Storage

Five data recovery apps that could make you a hero

When you get a panicked call from someone whose hard disk has crashed (with precious files that weren't backed up), one of these apps might save the day.

As IT pros, we all get those occasional phone calls from friends and family who want us to save their data after a hard drive crash. Since backups are usually nonexistent in those situations, I thought I would take the opportunity to talk about a few of the data recovery utilities that are available.

Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.

1: VirtualLab Data Recovery

VirtualLab Data Recovery (Figure A), which sells for $39.95, is designed to be an all-purpose data recovery utility. Besides supporting the usual FAT, FAT-32, and NTFS file systems, it supports Mac HFS / HFS+ and even NFS. In addition, it supports data recovery on devices such as USB flash drives and camera memory cards. In my opinion, its most useful feature is the ability to make a sector-by-sector copy of a failing hard drive. This allows you to focus on the recovery process without having to worry about the hard drive degrading further or failing completely in the middle of your recovery efforts.

Figure A

VirtualLab Data Recovery

2: File Scavenger - Data Recovery Utility

File Scavenger - Data Recovery Utility (Figure B) is another tool for recovering lost data. Like most disk repair utilities, File Scavenger (which sells for $49.95) can retrieve data from corrupt volumes. However, the tool's main emphasis is on recovering data that was deleted accidentally. This includes data residing on partitions that have been deleted or on disks that have been reformatted.

Figure B

File Scavenger - Data Recovery Utility

3: BootSuite 2012

BootSuite 2012 from Spotmau (Figure C) is much more than just a disk repair utility. The utility, which retails for $99.95, does have a "super data rescue package," but that's just one of its eight primary features. The utility is also designed to fix boot problems, recover from blue screen errors, and reset lost Windows passwords. The company also offers a premium version called PowerSuite Golden 2012 for $150.95, which can even find your Windows and Microsoft Office product keys.

Figure C

BootSuite 2012

4: Recover My Files

Recover My Files (Figure D) is a basic disk recovery utility. However, its niche is file recovery. Recover My Files is designed to recognize more than 200 file formats. So it can look at the fragments of data that remain on a corrupt volume and use file signature data to recognize things like Word documents and JPEG images.

Figure D

Recover My Files

Recover My Files offers three versions of its software, ranging in price from $69.99 to $299.99. The lower-end version is designed for small office or home users, while the more expensive version is geared toward pros who recover data on a regular basis.

5: Kernel Data Recovery

Kernel Data Recovery offers a basic Windows Data Recovery tool (Figure E) that can recover missing, deleted, lost, and inaccessible data from FAT and NTFS volumes. It sells for $69.00. While there is nothing particularly noteworthy about this tool, the thing that caught my attention was the variety of recovery products the company offers.

Figure E

Windows Data Recovery tool

There have been plenty of occasions when someone has asked me to recover a failed hard drive, but they're usually more interested in getting back a specific type of data (their pictures, spreadsheets, etc.). Kernel Data Recovery offers a number of niche products that are geared for specific types of data recovery. For example, there are tools for recovering email messages, corrupt PDF files, and corrupt OpenOffice documents. There is even a utility for repairing corrupt backups.

Other choices?

Do you have a favorite data recovery tool? Share your recommendations with fellow TechRepublic members.

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

51 comments
MaryBoggs
MaryBoggs

Im using the Virtualab since they have a free data retrieval software that we had deleted on our mac , free 1 gig retrieval of data is a lot ..and works too on any windows OS you had.Glad that i found the one im using on a top 5 list. for those who needs to recover their data on pc/phone here's the link:

https://datarecoverysoftware.net/free-data-recovery-software-mac.html

amanoduarte
amanoduarte

I have used Kernel Data Recovery software to recover lost data from my PC, It works instantly.

Thanks Brien Posey

bobbymiles698
bobbymiles698

Virtuallab worked fine! The recovered files were in their correct folders. Even files that I had deleted long ago were recovered. I have to say that VirtualLab Data Recovery is simply amazing; more than I would expect for the money spent. https://binarybiz.com/

MichaelSteverson
MichaelSteverson

I have been using FileRecovery from LC-Tech.com. Works great and got my files back.

ManlyElectronics
ManlyElectronics

I've just paid for TechRepublic subscription. Shocking "accuracy" of this spam article makes me wonder was it worth it and is worth reading TechRepublic at all.

oliverpowell
oliverpowell

All the info were great and truly inspirable. I have one software to recommend named 'Stellar Phoenix Partition Recovery Software'. This software can recover almost any type of files and folders from different type of data loss conditions. Thanks Oliver

gechurch
gechurch

Like others, I love TestDisk. I've used it to rewrite partition tables before. I also find it fairly consistently finds data that other software couldn't. The recovery process is a bit clunky though - I didn't even realise that you could recover the files for probably the first 6 months I used the tool! I also like EasyRecovery. It doesn't have any special tricks up its sleeve like some other tools, but it's a very solid tool that offers all sorts of recovery techniques. It's generally my first port of call. I particularly like how you can define your own file signature when doing a raw recovery. This lets you look for and recover only files of certain formats, even if the format is not common (or even unique to your application or field). Zero Assumption Recovery is a tool I'll try if EasyRecovery doesn't work. Raid Reconstructor is worth a mention, in case you're ever in the unfortunate situation of needing to recover data from a RAID array. I'll also mention Unstoppable Copier. It's a file copy tool (so requires the drive have a drive letter and be accessible), but I sometimes use it to easily copy the readable data from a drive that I know has bad sectors (I usually clone instead, but sometimes have the clone refuse to complete, or sometimes only want a folder's worth of data so don't want to wait for the clone to finish).

ator1940
ator1940

Parted Magic is a live Linux CD, that loads, and runs, from memory. I had a friend at work that lost her HD, and I gave her a copy of PM. She reported that she had gotten all her files, photos, videos, and documents. I've used it for deleting partitions, resizing, and adding. It's a GREAT tool, and it is FREE.

Gary80
Gary80

I have a HDD that does not even go past POST(makes knock sound)? How do I recover the data off there, if possible?

pkombala
pkombala

One of the best data recovery software, Try this Finaldata

rsarceno
rsarceno

I agree with TECHASAURUS, but more in favor with EaseUS because it haven't failed me yet and much faster.

trevora
trevora

Surprised Kroll Ontrack EasyRecovery wasn't on the list. I've bought it through versions and been successful with it.

yairpinyan
yairpinyan

Aren't there any decent free ones?

SnarfOscarBoondoggle
SnarfOscarBoondoggle

sorrrrrry ... i only read 'top rated' replies before replying sted read-all. i;m glad SpinRite has generated lots of quality replies ... some of them should have made it into 'top rated' imnsho. tia,sob

SnarfOscarBoondoggle
SnarfOscarBoondoggle

before you have to recover a drive, prevent its demise. i can sort of understand why SpinRite ( http://grc.com ) was omitted from this article since it is not explicitly designated as a recovery tool even though it DOES RECOVER as well as repair as well as refresh every bit location on the hd. i, adn many of my clients, have been grateful satisfied with SpinRite since ver 3.5 (lat 80s i believe) and it;s on 5.0 last i upraded.

jfuller05
jfuller05

Currently, I use recuva. While it's good, these look better.

kelleyjl
kelleyjl

Great tool, lifetime updates. Windows told me the drive had no data. Recover for all retrieved over 140,000 files. Worth looking at.

wwgorman
wwgorman

I have used Data Rescue to recover data from failed hard drives. I lost my main drive C: as well as 3 external back-up hard drives in one instant one day with ALL my photos. I recovered all. I had to use an external drive connector and the one I selected from a number on the market was from Fnet which services both IDE and SATA drives. I have used it on both types with the Data Rescue CD-ROM successfully.

rizzomeister
rizzomeister

Don't forget that spinrite is also a maintenance tool. Running it every so often will negate the need for these other tools.

Dyalect
Dyalect

Never rely on a single hard drive for anything. Clonezilla Custom Script on a scheduled task

Fahim@sickkids
Fahim@sickkids

When i was exausting myself with all kind of utility to restore my years of data from my faulty hard drive... Virtual Lab software saved my day... I tried the test version and was positive about the result. So i went ahead and bought the apps and it did its magic.. While other utilities restored my data in a scattered manner.... VirtualLab restored everything exactly as it was before the harddrive failed...i am and will always be thankful to this wonderful software... //Fahim

Nookhoek
Nookhoek

It's interesting, what everyone has to say about data recovery. I can't afford the decent ones that you've got to buy, before you can use them effectively, so I went looking for a free one. Not all of them, paid or free, are able to recover Windows 7 Media Center (.wtv) Recorded TV Programmes, so I had to look quite hard to find one. I eventually stumbled upon PC Inspector File Recovery, and that was the one that rescued a duplicate of the recording that I had made, when another freebie (I don't recall the name) found it, but for some unknown reason, couldn't give me a useable copy of the same file (it wasn't even fragmented!) PC Inspector File Recovery saved the day!!! Best of all, it's 100% free!!! I don't know about you, but I love it!!! It can recover just about anything you want, including photos, but the ability to do .wtv files is special to me, since that's what I needed it for, and not all Data Recovery Software can do .wtv files, they don't even find them.

Katesigma
Katesigma

I have a crashed drive and really, whatever is on there if its gone its not the end of my world...but I have photo's on there that I'd really like to recover...anyone have any suggestions...freeware if possible????

erlo
erlo

The Sleuth Kit is in my opinion invaluable for recovering lost data from hard disks. While it takes a bit of learning, it really does a good job.

TECHASAURUS
TECHASAURUS

I recommend using GetDataBack for NTFS and/or FAT. I've been able to pull data from drives that other programs fail to pull including GHOST and EASEUS Data Recovery. I've never heard of the 5 programs mentioned above but will of course try them out when the time calls for it!

majortomgb
majortomgb

Recuva is really good at recovering lost files and why not use the Linux testdisk and photrec utilities. Testdisk managed to recover a deleted Windows partition in about 5 minutes for me and has proven really useful

dia24
dia24

hi , friends i think you have not included one best files recovery program in the list for [http://www.myfilerecovery.net/software-for-windows.html]Windows file recovery tool[/url] which is very best as per my personal experience as it helped me to overcome Windows related issue. so please include Remo Recover (Windows) also in list.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Ghost looks to be a real old program.I suspect that it's even a chip flasher's program.A couple of clicks and you're done.Many restore programs started out simple like Ghost then they got so complex as to be unusable.The message is your computer is going to screw up so you better be ready.

Jeff7181
Jeff7181

My favorite data recovery solution is to restore a backup.

jglezar
jglezar

I use R-Studio Network. It is also very good

johngarmon
johngarmon

Spinrite is not new, but is unbelievable!

gechurch
gechurch

Firstly you should always pull the hard drive out and plug it in as a slave on another PC. Even if it does boot, you need somewhere to store the files you recover and you don't want to put them back on the original drive in case you wipe over other lost files, or in case the drive is bad. If the drive doesn't detect then you've got a physical problem which means either the logic board, or the inner components of the drive. One common problem is you will hear the drive click fairly constantly. This happens when the drive cannot find sector zero and keeps resetting itself and trying again. You can try putting the drive in a freezer for a while. If you are lucky enough to have that work then get your data off quick, because it won't last long. If the drive isn't clicking you may have a problem with the logic board (the circuitry on the underside of the drive). Logic boards are really easy to replace (just undo half a dozen torx screws) - the hard part is finding an identical one to replace it with. Your best bet is to find the markings on the board (there will probably be a couple of stickers with serial numbers, plus one large chip on the logic board with markings). Type these into an Ebay search and see what you can find. Generally you have to find an identical replacement for it to work (I've heard that to work the replacement must have been made from the same factory within about two weeks of the original board). If I can't find an identical board but find an extremelt similar one I will sometimes give it a go. I've never had it work on a modern HDD, but once had it work on a 40GB Maxtor IDE drive (in fact, the replacement board was from a slightly different HDD model number - obviously that model had the same number of platters etc, and used the same logic for both. Modern drives are a lot more complicated than that). One last thought - you can get USB to SATA/IDE adapters. These are pretty cheap and are sometimes worth a try if you can't get past POST with a drive plugged in. Just don't hold your breathe in expectation of this working.

ThePickle
ThePickle

A file is a file. Regardless of the extension, the file is either recoverable or it's not. Any tool which limits you to recovering files based on file extensions is utter garbage. Get a real recovery program which searches raw sectors for deleted data. That's how you'll get ALL your files back, not just this extension or that extension.

Nookhoek
Nookhoek

It's interesting, what everyone has to say about data recovery. I can't afford the decent ones that you've got to buy, before you can use them effectively, so I went looking for a free one. Not all of them, paid or free, are able to recover Windows 7 Media Center (.wtv) Recorded TV Programmes, so I had to look quite hard to find one. I eventually stumbled upon PC Inspector File Recovery, and that was the one that rescued a duplicate of the recording that I had made, when another freebie (I don't recall the name) found it, but for some unknown reason, couldn't give me a useable copy of the same file (it wasn't even fragmented!) PC Inspector File Recovery saved the day!!! Best of all, it's 100% free!!! It can do all other file types, as far as I know, including photos. I don't know about you, but I love it!!! It can recover just about anything you want, including photos, but the ability to do .wtv files is special to me, since that's what I needed it for, and not all Data Recovery Software can do .wtv files, they don't even find them.

SKDTech
SKDTech

If the drive does not have a physical failure then Spinrite is my tool of choice, it is not free though. It has never let me down. Unfortunately, if your drive has suffered a physical failure, ie motors or heads damaged, then the only option left is to send off to one of the specialty companies. As for free.... I have used the first three programs from the following list to varying degrees of success. http://lifehacker.com/5237503/five-best-free-data-recovery-tools

gurusnord
gurusnord

I would second this choice. I've used RunTime's GetDataBack for NTFS on a number of occasions to recover data from a failing drive and it has saved my bacon. I've also not heard of the five apps mentioned but would be willing to evaluate them.

iskanta
iskanta

I tried Recuva once and recovered all my deleted files. However, it just dumped all the files (from different sub directories) in just one directory! That was a mess. Unless I'm missing the option to recover the files in their previous locations itself. Do you know if such an option exists? Any other freeware that can do that?

Zwort
Zwort

Test disc indeed. Not to forget Handy recovery, for which there is still a free version, ARDC Data Recovery Tools and NTFSUndelete. It goes without saying that Zero assumption recovery (not free) is pretty clever too and, for those who like to obviate problems, why not use a disc imaging package such as Acronis corporate or home, drive image XML (free), Clonezilla (free; thanks to someone who pointed it out to me on TechRep), XXClone (free) and not to forget the completely free Comodo Backup; it puts stuff into zip files, and I'm not sure if I like that. I became used to proprietary files in the 90s and zip files somehow seem, well naff.

NetMammal
NetMammal

I've probably done 20-30 recovery attempts over the years, and although I can't say that SpinRite is all-powerful magic, it has got some unique mojo, and it is a valuable "black-box" of a tool. If you go to the SpinRite website, be prepared for a lot of mumbo-jumbo baloney. Even if your BS detector is turned down to "1", his web site will probably pin your needle. The author (Steve Gibson) has since fashioned himself into a well-know (but does not know well) Internet security blow-hard, who is really good at coming out with inflammatory quotes that the press loves, the kind that keep my dad from using the internet to this day. Ignore your gut, and buy this tool the next time you get a disk that is still (mostly) readable, but is barfing half-way through the clone job. About a quarter to half the time Spin-Rite will "repair" the bad sectors so you can clone the darn thing before it dies. Mr. Gibson claims it makes multiple reads of problematic areas, varying the framis, so that it can auto-magically extrapolate the who-zie-whatsit, and recover the bits. ...Whatever! Besides which it is totally old-school assembly language programming, with fun old-fashioned VGA blinkenLightsen fer du technischen peepers. It has not been updated in years, and I still don't really know what it does, so that is why I call it a black-box. If Mr. Gibson were not so fond of fancy made-up terms for what his product does, and had gotten around to writing the documentation for the final version like his web site claims he would, we might know. I'm going to check out the first tool in this list, but when you want a bootable disk back instead of just the files from it, SpinRite can make you feel like you are a HDD god. Nobody else mentioned this, but I like the PMagic live CD better than the more popular Clonezilla. I've got version 14(?) of Norton Ghost, and the only advantage it has over the live CDs is that I can run it on my main Windows machine, and still use Windows while it is running. It is hard to use, not all that failure resilient, and has a bunch of "artificial" limitations that I can not figure out why. I prefer PMagic.

TelcoChuck
TelcoChuck

This tool is also a maintenance tool -- I run it (very intermittently) on my machines to refresh the disk surfaces. When i do this, it seems to make the drive automatically repair marginal areas, and I don't get any failure symptoms. The reason I run it very intermittently, is because spinrite is a dos program (and won't run in a window or virtual machine), and it can take a very long time on large (2gb) drives.

Zwort
Zwort

Yes, Handy Recovery. Naturally it's hard to find his link to the free version on this page: http://www.handyrecovery.com/ Whenever I've had to - away from this machine/my stock of files - I've been able to find it after careful looking. However, I've just found a copy of the web page that I saved in that sub directory and the original link is preserved: http://www.handyrecovery.com/handyrecovery-fw.exe There are options to restore folder structure and to recover alternative data teams.

johngarmon
johngarmon

Steve Gibson makes his living from SpinRite, and supports many security-minded projects for free. I did not see any BS on his website. There is greatly detailed information about how things work IF YOU ARE CURIOUS. I really appreciated the education I got from his website! He has done marvelous work against DOS attacks, and provided the information to the public for free! Honestly, it was hard for me to read your post.

Zwort
Zwort

Hmm. That's what I feared, having used the package on an ailing drive. This machine has 3 x 1 Tb drives and a number of others. It'll take more than a night I fear, any ideas? I might just fire it up overnight and see what happens when I return.

Zwort
Zwort

I think the truth is somewhere in between; Gibson is a bit of a drama queen. He is knowledgeable on data recovery and security. During the 90s there were a few good pages on his site about network bondage that gave no nonsense ways to overcome inherent MS security problems, plus I think an applet that would do the job for the lazy. OTOH, he laces his speech with (IMNSVHO) melodramatic turns of phrase and intonation that go way beyond what is needed. There was an interesting and dramatic incident in which his site was taken down. He brought it back up and, by careful observation of the bot that had been attacking him, he found its writer. This is the sort of thing that I've seen praised here, and it came a long time ago. If only he wasn't such a drama queen though.

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