You know the drill by now. And if you don’t, you should: your data is far more important than the hardware you’re running it on. Laptops can be replaced, but the ones and zeroes they contain absolutely cannot. But perhaps they’re not gone forever.
Photographer Peter Krogh once wrote that there are two kinds of people: those who’ve suffered a storage failure, and those who’ll have one in the future. With this in mind he posited the 3-2-1 rule of backups which calls for three copies of your data on at least two kinds of media, one of which is stored off-site.
If disaster strikes and you haven’t done this, you’re not necessarily out of luck – you may be able to get something back. Nothing is 100%, so these packages won’t replace a good backup routine, but you’re at least in with a chance if something goes wrong or if you’ve been a bit delete-happy.
Specifically geared to looking after small to medium businesses, EasyRecovery Professional offers the deep scanning functionality of its smaller Home sibling, but adds a selection of advanced tools for $139 (around £100) annually, along with a free trial offer. The tools include specific email recovery functions which dig into Outlook mailbox files, and diagnostic tools to find bad blocks on your failed drives.
There are also imaging and copying tools to ensure both an easy backup process and a quick restore when all the nasty file recovery business is complete. OnTrack also includes a disk refresher – we’re not entirely convinced that it’ll be able to do much more than make you feel better about yourself, but if it can sniff out bad sectors early enough you might be able to strike before anything goes wrong.
Upgrade to the top edition, OnTrack Easy Recovery Technician, if you’re looking to deal with encrypted file systems or RAW recovery of lost Mac volumes, but be prepared to pay an eye-watering $499 (around £360) for a 12-month license.
One purchase gets you three flavours of GetDataBack: Simple, which has a streamlined interface and can be pointed at FAT, NTFS or EXT formatted drives to hunt for files, and a pair of classic versions focusing on NTFS and FAT drives specifically. The latter two have been around and updated since 2001, and while their age might suggest they may be splitting at the seams, data is still data, and they can find it.
All three packages can be run from a live CD or from within a WinPE bootable Windows environment, meaning you can fire them up without risking much destabilisation of your drives.
GetDataBack Simple is, we’d suggest, particularly useful for laypeople – if you don’t know how a particular drive is formatted, or even what FAT or NTFS mean, the unintimidating interface and basic language might still be able to help you pull files back. More advanced users, though, could benefit from looking elsewhere.
EaseUS isn’t overstating the ‘Wizard’ part of this software’s title – it really is straightforward to use, taking you step-by-step through the recovery process. Run it quickly enough after disaster has occurred and it’ll be able to resurrect just about everything, from inadvertently-deleted partitions to virus-ruined files.
Your best bet is to purchase the WinPE-equipped Data Recovery Wizard Pro + WinPE (it retails at $99 – that’s around £70) since it includes bootable media for recovery from serious system crashes. You can get a version without this functionality for a slightly smaller outlay – or the firm’s Data Recovery Wizard Free which is limited to 2GB in terms of recovery file size – but we wouldn’t recommend it.
The full package is still one of the more affordable solutions we’ve seen for resurrecting crashed RAID setups – certain packages hide this functionality away in their premium versions – and what’s more, a single fee qualifies you for free lifetime upgrades. While there are definitely more advanced recovery packages out there, and certainly some cheaper ones, this is the one we’d keep on our shelf for those not-so-special occasions.
Optical media might be gasping its last breaths, but it still has uses. It’s notably handy for enabling the likes of Data Rescue 5, which comes on a bootable CD so that you don’t risk damaging a bad drive any further when you come to retrieve your lost files from it.
Fire up Data Rescue, follow the simple steps, hook up an external drive, and it’ll do a deep forensic scan for your files and pull off the files you select, as long as they’re recoverable. It’ll also run as an application, grabbing your files from external discs and SD cards.
If you’re in a hurry we’d look elsewhere, because the painstaking scan takes a good long while to run through, and also because you’ll obviously need to get hold of this on physical media rather than in downloadable form. It does use excellent recovery routines, picking up more files than most, so it’s a good option if you’ve exhausted all other possibilities.
Mac users lacking optical drives should look towards Data Rescue 5 for Mac instead. It is specific macOS software which comes on a bootable USB drive and can cope with Boot Camp partitions as well as regular macOS drives.
We’ve previously looked at Paragon Rescue Kit Free in our guide to free recovery software. Now along comes its big brother, Paragon Backup and Recovery, stomping in and demanding money. Should you acquiesce, given that there’s such a powerful tool already available for free?
Perhaps. Bear in mind that this is a two-pronged tool, half of which will squirrel your data away safely while the other half concentrates on getting you back on your feet in the event of a crash. It’s not meant for those moments where you’ve stupidly deleted your files or formatted a partition – it’s more suited to those times when everything explodes.
There’s support for bootable WinPE recovery media, advanced backup facilities to ensure the exact bytes you need are cared for, and when you’re ready to recommit them to a new drive, Paragon Backup and Recovery even helps you get up and running on hardware which may be very different from that which you were using originally. Very handy.
MiniTool is broken down into five distinct modules. There’s ‘undelete recovery’ which, as you might expect, attempts to pull files back after accidental deletion. ‘Digital media recovery’ tries to put right SD cards or USB drives that have somehow gone bad. ‘Lost partition recovery’ is there to look after your boot records if one of your partitions has somehow gone missing, while ‘damaged partition recovery’ is the real powerhouse of the suite, pulling data off otherwise uncooperative drives.
It’s the fifth tool that we’re most interested in here, though: CD/DVD recovery. How many of us have made backups onto CD-Rs not realising that they’re very much a temporary storage method? While crumbling discs can’t all be rescued, run them through MiniTool and you may at least see some results. It’s a slow process, but it could be worth it.
Few of us run just a single PC these days, so it’s handy that a single Recover My Files license covers two installations. It can cope with FAT, NTFS or OS X HFS-formatted drives, offering up a preview of its found files before you pick what to recover – sometimes files are deleted for a reason, and you may prefer them to stay that way…
We’ve plumped for the Professional version ($99.95, around £70) here mainly because of the inclusion of a hex editor and RAID recovery, features the Standard edition ($69.95, around £50) doesn’t include and which it could be costly not to have.
You probably don’t need to go the whole hog with the Technician edition ($349.95, around £250) unless you’re administering a whole network of machines – it includes a hardware USB dongle which enables you to move your software activation to the machine that needs it, but that price is way beyond personal use.
Price: $99 (£70), available for $49 (£35) for a ‘limited time’
It may be a specialised Mac recovery app, but Recovery Guru doesn’t limit its talents just to OS X file systems – it’s happy to seek out lost files on USB sticks, SD cards, and even Android phones. Its deep scan works very hard, not limiting itself to single sectors or traditional file system layouts but iterating through every single byte on your compromised drives and searching for patterns related to files. Slow as treacle, then, but potentially worth the wait.
When your scan’s done, you’ll be presented with folders full of files of specific types, which you can later sift through and sort out. This is arguably a better method than selecting the files you want to keep on-the-fly as absolutely everything that can be rescued will be rescued, and you can leave Recovery Guru to work on what could potentially be a rapidly-failing drive while you either drink tea or sort yourself out some hardware that actually works.
Once the darling of free backup solutions for the home user, CrashPlan is leaving the consumer market, ceasing all support on October 23, 2018. The company has shifted its focus to the enterprise arena with its CrashPlan for Small Business offering.
And CrashPlan is certainly a favourite around here – in fact our official company machines here at TechRadar all run Crashplan, and it’s saved our bacon on more than one occasion. It’s not quite the same as the traditional file recovery apps that we’ve covered in this article – it’s a backup service first and foremost – but it’s so comprehensive that it almost counts.
Crashplan, you see, stores absolutely everything. It chugs away in the background and makes full, detailed backups of your entire machine starting with the newest files first. It then sifts everything into virtual buckets so you can get quick access to the files that matter most.
Critically, though, Crashplan even stores files you’ve deleted. You can switch this feature off, but we wouldn’t: your backups are fully encrypted, so even those deleted files will be safe from prying eyes, and you never know when you might need to retrieve that long-discarded (or virus-removed) file.
Recuva is a full recovery toolkit, dealing with deep scanning, retrieval of data from damaged drives, extracting files from removable devices and more. It’s not the most comprehensive tool, but it’s certainly powerful enough for the price, particularly given that the pro version also adds disk imaging tools for taking full backups of your drives.
Perhaps Recuva’s most interesting feature is one that’s contrary to its main aim: using its secure delete capability, you can completely obliterate files. Note that usually files are only ever truly deleted when they’re overwritten by another occupying the same space on the drive – otherwise, it’s merely the reference to their data in the OS that’s removed.
By overwriting each of their bits repeatedly with zeroes, even the most advanced data forensics tool won’t be able to get them back. Perfect for those highly questionable documents that absolutely need to stay deleted…
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