getting that same error message again. This time cutting and pasting smaller file groups didn’t work.

I started Googling for answers. I found Google results from Dropbox’s own FAQs about the error message. They said to go into Dropbox app’s settings and use the Selective Sync funtion to limit the number of files the PC syncs with the Dropbox app. It was here that I learnt something new. I didn’t know that the PC had to have the SAME files on it as on your Dropbox PC App in order for it to sync. And it’s a bit complicated for me to understand this syncing business because I thought you had to sync in order to upload files onto Dropbox and hence store it there – in my 1 TB Dropbox storage, that I purchased a few days ago! But hey, now I know that it’s okay to delete off files you’ve already synced with Dropbox (i.e. uploaded onto your Dropbox account) off your Dropbox app because the same files will still be there if you access Dropbox from your mobile phone Dropbox app or from Dropbox’s internet site.

So I did just that.

But hey, still getting that hard drive error message after a while. What a headache! So off to Google I go, to find more answers. But all I found was a mishmash of forum conversations about the buggy Dropbox PC app and the memory it uses on PCs and stuff. It was too technical for me, so I didn’t understand a lot of it. It did give me the idea of going into My Computer > Drive C to check how much free space was left on my hard disk though. And I was shocked to see that what used to be 125 GB of free space on my hard disk has now turned into only a measly 5 GB of space! What in the world was eating up all my disk space? Well I thought maybe to do with the buggy app. So I uninstalled and installed again. Nope same error message. I ran Disk Cleanup for the umpteenth time. I hate running it. It takes forever to complete. But yes, after doing that, still got the annoying hard disk full error message.

What then? I noticed that in Disk Cleanup, there was always the Recycle Bin bit, which seemed to take up loads of disk space. Even though I ran the Disk Cleanup loads of times after getting the hard disk drive full error message, I had a feeling maybe it didn’t clean up everything in the Bin. So I went into the Recycle Bin on my PC to see what was on there. Well it was ALL of the files I had originally transferred from my external hard drive to my Dropbox account. They were all transferred already, and I had deleted them off my Dropbox PC app already. I had also set Selective Sync not to sync those files that were already uploaded to my Dropbox account. Yet here they were, in the Recycle Bin, taking up GBs of space. So I mass-deleted them all. Took a short while for my PC to process, but hey after that, when I went into My Computer > Drive C to check how much free space is left on my hard disk, I was pleased to note that it’s now back to 125 GB again.

Ah then, that wasn’t the end of my problems. Sometimes I erroneously tried to upload files onto my Dropbox account that I had already uploaded before, and then that file appears on my Dropbox app as a file with a gray minus sign next to it. To show that file will not be synced because I had already uploaded it before and instructed Selective Sync to NOT sync it. It’s very confusing business this. You see, I have literally hundreds, if not thousands of photos and videos taking up more than 50GB of space. When I upload the files, I would just copy a batch of files I want uploaded from my external hard disk drive, and paste them into my Dropbox PC app. Now whenever the hard disk drive error message crops up, syncing immediately stops. The problem is that some of the files would have been transferred, whereas some not so, and now I had to manually check which ones have and which ones haven’t, because there was simply no logic in this. It seems the computer just selects files randomly or whatever. I usually arrange my files on my hard disk in alphabetical or numerical order, and then cut and paste them in dropbox in that order. But now, if I see the last file transferred on Dropbox was such and such, it doesn’t mean that the files before it had been transferred already! So annoying. So now I’ve got to go through hundreds and thousands of my photos and videos to see which ones have transferred and which haven’t. Sigh, this is taking up a lot more time and effort than I initially thought it would be.

Not only that, but the Dropbox PC app IS buggy. I was talking about that gray minus sign thing next to files I’m trying to upload (erroneously so) that I’d already uploaded before and told Selective Sync not to sync up again right? Well I’d try to get rid of them by clicking on them and deleting them, just as Dropbox’s FAQ suggests to do. Well Dropbox’s advice didn’t work, because when I did just that, they didn’t get deleted. Instead I got some Windows error messages saying something like “Action denied because this file is being used by some application” or something. Arghhh!! This is so annoying! So I figured out a way, which is to go onto Dropbox’s website on my PC’s browser, and delete off the “Selective Sync error” files… and this then ensured all those annoying files with the gray minus signs next to them disappeared off my Dropbox PC app!

You’d wish Dropbox told you about all these problems right from the start, so you don’t have to take ages to figure them out right? I wish there was some dummy guide to Dropbox somewhere that would teach all these things rather than us learning the hard way, after hours and hours of tinkling. Well maybe what I’ve written will be “dummy guide” enough for somebody just starting out on Dropbox! (Or possibly any online cloud storage application… I heard they might all be the same when it comes to these issues)