When critical data is lost, the recovery process involves removing the drive and shipping it off to a service that could end up draining your IT budget. So instead of yanking out that drive immediately (after you’ve used the Windows built-in search tools), you should see if a third-party solution could recover some of that data. Piriform‘s Recuva is a free file recovery tool that is worth a look.

I tested Recuva and found it to be a good first step in data recovery when a backup is not available. Recuva is not a replacement for a service that can extract data from a drive in just about any state of fubar, but for those shops on a tight budget that need this type of solution handy, this tool is a good option.

Recuva’s features

  • User-friendly interface
  • Filter results based on file name/type
  • List and Tree views
  • Can be run from a USB thumb drive
  • Restores documents, images, video, music, email, anything
  • Supports FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, exFAT, NTFS, NTFS5, NTFS + EFS file systems
  • Restores files from removable media (SmartMedia, Secure Digital, MemoryStick, Digital cameras, Floppy disks, Jaz Disks, Sony Memory Sticks, Compact Flash cards, Smart Media Cards, Secure Digital Cards, etc.)
  • Restores files from external ZIP drives, Firewire, and USB Hard drives
  • Very small footprint

Using Recuva

By following these six steps, you’ll learn how to install Recuva and gain a greater understanding of how the file recovery tool works.

Step one: Download and install.
The installation of Recuva is quite simple. Download the installer and double-click. When the installation is complete, Recuva will run the first-time wizard.
Step two: Select the type of files to recover.
The wizard will ask you to select the types of files you want to recover (Figure A). If you are unsure how to answer, select Other and click Next.
Figure A

This wizard makes file recovery incredibly easy.

Step three: Point Recuva to the location of the files.
You can have Recuva choose from the local drive or removable media. If you’re not sure where the files were located, select the I’m Not Sure option and click Next.
Step four: Begin the scan.
On the final screen of the wizard, there is an option to Enable Deep Scan. This is a fairly intensive scan that will take quite a while (more than an hour on a larger drive), but the end results are very much worth it. In fact, I did a comparison between a standard scan and a deep scan (all other things being equal); the standard scan came up with one file, whereas the deep scan came up with more than 1,000 recoverable files.
Step five: Recover the files.
Once the scan is complete, Recuva will list the recoverable files (Figure B). In this window, select the files to be recovered and then click the Recover button. This will open a new window, where you must select a recovery location. Once that is complete, the file will be recovered.
Figure B

Click as many files as necessary. The more files you check, the longer the recovery period will take.

Step six: Check your files.
After the files have been recovered, you will want to make sure the files are intact. Just browse to the location they were saved in and check them out.


Recuva is not perfect. If the data was damaged, the recovered data will most likely be damaged. Or if the data is located on a damaged drive, Recuva might not be able to recover it. But for files that were either accidentally deleted or lost, Recuva might be the best first step before spending precious IT dollars on recovery. I highly recommend Recuva to serve as your go-to tool for quick data recovery.