Free cloud storage has really taken off thanks to fast, reliable internet connections. The appeal is understandable: you can store your files online and then access them from any device that's connected to the internet, including desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
You can also back up important files to a remote location (essential in case your own hardware is damaged or stolen), and share files with friends, family and colleagues by simply sending them a link.
The only problem is choice. There are so many free cloud storage services to choose from, it can be hard to decide which is right for you.
Size isn't everything, so as well as capacity, we've also considered the security offered by each service, multi-platform support, ease of use, and any limitations on file size or bandwidth. On with the evaluation.
1. Google Drive
Free storage allowance: 15GB (expandable)
If you're a Google user, you already benefit from Google Drive integration, such as the ability to save email attachments from Gmail. However, everyone is free to sign up for the free cloud storage, even if they don't use the rest of the company's sprawling ecosystem.
With 15GB of space for new users, Google Drive is one of the more generous cloud offerings, and there are various ways to boost this space free of charge (by registering an Android phone, for example).
Mobile apps are available to allow for easy access for iOS and Android users, and the recently release Backup and Sync desktop app allows you to synchronize files from your computer to the cloud. Google Drive includes online office tools that can be collaborated on with others, and sharing files with others is effortless.
Free storage allowance: 10GB (expandable)
You might not recognize the name, but if you're looking for a decent chunk of cloud storage free of charge, pCloud could be just what you're looking for. To kick things off, you're given a fairly generous 10GB to play with, and there's a bandwidth allowance of 50GB per month.
While we're primarily interested in the free version of pCloud, you can upgrade to 500GB of space for a one-time payment of US$125/£110.99 (about AU$170) or 2TB for US$249.98/£220.99 (about AU$330) – great deals for lifetime storage.
New users are given 10GB of space free, which you can double by referring friends, and pCloud offers well designed desktop and mobile apps that supplement the website.
With no limit on file sizes, and simple sharing options, pCloud is a great way to send large files to friends and colleague – it's even possible to share with people who aren't using the service themselves. Add decent streaming options and a neat online interface, and pCloud is well worth a look.
Free storage allowance: 5GB
Coming from Microsoft – a company with plenty of money to throw at the cloud – it's a little disappointing to find that OneDrive doesn’t include more space free of charge. Free users get a mere 5GB of space, although it's relatively inexpensive to increase this to 50GB.
If you have Office 365, you'll automatically get boosted to 1TB of storage, but not everyone wants an Office subscription.
Like Google Drive's appeal to Google users, OneDrive will appeal more to anyone who is committed to using Microsoft's services. There's neat integration with Outlook.com, for instance. OneDrive also ties in nicely with Windows 10, and there is a selection of reasonable mobile apps to facilitate access on the move.
It's possible to share files with other people even if they aren't OneDrive users (complete with customizable permissions), and the ability to edit files online without downloading them is a welcome touch.
Free storage allowance: 2GB (expandable)
Dropbox is a stalwart of the free cloud storage world. Its web interface underwent a makeover recently, but little has changed under the hood.
Despite its popularity, DropBox actually has one of the least generous free packages for new users (just 2GB), but there are various ways to boost this space without paying, including inviting friends to join (500MB per referral), completing the Getting Started guide (250MB) and contributing to the Dropbox forum (500MB per 'Mighty Answer').
DropBox really comes into its own when you start delving into its extra features. There's a great collaborative working tool called DropBox Paper, you can restore files you've deleted, and – if you install the desktop app – you can back up photos automatically.
There are desktop apps for Windows, Mac and Linux. This gives DropBox broad appeal, as does the support for third-party apps and services.
The web version of DropBox lets you edit files without the need to download them, and really the only thing that counts against the free cloud storage service is that most alternatives offer more space.
Free storage allowance: 10GB (expandable)
MediaFire has in fact been around for about a decade, and those years of experience really show. You're given 10GB of free space initially, but you can boost this by an extra 40GB through activities like referring friends and following MediaFire's social media accounts. Few people would disagree that 50GB of free cloud storage is impressive. Free accounts carry ads, but this is a small sacrifice.
There's support for very large apps, and the sharing options are very impressive, even allowing sharing with non-users.
The web-based interface is excellent too, and MediaFire offers mobile apps for convenient uploading and downloading via iOS and Android. These make it easy to access files you're storing in the cloud, and include convenient features such as automatic photo syncing.