We live in a digitally driven society. The average person creates 4.93 gigabytes of information a day that gets stored in a variety of places. Most of us have several storage capable devices beyond the simple desk or laptop computer and don’t even think about it. With so much data, from songs stored on a digital audio player to vital information kept on an SD card or flash drive, there’s an excellent chance that you’ll be taken unawares by data loss.
Finding out which one is the best data recovery software for you is your priority when you experience data loss. Asking a friend what worked for them is a good place to start, but taking their advice can be a bad idea. Even though your situation may appear similar, it’s likely to be entirely different unless you’ve taken the time to arm yourself with some basic information.
We compared the 10 best do-it-yourself file recovery software solutions to see how they performed on common devices against common data recovery scenarios. If you are needing to recover damaged or overwritten data from an HDD, your best bet is the top-rated Data Rescue PC3. If you have somehow reformatted your SSD, then Ontrack EasyRecovery will work well for you. If you’re more technically inclined and can manage a hex editor, then Recover My Files Professional will definitely provide the best value. To learn more about file recovery tools, read our articles on data recovery software.
The cause of data loss is normally one of four reasons: files were deleted, lost, damaged or reformatted. Lost files frequently are those caused by a corrupted GUID Partition Table (GPT) or Master Boot Record (MBR). Damaged files are ones that have been deleted or otherwise lost before becoming all or partially overwritten. Reformatted files are ones that should no longer exist altogether. Deleted files are the easiest to recover, so we didn’t test the software for those; however, we did test recovery for the other types to gauge how well the programs perform.
Armed with that information, it’s time to look at what data recovery software can offer you.
Scan Speed & File Recovery Rate
You don’t need a best guess when it comes to recovery efficacy. We actually tested this software on two common memory types – high-capacity NAND flash and hard disk drives – against the three common types of data loss – lost, damaged and reformatted. Deleted files are generally easy to recover, so we didn't test for those. We timed each software's scan and tallied the recovered files to find out which had the best data recovery rate. We found that some software does well with HDD and others are best on SDD files, and some are best for different kinds of data loss. The software that will work best will depend on the drive and type of data loss you've experienced.
Individual scanning capabilities are going to go a long way towards helping you recover your lost data. You will likely need data recovery software that can work with your PC in a pre-OS state for both imaging and raw data recovery purposes. For those longer data recovery jobs, you’re going to want pause and save features so you can manage larger jobs in smaller chunks. Reporting features will help you keep big recovery jobs organized.
Search & Recovery Features
The biggest problem with recovery software is that it has potential to overwhelm you with results. Large files are commonly written to multiple blocks, which results in returned results two and three times the number of your actual files. Frequently in our testing, a 10GB test file would come back three-fold. You are going to want the software that is going to help you manage unwieldy results.
The best data recovery software is going to have the tools you need to find the file you want. In addition to just sorting your results by file type, file type searches can limit the number of returned search results. A handy file preview pane also dramatically cuts the amount of time you’ll spend looking for an exact file.
Help & Support
Many of these services offer great help and support, but some went the extra mile in answering some of our more complex questions. In reviewing the software we looked at their documentation, including user manuals and online support, as well as other options such as lab services to help you if a logical data recovery attempt fails using software alone.
There is always a chance of recovering your data with the right file recovery tool, but that chance becomes less as your situation becomes more complex. While file recovery isn’t an all or nothing game, there is the matter of diminishing returns. It’s important that you select the right tool for the right job to get the most out of that decision.