Whether you’ve lost data after a system failure or deleted a bunch of files, it’s natural to wish your data back. The data recovery market is full of various offers from local services that can recover data from physically damaged hard drives to software packages advertising at-home recovery for many types of data. Some of these software tools are free. It is in human nature to wish something for nothing. In this article, we’ll see how these free tools fare against each other.

  1. FreeUndelete by Office Recovery is a tiny, ad-free tool supporting FAT and NTFS disks. It’s a fast, lightweight and usable tool. FreeUndelete does not have any pre-recovery preview available and is not suitable for recovering multiple files as it shows a confirmation dialogue after each successful recovery. If you have one or few files to recover, this is a great choice. If your situation is more complex than that, keep reading.

  2. TestDisk is a renowned console utility for undeleting files and fixing system partitions. It’s a perfect example of enthusiast-supported freeware. Working on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and many other platforms, TestDisk supports an impressive number of disk formats and file systems yet has no banner ads to display. If you feel geeky and have lots of experience and spare time to spend learning the many available options and command-line settings, this is the best tool for you. Those who expect point-and-click operation, read along.

  3. PhotoRec is related to TestDisk and features all of its strong and weak points. The console interface is suitable for advanced users and system administrators, the performance is flawless, and the ability to recover many types of files from disks and flash cards with damaged or no file system is outstanding. If you feel brave enough and have time on hand to learn all of its command-line parameters, this is the tool for you. If you know of a front-end to this data recovery tool, please let us know!

  4. SoftPerfect File Recovery is a tiny, banner-free utility to have on a flash drive just in case. This free tool provided fast and reliable recovery, yet it lacks any sort of pre-recovery preview or any estimate of a file’s degree of recoverability. Download and save it somewhere in case you need to quickly recover a few files.

  5. Pandora Recovery offers wizard-based recovery. Sophisticated recovery features, step-by-step operation, no banner ads, pre-recovery preview and recoverability estimate are all present. It worked in our tests to recover files from FAT and NTFS partitions but didn’t do so well recovering JPEG and RAW files from a flash memory card. Overall, it’s one of the best free tools tested in this review.


  6. PC Inspector Smart Recovery is aimed at multimedia files. Advertising reliable recovery for various music, video and image formats, PC Inspector Smart Recovery recovered all supported files in our tests, including RAW and CR2 files. However, it’s very slow to scan the disk, and does not make a difference between deleted and existing files on the disk, putting everything into a single list. To make it even slower and even less usable, you can’t specify a single folder to scan; PC Inspector Smart Recovery will perform a complete scan of the entire disk.


  7. R-Linux recovers the Linux Ext2FS file system from the convenient Windows environment. While its objective is questionable, it’s one of the few freeware Linux recovery tools that work on Windows. R-Linux does not appear to support Ext3, and we couldn’t find (and damage) a Linux partition handy to produce a review in a timely manner.


  8. VAIOSoft Recovery Manager supports Windows and Linux and advertises many useful features, but its Web site seems abandoned and its development halted. Still, it performs very well when recovering files from removable media. Unfortunately, you can’t see the recoverable files; they’re either recovered or not.


  9. ADRC Data Recovery Software Tools is a tiny and fast recovery program featuring no banner ads. Out tests resulted in complete recovery of all files we deleted from an NTFS partition, but the tool couldn’t do so well on a FAT flash card with digital pictures. Featuring loads of advanced functions, the utility can be dangerous shall it fallwrong hands. If you are an experienced system administrator or advanced user, this is the tool to have on an emergency flash drive. If you’re new to data recovery, there are still better alternatives.

  10. EASEUS Deleted File Recovery is a free little brother of EASEUS Data Recovery Wizard. The proprietary user interface is exotic, but at least there are no banner ads. Unfortunately, the tool refused to support our test images and virtual disks, so we can’t tell anything about its recovery rate


  11. PC Ior File Recovery advertises complete file recovery from FAT and NTFS partitions in exchange for displaying a small banner ad. Our tests confirmed solid operation on FAT disks, yet our attempt to recover files from an NTFS partition yielded about 50% recovery rate. The tool didn’t find the rest of the files.

  12. Undelete Plus conveniently groups recoverable files, making them easy to select. However, we found this toolhard to use due to exotic approach to user interface. The tool was the longest to scan our test hard drive and crashed a couple of times while ng the disk. You can watch a banner ad in a more sensible way elsewhere.


  13. Smart Image Recovery can only recover pictures and images. Multiple advertisement pop-ups, pesky user interface, no support for RAW files are second to the fact that the tool discovered none of the files we shot on a formatted flash card. Oh, and it happily reported a hundred errors in the Windows Registry without even accessing it! One word: don’t.


  14. Smart Email Recovery is the only free email recovery tool we could find. Our tests discovered loads of banner ads, alien user interface, severe limitations and buggy recovery. Despite having no free alternatives, we restrain from recommending this tool.


  15. Data Disk Recovery is a high-performance but extremely buggy product featuring large animated advertisement at every launch. We could never complete a disk scan with this tool as every time it crashed near the end of the scan. Hence we can’t recommend it.