Best free data recovery software
There's nothing worse than discovering that you've lost files, either because you accidentally deleted them, or even because of a harddrive failure. It happens to most people at some point, and afterward you quickly learn the need to set up some form of sturdy backup solution.
However, even backups can fail for some reason or another, but whether it's your first time or if it's happened before it's still a horrible situation to face.
While there are paid-for file recovery solutions available there are also some free ones that might be worth trying out first.
After all, if you just accidentally deleted some files you needed instead there's a good chance you'll be able to recover them from your harddrive and that free data recovery software options might work for you.
Even still, note that some free data recovery utilities, while well-meaning, may not be powerful enough to do the job for more serious problems. So we've put together the best on the market so you can try and see which one works best for you.
In the meantime, consider backing up to the cloud with one of these cloud backup solutions, to provide better redundancy in future.
- We’ve also rounded up the best disk cloning software
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Flexible free data recovery software for any emergency
One of the best things about Recuva is the wealth of ways to use it: manual scanning, wizard-driven scanning, and via the context menu.
For anyone who feels as though they need a little help using the software, the wizard is on hand to provide guidance, but there is also the option of taking manual control of the scanning and recovery process. The scan can be customized to look in particular locations, or for particular types of files, and Recuva uses a traffic light guide to how likely it is that you'll be able to recover an item intact.
You also have the option of right clicking a folder or the Recycle Bin if you know you have deleted a file from a particular location. It's all very easy, and the results speak for themselves.
Upgrading to Recuva Professional adds the ability to work with virtual hard drives, access to premium support, and automatic software updates. These are nice additions, but the free version of Recuva will be plenty for most users.
Intuitive data recovery software to get you out of sticky situations
When it comes to ease of use, it's hard to beat Wise Data Recovery. Although this free data recover software doesn't have a wizard-led interface, there are no complicated configuration settings to worry about either.
Tracking down recoverable data is a simple matter of selecting the drive you want to check and clicking 'Scan'. Alternatively, you can use keywords to search for recoverable files so you don’t have to wade through quite so many results.
Whichever route you choose, recoverable data is presented in an Explorer-like tree structure that makes it easy to tell where it was originally stored. Like all the best free data recovery software, Wise Data Recovery uses a traffic light system to indicate the health of files (and therefore how likely it is that you'll be able to recover them intact, and there's a file preview feature so you can identify files that have been detected.
You can recover individual files, or entire folders at once, but selecting numerous files in several locations means performing several operations.
Recover data from lost partitions if the interface doesn't put you off
PC Inspector File Recovery goes further than many data recovery tools in that it will detect partitions that have been lost, even if the boot sector or file system has been damaged or deleted. This could be a real life-saver in an emergency, potentially helping you get data back even if your hard drive is not visible within Windows.
Beginners might find the terminology and design of PC Inspector File Recovery intimidating, and even some more advanced users may find the workflow a little confusing to start with. Take some time to learn your way around it, and you'll find a powerful data recovery program – but one that seems to get better results with FAT and FAT32 drives.
Data recovery made easy, provided it's under 2TB
Finding recoverable data with EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Free is very simple: select a drive or folder and wait for a few minutes while it completes its scan.
You can browse through the recoverable data using a Windows Explorer style interface and filter them by type or opt to search for specific files. Data recovery is effective, but the Deep Scan option is very slow, so you'll need to be patient.
The installation of this software is a mixed experience. The installer, importantly, advises not to install to the same drive that you want to recover data from because this could overwrite data and render it unrecoverable. It also, sadly, tries to enrol you in a customer experience improvement program, without explaining what this entails.
It's worth noting that the free version only allows for the recovery of up to 2GB of data, so it's not going to be suitable for all circumstances, but it will be enough to get you out of most sticky situations.
A powerful and flexible data two-part recovery toolkit
Presented as a pair of tools rather than a single integrated solution, TestDisk and PhotoRec together can recover data from both lost partitions and files.
TestDisk takes care of the partition side of things. The fact that it's a command line tool with no graphical interface might off-putting at first. If can set this to one side though, there's help on hand to guide you through the process of working with your drives. TestDisk offers support for so many file systems, it should cater for most eventualities.
PhotoRec is the component for recovering files. It's available with a command lint interface, but unlike TestDisk there's also a GUI for less confident users. It may not be as intuitive as some of the other recovery software in this listing, but it's effective.
PhotoRec is cross-platform and can be run as a portable app from a USB stick, which means you don't have to install it on your PC and risk accidentally overwriting the data you want to recover.
Stellar Data Recovery is a free all-in-one data recovery software suite that offers a range of features. As with most programs, it can recover files of folders that have been accidentally deleted, even when emptied from the Recycle Bin.
However, additional options available include the ability to recover data from missing or lost partitions, not least due to having a corrupted harddrive. It can even recover data after a full system crash, even if the harddrive will no longer boot.
On top of this, Stellar Data Recovery can also recover files and folders that have been lost, deleted, or otherwise damaged by a computer virus or other malware.
Running the software is as simple as clicking "select", then "scan" then recovering the files you need. You can recover any file type, and even recover files from other storage media, such as USB drives and SD cards.
If this all sounds too good to be true then the caveat is that there's a 1GB limit for the free version of the software. To recover more you will need the standard edition which retails for $49.95 (£42) and allows unlimited data to be recovered.
Alternatively, there is a professional edition available which has advanced options, such as disk images and CD/DVD recovery.
- To avoid data loss, check out our guide to the best free backup software