It’s a scenario that scares IT everywhere: your boss has deleted an important file, and you don’t have a backup.  And the scenario almost always happens with the most powerful company people, the most sensitive documents and thew worst possible time.

Luckily, unless you’re using special software, nothing gets truly deleted.  The binary data still sits on the hard-drive, the illusion of deletion happens as the pointer that told the OS about the file has been deleted.  Eventually, the data will be overwritten when the file system needs to use the space for new data, but if you haven’t added anything to your PC, there’s a good change you can recover the data.

This evaluation of free data recovery programs will be based on a simple experiment.  I make a file called “[Name of data recovery program] Test File”, input a few lines of text, and then delete it permanently from the recycling bin.  Software will be evaluated on whether it can retrieve this data in a “quick scan”.  Deep scans can take up to 24 hours and in keeping with the real life scenario, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Here are the results:

  1. Recuva by Piriform

  2. It seems as if there’s been an edict for tech journalasts to rate Recuva by Piriform as the best free data recovery program.  That’s probably because it actually is quite good.  It comes in both an installable versios and as a portable application – which is imperative when dealing with data recovery.  It has a helpful wizard that serves to quickly find out what file you need so Recuva can find it as fast as possible without scanning the entire drive.  It works on a variety of media, such as external hard drives, USB drives and memory cards.  It also offers a quick scan and a deep scan.

    In my opinion the best feature of Recuva is the “overwrite” featuer.  If you have a file you want gone forever, once Recuva locates it you will have option to have Recuva overwrite it.  This can save time as overwriting the entire hard drive can take a very long time depending on how many passes the software is attempting.

    My only gripe from an interface standpoint is that the preview feature didn’t actually preview any of the files I selected.  Beyond that, this free program has all the bells and whistles you can expect with this type of software.

    However, most importantly, is the ability to recover data, which in its absence makes all other features moot.  Unfortunately for Recuva, it could not pass the test (actually two tests, I was so surprised I thought I might have made the error).  It did not find the deleted test file.  Fot this reason, you’re best off trying something else and only resorting to Recuva as a last resort.

    Verdict:  Fail

    Get Your Free Download of Recuva Here

  3. Disk Drill 2

  4. Disk Drill 2 is another highly regarded free data recovery program.  It has all t
    he features you expect in a top shelf free data recovery program. offering a quick scan mode and a deep scan mode,  supporting all sorts of extra storage devices from external hard drives to memory cards to USB drives. and featuring an intuitive intereface.  The free version will allow a user to restore up to 100MB.

    One thing that sets it apart is its support for the HFS+ file system and the fact it can be installed on Macs as well.  One area where it goes above and beyond is providing the option to filter by date, which makes it easy to filter out extranious files and find that needle in a haystack.  The one feature it might be lacking in is the fact that it doesn’t display the health of the files like some of the other programs do.  It also needs to offer a portable version, at 16 megabytes in size that’s simply too much to be writing to the hard drive in this type of scenario.

    Regretably, it did not find the deleted file.  The quick scan was extremely quick – perhaps to quick.  And while it found many other files to restore, if the test file had been real data in a real life situation, you would be out of luck.

    Verdict:  Fail

    Get Your Free Download of Disk Drill 2 Here

  5. Glary Undelete

  6. Another program with a solid reputation, Glary Undelete has most of the features that these top quality programs offer.  It’s got your Windows file systems covered and what’s more can work on encrypted drives, as well as corrupted or fragmented ones.  It can also search removable media like USB drives.

    Glary Undelete loses points for not offering a portable version.  However, its greatest sin is the fact that it failed the test.  If you’re desperate and running out of options you can try using this, but based on our test results, there are many better options to try first.

    Get Your Free Download of Glary Undelete here

    Vertict:  Fail

  7. Puran File Recovery

  8. Puran Data Recovery is a perfectly servicable file recovery program.  If offers a portable version, and is capable of performing Quick Scans and Deep Scans.  It also has a preview window that works, and for the icing on top it display the health of each file.  It can put the files in a directory structure that matches your hard drive, making for easy browsing of the system.  It has search functionality as well.

    One thing it could use is a “Date-Created” and “Date-Modifed Table”, but that’s splitting hairs.  That would also call for the program to search the MFT (Master File Table) to get file  metadata, which would come with the added cost of speed.

    Puran passed the test easily, finding the test file in a matter of seconds and restoring it in all its glory – although the file name was not preserved.  The successful outcome, the excellent user interface and the fact that it can be portably means this would be an excellent choice as the first program you reach for.

    Verdict: Success

    Get you Free Download of Puran File Recovery Here

  9. Softperfect File Recovery

  10. Softperfect File Recovery comes with it’s features streamlined which is a nice way of saying that it’s sorely lacking in features.  It checks off some of the required checkboxes, like supporting encrypted file systems, and being able to scan removable storage, but that’s about it.

    The biggest problem I had with this program is there is no way to choose between quick scan and deep scan.  Judging by the fact that its been running for hours on my computeir and is still scanning, I’m going to assume it just does deep scans.  And deep scans are out of the scope of this experiment, the goal was to find a quick and easy way to get your files back.  All the other programs ranged in scanning durations of several seconds to several minutes.  I allowed this program to run for almost five hours before I ended it so that I could actually finish this project, and in all that time it didn’t find the file.

    With that in mind, the only conceivable time you should be spring for this is once every other program on Earth has been exhausted.  Between its lack of features (not having the ability to preview files alone is a dealbreaker) and it’s poor test results, it’s clear that the competition has surpassed this little program.  Here’s hoping it gets its act together next time.

    Result: Fail

    If You Insist, Get Your Free Download of Softperfect Here.

  11. DMDE – DM Disk Editor and Data Recovery Free Edition

  12. DMDE is simply in a different stratosphere than its peers.  It is packed with extra features.  It can recover deleted partitions.  It can works with RAID arrays.  It can map clusters and let you search them.  It has simply the most extensive search parameters and filter options my a wide margin.

    That being said, if the above terms sound like a foreign language to you, this program is not for you.  This was the only program that forced me to read a manual to know what I was doing.  And while it returned a bunch of data, the free version only lets you restore one painstaking selection at a time.  Also quite surrpisingly, when I searched for files deleted from the recycling bin, I couldn’t find my file.  I will concede that it could be there – it found hundred of files deleted from the recycling bin.  But without seeing human readable file names and the imposed restriction of only restoring a file at a time, it’s simply not practical for the purposes of this experiment, and there’s so many other options.

    Verdict: Fail

    Get Your Free Download at DMDE Download Page

  13. Pandora Recovery

  14. Pandora Recovery is another perfectly capable data recovery program that works on FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, NTFS and NTFSS file systems. It opens with a  handy wizard that is great for the less computer savvy.  ts user interface does such a great job of being thorough in features while easy to use, that its the best user interface out of the lot.  Also, they do have a portable system.  While Pandora Recovery found the same batches of deleted files other proficient programs did, but alas, it did not pass the test.

    Verdict: Fail

    Get your free download of Pandora Recovery here