These days you can find quite a few programs that promise to help you recover accidentally deleted files. It is great to have lots of options but, which program is really good at helping you recover deleted files? Which deliver on their promise? To find out, I tested some of the most popular applications in this niche, most of them being free. Let’s see what I discovered.
The testing procedure
I took an USB Stick and formatted it, to make sure there’s nothing left on it. Then I copied a wide range of file formats to it, 76 files in all, including: jpeg, doc, docx, rtf, zip, 7z, rar, wmv, wma, pptx, iso, flv, mp3, wav, mid, flac and pdf.
Next I deleted those files with Shift+Delete and added 5 new files on the memory stick, to see how good would each program be at recovering files when there are chances of having some deleted files partially overwritten by others. Since the deleted files were on a USB stick, I recovered the files to my hard drive.
Then it was time to test the file delete recovery programs I wanted to review. I chose the programs you see below, because, at this moment, they are the most popular in the niche. I also wanted to restrict my review mostly to free programs since most people are not keen on purchasing a lot software.
Recuva starts with a wizard, which helps you choose the location and file types you are about to scan. The application made the scan in 0.11 seconds and found all the 76 files I deleted.
It recovered them in 57.70 seconds.
Out of the 76 files, 74 files were in perfect shape. Only a ".mht" file and a ".mp4" file were corrupted. Also, two ".wma" files I deleted, had been renamed from "S-1.wma" and "S-2.wma" to "-1.wma" and "-2.wma". No problem though. It is more important to recover files than to have the exact same name.
Running Recuva a second time, using the deep scan gave the same results.
Restoration opens with a very simple screen, where you select the drive you want to scan and then click Search Deleted Files.
It didn’t record how long the search took, but it was done in one or two seconds, from what I could subjectively evaluate. However, if you use it to make scans on big drives and you cannot customize your search so that it looks only at certain folders and files, a scan will take longer than with Recuva, which allows for easy filtering, prior to starting the scan.
Next, the program asked "Do you want to scan vacant clusters?". By default No is selected, so I clicked No.
This normal scan had come up with 81 files, which had me a bit puzzled. The number of deleted files was 76. I did add 5 new files to the USB stick after deleting the files I wanted to recover, which makes a total of 81. Restoration chooses to show you both existing and deleted files, which can be confusing at first.
When reviewing the files recovered, they were placed into a folder called Restoration. The program creates this folder by default when you click "Restore by Copying" in the location you select to restore to.
Restoring the files was very quick. Like with Recuva, the process took about a minute.
Also, the wma files had been renamed, though this time "S-1.wma" had become "$-1.WMA". The same ".mht" and ".mp4" files were corrupted. Other than that, all was in perfect shape.
SoftPerfect File Recovery
SoftPerfect File Recovery also opens with a very basic screen and offers no option for a deeper scan. However, in order to run it, you need to make a right click and select run as administrator. This program is also not integrated with the feature in Windows 7 and Windows Vista.
You can select the drive and the extension you want to search for and then click the green Search button.
Within seconds, a list of found files pops up. However, the results were rather disappointing. Only 25 files were found out of the total of 76.
Selecting the files you want to restore is a bit awkward. You need to use both the keyboard and the mouse to select files for recovery. If you want to select only some specific files, use the Ctrl key and click on each file you want recovered. If you want to "Select All" files, go to the first file and click on it. Then press and hold the Shift key and scroll down to the bottom of the list, where you click on the last file.
Recovering files is easier though. Also, it was nice to have a choice to restore files with the original path.
The 25 files that did get recovered were all in good shape, except for the same ".mht" and ".mp4" files which were corrupted.
It seemed quite random which files of the 76 had made an appearance in the list of 25 recoverable files. Some that were corrupted appeared in the list, while others that were easily recovered with Recuva and Restoration apparently didn’t make it in SoftPerfect.
PC Inspector File Recovery
The fourth program in this review is PC Inspector File Recovery. Of all the tested programs this is the only one that needs to be installed and doesn’t have a "mobile" version you can take away with you on a memory stick.
Each time you run the program, you have to choose your language, which is kind of annoying. Why wouldn’t it remember the choice you make the first time? Then you choose what kind of recovery you want to do.
You have to select one of the three weird looking tabs on the left-hand side.
The top one is for recovering deleted files (which is what we want for this review). The second tab is to recover data from a crashed or formatted drive and the third tab helps you recover files from drives that have disappeared, for instance when a drive has lost it’s drive letter. Since we were interested only in the first of the three scenario, it is the only one we tested.
Then you are asked to select the drive from where you want to make the recovery. To my surprise they all appeared as NONAME, even though many of my drives had names.
After selecting the drive, almost immediately I had a list with all the files that were deleted.
Selecting files for recovery is only possible in the right-hand pane (which is weird when you do it for the first time). Right-clicking on files gives you the option to save them.
The recovery took a very long time though. It stated it would take 17 minutes, but after being stuck at that screen for about half an hour, I finally clicked the big red cross to stop the recovering process and... nothing happened.
Only when I shut down the application, by clicking the red X at the top, it really stopped and the application closed.
I wanted to try again without asking it to recover the ".flac" files the program had trouble with the first time, but the whole program was frozen and could only be closed by using the Task Manager. However it appeared the program had successfully saved some of my deleted files, so I gave it another try.
On my second try, I let the program run as long as it needed and it worked better. The program did not freeze, although it took a lot longer than the time it said it needed. All in all it I spent almost an hour to restore all my files.
The end results showed the same problem files as before:
The ".wma" files were OK, but had been renamed and the ".mht" ".mp4" files were corrupted. Additionally, a ".wmv" file recovered by other programs was not recovered at all.
It did however appear in the list of files that could be recovered, so I selected this one file and gave it another try. This time the file did get recovered, although recovering it took about 25 minutes. In the end, recovering all 76 files had taken me an hour and a half. Very slow, isn’t it?
The last program I tested was DiskDigger. Although at first it might look like a free program, it actually is a commercial product. However, you can use it for free but you must put up with a nagscreen that appears at every file recovery. Even so, I did give it a try, to evaluate its effectiveness, for those of you considering purchasing it.
The scan called "Dig Deep" found 25 files out of the 76 files.
When recovering them, it became clear not all of them had survived the process unscattered: the ".mht" file was a mess (as expected by now), a PowerPoint file wouldn’t open and my documents had become unreadable.
Recovering them was a lengthy process. The scan finished in a couple of seconds, but it took me a good 30 minutes to get the 25 files back, due to the nag-screen and having to wait 5 seconds before being able to hit the Continue unregistered-button, which also prevented me from doing something else while the files were being recovered. If I were to not count the time spent dealing with nag-screens, I would say I needed about 20 to 25 minutes to recover the 25 files. Approximately 1 minute per file.
Next, I did a "Dig Deep" scan to see if it would give better results.
The deeper scan took quite a bit longer – some eight minutes on a 2GB USB memory stick. This gave a far more accurate result with no less than 73 files found.
The results are grouped together by file extension. Other than that, it is a guess which sector file represents which file. Really not helpful in identifying the files you want to recover.
What surprised me was that the list showed ".gz" as a file available for recovery, though there had been no files with that extension included in my tests and had never been on that USB, if my memory served well. So I couldn’t resist at least recovering those two files to see what they contained. I also recovered the PowerPoint file that appeared to be corrupted during recovery with the normal scan. I was pleased to find out that it was working fine now.
The ".gz" files were recovered, but they could not be opened and used, as I was suspecting.
Another thing I noticed was that ".flac" files showed up in the results of the "Dig Deep" scan, but not in the normal scan. However, Diskdigger was not able to recover them correctly. They were corrupted and could not be used.
With the deep scan all the deleted files showed up, except for the ".mht" file and the ".mp4" file.
The ".flac" files were there, but once recovered I noticed they were corrupted. The files with other extensions did fine though.
I created a table with a nice summary of our findings.
If you look through the numbers, you could say there are two winners: Recuva and Restoration. Which is not necessarily untrue, as both are fast at scanning and recovering files. However, Recuva is a more mature product, updated a lot more regularly than Restoration. This shows in its great integration with Windows 7 and the more advanced options it offers for filtering both scans and the results shown.
I am not saying Restoration doesn’t work well though. Even if it is a more basic program, it gets the job done and it can be considered a good second choice.
The other programs though, were largely disappointing. Even PC Inspector File Recovery, which recovered a similar number of files to our winners. The program has an unfriendly interface, integration issues with Windows 7 and it is prone to taking a lot more time to recover your files than competing solutions.
SoftPerfect File Recover and DiskDigger were by far the worst performing solutions in my testing, being able to detect only a third of my deleted files.
I hope this comparison has been useful in making an informed choice. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to leave a comment. Also, if you have used any of these programs, don’t hesitate to share your experience.