Recently there was a discussion in our forum about data recovery and we were quite surprised to discover that many people don’t think that data recovery software works. In our experience, it does work more often than not and it’s saved me many times after accidentally deleting important files, or after formatting a hard drive and forgetting to backup some files. There was only once, I wrongly formatted my external hard drive and somehow I wasn’t able to get back all my files. I have several external hard drives, all with the same casing and no label. I guess the reason I wasn’t able to get back my files is because I might have copied some files to another hard drive.
The data recovery market is quite competitive and there are loads of products out there, but mostly it’s paid commercial software. Some may have a free version or trial but usually you only get to view the files that can be recovered or you’re able to recover a small amount of data such as 64KB. There are still some free and unrestricted products out there that can help you get your files back, and we have 10 useful data recovery programs here for you to have a look at.
When recovering data from deletion or corruption, there are some simple rules to follow for the best chance of recovery:
- 1. Try to stop using the hard drive or partition you want to recover from because if you’re trying to recover files from your C drive for example, any activity such as browsing the internet might accidentally overwrite what you’re trying to get back.
- 2. Do NOT install, download or extract the data recovery software on to the hard drive or external device that you want to recover from.
- 3. Do NOT save the recovered files onto the same hard drive that you’re recovering from, some recovery tools will automatically warn you or not allow you to do it.
Do take note that these are our top 10 picks for Free data recovery software and are in no particular order of preference. Being at number 1 does not necessarily mean it is better than number 5.
Recuva is a free Windows utility from the makers of CCleaner to restore files that have been accidentally deleted from your computer. This includes FAT, NTFS and exFAT file systems, and files emptied from the Recycle bin as well as images, music, video and other files that have been deleted by user error from digital camera/phone memory cards or MP3/MP4 players. By using the more thorough Deep Scan mode you have a better chance to recover files, and “Scan for non-deleted files” turns Recuva’s search mode into recovering files from damaged or formatted partitions. There’s also a useful secure file eraser so selected deleted files cannot be recovered.
The zip file is only 3MB in size and it’s portable (an installer version is available) giving Recuva an advantage over some other tools which need installing.
2. PC Inspector File Recovery
PC Inspector can recover data from most FAT and NTFS partitions even if the boot sector has been erased or damaged. You can also save recovered files onto network drives and several types of video, audio, pictures and archives with damaged headers can be recovered using a special mode. Formats include ARJ, AVI, BMP, DOC, DXF, XLS, EXE, GIF, HLP, HTML, JPG, LZH, MID, MOV, MP3, PDF, PNG, RTF, TAR, TIF, WAV and ZIP. You can also scan just specific areas of the disc with the Cluster scanner if you know the lost files are near the beginning, middle or end of the drive etc.
The setup file is 3.3 MB in size. The FAQ says it’s not compatible with any Windows operating system above XP although it ran perfectly fine on Windows 7 when tested.
PhotoRec is bundled with the corrupted drive/partition recovery tool TestDisk, and between them make a powerful combination of recovery tools, although the DOS interface might put some users off. The program is quite intuitive though and the menu driven interface will guide you through recovering data from FAT, NTFS, exFAT, Linux ext2/3/4 and HFS+ partitions from almost any type of media. Do note that PhotoRec will recover ALL files from the free space or whole drive unless you filter out unneeded file extensions using File Opts.
PhotoRec and Testdisk are portable, open source and cross platform with separate versions for Windows, DOS, Linux and Mac.
4. LazeSoft Data Recovery Home/Free
The LazeSoft program has 2 modes; deleted or lost file recovery for general undelete purposes, and a partition recovery mode which can find and recover files and folders in formatted, lost or damaged partitions. It can recover data from FAT, NTFS (including encrypted and compressed), memory cards, USB, phones/mp3 players and RAID arrays etc. MBR, GPT partitions and dynamic partitions can be scanned in the partition recovery mode. You can easily narrow down your file search by using the filter option or File Type tab.
LazeSoft has 2 free versions for download, the 6MB Free edition simply installs and works within Windows, the 21MB Home edition has an added option to create a bootable CD/USB/ISO recovery disc. Using this could greatly reduce the risk of overwriting files you’re trying to recover.
5. Wise Data Recovery
This utility is one of the fastest undelete tools around, looks good and has an intuitive interface. Wise data recovery can find deleted files from local drives, USB drives, cameras, memory cards, removable media devices etc. As well as being easy to use, it also includes a fast search filter by selecting in-built file extension groups using the file’s type. Although the scanning is fast, the program has no deep scan mode which it could mean a slightly reduced chance of recovering the most hard to recover files.
An installer executable or portable version is available, the portable version is on the Download page and not the product page. Wise Data Recovery is compatible with Windows XP up to Windows 8.