(by JP Zhang | Last updated: April 19, 2017)
So, you've discovered that deleted or lost files can be recovered. You've also learned that there's data recovery software out there to do it for you.
There's more than meets the eye, though. Some of those recovery programs are good, some are not. Some claim to be free -- but when you try to use them, you find out you have to purchase a license to fully recover your files. Seriously -- I hate that trick!
How do you tell good, solid data recovery software from wallet-sucking fraudulent programs? Here's your answer: I've personally downloaded, tested 50+ data recovery programs on my Windows PC and Macbook Pro, found the best free data recovery tools, and put them all in one place.
The apps listed below are 100% free, open source, or freeware, which means you can use them to scan, recover and save your files without any restrictions. No need to purchase a license!
Before you read the list though, check out these practical data recovery tips to increase your chances of recovering data. Adding any data to the disk drive in question could overwrite your deleted data, making it difficult to restore your lost information.
- Stop using the computer or device (SD card, flash drive, etc.) where your lost files located.
- Try not to install data recovery software on the same drive you want to recover data from.
- Once you are ready to save the recovered files, save them on a different drive from the one that has the lost data.
- The software listed below CAN NOT be used to recover data from mobile phones/tablets. Instead, you can try PhoneRescue (for iPhones/iPads) and Dr.Fone (for Android devices).
- If none of the tools below works for you, you can also try a commercial recovery software. I recommend Stellar Phoenix Data Recovery.
If you want to get back the files you accidentally deleted from Windows Recycle Bin or USB stick, then Recuva is absolutely the first program you should try. Two years ago, I used it to recover most of the photos and videos for a friend in San Francisco who accidentally formatted her camera SD card.
Recuva is 100% free for personal use. I do suggest you send the developer a donation if Recuva helps you out.
- Quick to download and install. The portable version runs from flash drive.
- Easy to use.
- Perfect for everyone as it comes with both simple and advanced options.
- Deep Scan function could find more files though take a bit longer.
- Able to preview highlighted images before recovery.
- Many junk files are scanned and listed there. Some of those show as unrecoverable, making it a bit hard to find the files you actually want.
2. PhotoRec (Windows / Mac / Linux)
Created by Christophe Grenier, PhotoRec is a free, open source file recovery program that works amazingly well on almost every operating system. PhotoRec isn't just a photo recovery tool (don't be fooled by its name). You can use this powerful software to recover nearly 500 different file formats from hard disks or removable media.
- Works on multiple platforms (Windows, OS X, Linux, etc).
- Updated by its developer regularly -- which means reliability.
- Powerful recovery capability that includes a large variety of file formats.
- Open source.
- Not very user-friendly, as it uses a command line tool interface. You may want to get some help from a techie friend to get this working properly.
3. Puran File Recovery (Windows)
Another powerful, yet free data recovery utility. Puran File Recovery works great to rescue data from practically any storage medium. The software supports ten different languages. All Puran utilities are totally free for private and non-commercial use.
- Deep Scan and Full Scan options for more powerful searching.
- Able to preview files once highlighted.
- You can categorize found items by file types. e.g. pictures, videos, documents, etc.
- File quality reserves after recovery.
- Not that intuitive for new users, especially when compared to some of the other options on this list.
4. Pandora Recovery (Windows)
If you've inadvertently removed some items from your Recycle Bin, or deleted them using Shift + Delete, then you'll love using Pandora Recovery. It'll help you get back those lost files in a breeze. With Pandora Recovery, you can browse, search, preview and recover files deleted from any NTFS and FAT hard disk volume. The latest update includes recovery of Adobe PhotoShop PSD and MS Outlook PST files.
- Great interface, easy to use.
- It comes with a portable version, Pandora Mobile Recovery, which requires no installation.
- Shows "percentage of overwritten" for files found after scan -- a great way to determine what was recovered and what wasn't.
- Easy to browse and search the directory tree of deleted files.
- Does not support obscure drives and file systems, even if Windows does.
- Freezes a bit when recovering files.
5. Glary Undelete (Windows)
A great undelete tool similar to Recuva, Glary Undelete "unerases" items from FAT and NTFS disks. It's simple to use: just choose a drive to scan, click "Search", and wait for a while, depending on the volume of the disk selected. You'll see a bunch of files found. Once you do, just navigate to the folders on the left, use the preview function to locate your targeted items, and you're good to go!
- Quick to download and install.
- Clean, logical software interface.
- Perfect for undeleting items from the Recycle Bin or an external storage device.
- Preview capability helps find files you want to retrieve.
- Many junk files are found and listed, which can feel a bit overwhelming.
- Less capable of recovering data lost to formatting or a hard disk crash.
6. SoftPerfect File Recovery (Windows)
This is another nice tool to bring your accidentally deleted files back to life. SoftPerfect File Recovery was primarily developed to help you rescue data that was accidentally deleted from hard disks, USB flash drives, SD and CF cards, etc. It supports popular file systems such as FAT12/16/32, NTFS, and NTFS5 with compression and encryption. The program runs under Windows XP through Windows 10.
- Portable -- no installation required.
- 33 interface languages are available.
- Very easy to use -- no unnecessary settings and screens.
- Able to restore files with "path".
- No file preview.
- Scanned files are listed one-by-one without being categorized in folders.
7. Tokiwa Data Recovery (Windows)
If you want to recover your lost files quickly, Tokiwa Data Recovery is a nice option. It's a standalone application, which means little time is required for the installation process. In my case, Tokiwa found 42,709 files in less than a minute -- very efficient! Tokiwa claims it can retrieve and wipe documents, archives, pictures, videos, and more from common storage media.
- Portable -- no installation required.
- Fast scanning process.
- Deep scan function available after simple scan is over.
- Capable of wiping files permanently.
- I couldn't find any settings or documentation--though it's simple to use.
- Can't preview images or files.
- Wipe function doesn't allow erased items to be saved in the system drive.
8. Exif Untrasher (Mac OS X)
Exif Untrasher is another totally free program that runs under OS X (10.6 or above). It's primarily designed to recover JPEG photos that have been deleted from a digital camera. It also works if you want to get back lost JPEGs from an external drive, USB stick, SD card, etc., as long as it's a removable disk you can mount on your Mac.
- Easy to download and install.
- Quick--and accurate--in findingrecovering erased pictures from my camera SD card.
- Quality of recovered photos is very good.
- Works only with JPEG files.
- Can't recover photos removed from an internal Mac hard drive (you'll notice the "Macintosh HD" option is greyed when you attempt to select the volume).
9. PC INSPECTOR File Recovery (Windows)
Another super-powerful freeware that helps recover deleted, formatted files from disks or partitions, even if the boot sector has been erased or damaged. The program won't help if you have mechanical problems with your disk drive, however, and it can't be installed on the same drive you'd like to recover files from.
- Powerful, able to detect logical drives that other freeware can't.
- Easier to organize recovered files, as it automatically puts them into correct file structures.
- Supports many languages, as seen in the above screenshot.
- Claims it's freeware for good.
- Icons and instructions look a bit obsolete.
- Freezes sometimes during the recovery process.
10. Wise Data Recovery (Windows)
Another excellent freeware from the WiseClean family. Wise Data Recovery helps you recover files and folders from various devices. The software is intuitive: select the drive you want to scan, wait, then can browse the item tree to recover your precious files.
- Simple to set up and use.
- Speedy scanning process.
- Multiple languages available.
- No deep scan capability.
- Large percentage of files are unrecoverable.
11. UndeleteMyFiles Pro (Windows)
Don't be fooled by the software name. While it sounds like a pro edition that requires a purchase to use, UndeleteMyFiles Pro is absolutely free, and comes with tools for data recovery and file wipe as well. Just select the drive, scan it, and you should be able to view a list of missing files. SeriousBit, the developers, says UndeleteMyFiles Pro works well for recovering deleted files from hard disks, USB, SD/CF cards, and other storage media.
- Quick, easy and intuitive to use.
- File preview ability for certain types of files.
- File names are missing in scanned results.
- No deep scan capability.
12. TestDisk (Windows / Mac / Linux)
TestDisk, PhotoRec's sister program, is an extremely powerful partition recovery tool developed to help find deleted/lost partitions, make crashed disks bootable again, and a whole lot more. TestDisk is like an experienced doctor that cures most of the problems related to computer hard disks.
- Free, open source, secure.
- Can fix partition tables and recover deleted partitions.
- Rescues data from problematic partitions caused by faulty software, certain types of viruses, or human error.
- Non-GUI program -- i.e. it's not for computer newbies as it requires more tech knowledge to use successfully.
New update (2017.4.19): Disk Drill is no longer free, the demo only recovers up to 100MB files. Thus I've removed the link to the developer's website. Please turn to other tools in this list.
So far on this list, Disk Drill for Windows has the best UI design of all the applications on this list. The CleverFiles team plainly put a lot of effort to give users a good experience while recovering lost files -- which is a big plus.
Disk Drill also has a Mac version, but it's not free. The current Windows version is totally free without any function limitations, if by any reason the team disables it, I'll update it here.
- Great UI/UX design makes it hassle-free to use.
- Saving Sessions during scanning is helpful.
- Able to recover lots of documents, videos, music or photos--deleted or formatted.
- Recovery Vault concept is awesome.
- Quality of some recovered files are not the best. Would be great if the program displayed the condition of the recovered files.
14. Undelete360 (Windows)
Like the name says, Undelete360 undeletes files you accidentally removed from your computer, Recycle Bin, flash drive, digital camera, memory card, etc. You'll see two tabs when the program is launched: "Recover Files" and "Wipe Files". To get back your deleted items, stay on the "Recover Files" tab, highlight the disk drive, and start searching.
- Multiple languages available.
- The file tree is very helpful to find targeted items.
- File path, as well as the condition of the files, are indicated.
- Includes a wipe tool that securely deletes files that are beyond recovery.
- My computer hung during the scanning process.
- Quite time-consuming compared to most of the other apps listed here.
Granted, CDs and DVDs are not used that often any more. But if you do have any data recovery needs for that media, try CD Recovery Toolbox Free. It's developed to recover damaged files from CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray, and the developers say it'll be free for an unlimited time.
Special Note: The reviews below are not my own. They're based on my research on the Internet as I don’t have a CD or DVD at hand to test.
- Does what it does to recover data from CD/DVDs.
- Works well, even if the CD or DVD is scratched or has surface spotting.
- Time-consuming--it sometimes it takes forever to scan!
- Navigation is a little confusing.
16. FreeUndelete (Windows)
As the name indicates, FreeUndelete is freeware tool that undeletes files from any NTFS- and FAT-based volume. FreeUndelete runs on Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista, and XP.
During my test, I found the program intuitive, and the process of data scanning is pretty fast. However, what frustrated me was that the found files and folders are not well-organized, making it hard to actually select and recover those you want to recover.
- Quick to download, install, and scan.
- Very intuitive -- no complicated buttons or options.
- The panel on the left is kind of odd--there is no drive D: or E: on my computer.
- Found files are poorly organized. I couldn’t find the pictures I wanted to recover, whether they were recovered or not.
17. ADRC Data Recovery (Windows)
It looks a bit old, but works. ADRC Data Recovery Software lets you undelete files, backuprestore your disk image, copy files from a hard disk with bad sectors, and editrestore your boot parameters.
- Portable (less than 1MB), quick to get started.
- Keeps folder structure as it was.
- User Interface could be improved.
- No response when I click the "Undelete Files" button.
18. Lazesoft Recovery Suite Home (Windows)
If you are looking for an ultimately powerful windows rescue solution, then Lazesoft Recovery Suite is the one. Besides recovering data from common disks, Lazesoft also comes with a set of utilities that rescues your Windows system when you forget your login password, or even won't boot.
Note: the software has several editions, but only the Home Edition is free.
- Multiple modes (Undelete, Unformat, Deep Scan) available to choose.
- Able to preview pictures before they are retrieved.
- Many super-useful utilities are included, including password recovery, Windows rescue, disk clone, and more.
WinHex is targeted more toward forensics data recovery needs. After you download the archive, unzip it and click on "WinHex.exe" to run the program. It might be a little overwhelming the first time you open it. To scan and recover data, move to "Tools" -> "Disk Tools" -> "File Recovery by Type".
- The only freeware I found for investigation and forensics usage.
- Able to edit/clone disk and recover partitions as well.
- Needs certain expertise to handle the program.
20. Paragon Rescue Kit Free (Windows)
If your computer has any booting issues, and you are unable to access the data, then you need Paragon Rescue Kit. It's a professional disaster recovery toolkit that includes all the tools you need to recover in an event of a system crash.
I haven't had the chance to test all the features of this software, as my computer is working properly at the moment. But according to reviews from computer geeks across the web, this program is solid.
- Comes with a user manual that teaches you how to handle the software.
- Fixes the most common Windows and partition-related boot problems.
- Useful for rescuing data when disaster strikes on your PC.
- Not ideal option if you intend to recover a single file.
- Quite slow to download and install. Requires a lot of system resources to proceed.
Now I want to hear from you.
How do you like this list?
Did I miss a high-quality free data recovery software program?
Leave your comment below and let me know!