Review: Top 5 data recovery software programs on Windows

The ubiquity of smart devices today has caused many of us to be undeniably surrounded by a plethora of data.

With the influx of data handled every day, there is a looming danger of losing this data by inadvertently deleting essential documents or other files. A power surge can result in the loss of records or the failure of bootup systems.

Luckily, for victims of these unfortunate harrowing scenarios, there are several top data recovery tools that one can employ to retrieve data back safely. Some tools are freely available, while others may have some licensing requirements.

This article reviews the top 5 free and paid data recovery apps on Windows 7, 8 and 10. For each of the best data recovery apps, we've highlighted the features, advantages, and shortcomings. Let us know which is your favorite best file recovery software!

Free version recovers up to 500MB

#1 Disk Drill

Disk Drill is unquestionably a formidable hard drive data recovery software tool that ranks high in the information technology industry. This application, developed by CleverFiles, is uniquely tailored to scan both external and internal storage devices, from your local disk drive to portable USB drives and SD cards.

Free version recovers up to 500MB

Disk Drill is rootedly powered by various data recovery algorithms aimed at a plethora of file systems, for instance APFS, HFS+, FAT32, EXT and NTFS.

Being available in several editions, Disk Drill recovery software accommodates users of multiple levels. The most popular is the freely available Basic package, tailored for personal use. The Basic package enables users to preview files that are recoverable as well as recover previously protected data. Free recovery of other deleted data is capped at 500MB per computer.

The PRO version provides full functionality, allowing a user to recover files on various media without any restrictions. The Enterprise version is a commercial license with extended features and permissions such as enabling multiple simultaneous users to run the data recovery software as a commercial service.

The two central features that maintain Disk Drill's supreme reign as an excellent data recovery software are its supplementary data loss prevention utilities.


Recycle bin recovery

Disk Drill adds a layer to the Recycle Bin denoted as Recovery Vault, to safely store a backup reference to all deleted files and media. Disk Drill keeps a copy of each recovered file using a unique featured known as Guaranteed Recovery.

For first-time users, working, downloading and installing Disk Drill is a walk in the park. Testers and laypersons alike assert that Disk Drill is an easy-to-install, user-friendly and intuitive software that is imbued with wizards and GUI tools to make for a successful recovery process.

When it comes to the actual data recovery statistics, Disk Drill is unmatched. Recovering lost documents from a lost partition or a reformatted drive, Disk Drill performed at an optimal 95% recovery rate which is impressive as this is 4% above the average.

Furthermore, Disk Drill performs exceptionally well when it comes to the recovery of images, at an average rate of 99%. This validates the supremacy of Disk Drill as the top data recovery software.

Disk Drill is a favorite among digital forensic experts as the software comes with features which allow users to generate binary data image files, enabling them to isolate the manipulation of data within the clone, protecting the original storage container.

Additionally, Disk Drill offers extensive technical support available through their website.


#2 Stellar Phoenix

This multi-featured data recovery application lives up to its name, offering stellar performance and design. Stellar Phoenix is a high-end, user-friendly recovery software that comes in several editions.

Similar to Disk Drill, the free demo version allows the users to only scan for recoverable files. An upgrade is offered through the purchase of a license key. The Stellar Data Recovery Home license only recovers files and folders, while the Pro version comes with an additional partition recovery option.

Stellar Phoenix

Installation of the Stellar Phoenix Pro version is reasonably easy for non-technicians as a comprehensive installation wizard is provided. From the get-go, the interface is well-designed for a pleasant experience.

Once the app runs, the scanning feature is enabled and prompts the user with options to scan for lost data and later provide a preview of recoverable files before proceeding. Subsequently, the user is presented with the opportunity to save recovered data in a specified location using the Recover feature.

Stellar Phoenix Pro is loaded with multiple features that allow users to tailor the recovery process according to their requirements. Among the highlights are Lost Partition, Formatted Drive, Deleted File and Email Recovery of PST files of MS Outlook.

Stellar Phoenix works well with media files and documents. The Document Recovery feature accommodates the recovery of MS Office documents such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, while the Multimedia File Recovery manages to retrieve lost photo files such as PNG, JPEG, and TIFF, audio files such as OGG, WMA, and video files such as 3GP, MOV, and MXF.

On the flipside, Stellar Phoenix recovers slightly fewer deleted files than other software, such as Disk Drill. All in all, though, Stellar Phoenix's full-featured and exceptionally graphic interface is ideal for first-time users looking to recover lost data with an effective simple tool.

#3 ActiveUndelete

Our next recovery tool is an augmentation of Active@ Partition and Active@ File Recovery. This merger resulted in a compact and robust data recovery apparatus.

ActiveUndelete is the brainchild of Lsoft Technologies, a Canadian-based company with years of experience in the tech industry. This software is available in four license versions, namely DEMO, Standard, Professional and Ultimate.

The Professional and Ultimate versions have features that accommodate the recovery of data from unbootable PCs with the use of bootable CD, USB, and DVD, which successfully sets it apart from other recovery tools.

ActiveUndelete was mainly tailored to recover inadvertently deleted files, by only scanning the drives where they were deleted, filtering the results, finding, selecting desired data, recovering and then safely saving it in the desired location.


ActiveUndelete

It's worth mentioning that ActiveUndelete, like Disk Drill, has a unique feature that helps users scan for files by their signatures. A binary signature is a unique identifier of a file that specifies its format; for instance .DOC for MS Word documents, .MP3 for an MP3 audio file or .CDR for a CorelDRAW image — all have their unique digital footprints.

Additionally, ActiveUndelete does pretty well when it comes to recovering files that other software cannot. This is attributed to the fact that, in some isolated cases, sought-after records from a particular drive don't seem to exist. This is either because the partitions have been overwritten or deleted. ActiveUndelete can locate deleted partitions, allowing users to scan them revealing lost data, and then safely and efficiently restore the lost data.

ActiveUndelete also supports various file systems such as FAT, NTFS, EFS and BtrFS. It also plays well with the Windows 10 OS, supports the recovery of data from a disassembled RAID array and large, more than 4TB sized, hard drives.

The bottom line is that ActiveUndelete is an elegantly programmed recovery tool. However, we wouldn't recommend it for first-time users. Commercial professionals best utilize its features.

#4 Pandora Recovery

Pandora Recovery is an excellent, easy and free data recovery tool. One of the most exceptional features of Pandora is how well it is suited for beginners. The helping tools, wizards, and customization options feel like the interface is holding your hand and guiding you through your data recovery process.

Pandora Recovery

Pandora may not have a colorful interface as with most freely available data recovery tools, but its features and deep scanning capability make up for this.

Unfortunately, Pandora is not available as a portable software and must be installed. It supports various Windows OS releases such as 7,8, 8.1 and 10. Once installed, Pandora can recover lost files in three significant ways.

Pandora may present a list of files that the application can successfully recover, from which a user can select a file to undelete. Secondly, Pandora can search for records using various criteria such as name, file size and dates. Lastly, the surface scan tool does a deep search of recoverable data on a device.

Overall, Pandora is a simple and efficient tool and is the best choice for casual and curious users looking to perform simple data recovery procedures of the highest quality.

#5 MiniTool Partition Recovery

The most harrowing data damage experience is losing an entire partition or drive. This may be attributed to an accidentally deleted partition or an overwritten one, an unfinished format procedure, etc. If this has happened to you, MiniTool Partition Recovery can help.

The functionality of MiniTool is pretty simple. As the name suggests, this application is available as a small downloadable file.


MiniTool Partition Recovery

Upon installation, launch the application and select the drive on which your lost partition was located. The app will then prompt the user with a dialog box querying whether they want to scan the entire disk or just a portion of it. Proceed to select an option and specify the nature of the scan — whether it's a full or quick scan.

From there, the application will take a moment to run and then it will list the detected partitions on the drive. To restore the selected partitions, click Finish. The restored partitions allow a user to view the contained files to verify whether the restored partition is the desired one.

One shortcoming of MiniTool is it's random sluggishness, which results in the app's unresponsiveness once a user proceeds to scan a partition. Nonetheless, MiniTool is adept at recovering lost partitions efficiently without leaving Windows and has a simple interface.

After all

Mass data breaches and cyber attacks are occurring at a record pace and using data recovery software is a good choice. While it may not always be possible to recover lost data, the programs reviewed in this article offer the best hope of data recovery.
Disk Drill 2
  • REQUIREMENTS
    Windows XP+, 16MB disk space
  • AVERAGE USER RANK
    4.5 by 467 users
  • NEWEST RELEASE
    Version 2.0.0.323, released on 02/13/2018
    View release notes

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How Disk Drill serves other users

  • «Overall Disk Drill has plenty to offer: its core undelete engine is well designed and presented, and there are some genuinely valuable extras here.» by Mike Williams
  • «Disk Drill is an awesome free file recovery program, both because of its long list of features and its exceptionally simple-to-use interface.» by Tim Fisher