Best data recovery software

Hard Drive Hard drives, USB memory  sticks and flash memory cards  are all vulnerable to data loss because of file corruption or accidental deletion.
Of course, the best way to avoid losing files forever is to perform regular backups  But if you don’t have a backup, a data recovery programs can help. These programs trawl through the scrambled data on a drive and do their best to pull it back together into the shape it was before. However, there’s no guarantee they will work.
To find out which data recovery programs are worth a try, we tested seven of the leading software brands (including one free data recovery software program) for Windows systems, using hard drives and memory sticks with identical file sets deleted from them, as well as reformatted hard drives and memory sticks for a greater challenge.

Piriform Recuva (free) – best free data recovery software

Piriform Recuva
Piriform Recuva

Piriform Recuva has a lot of features for a free data recovery program. It claims to recover files from Windows hard disks, the Recycle Bin, digital camera cards and MP3 players (it doesn’t support iPods, CDs or DVDs).
The package is easy to install, and while Recuva has a geeky feel, the helpful wizard makes it accessible.
Largely, it does a great job of recovering files, even after drives are reformatted. But the program piles the files in a single folder, with only some numbers after the file names to distinguish them from one another.
Verdict: This free data recovery software should be your first port of call; it’s not perfect, but it’s worth trying before you spend money on more complex programs.

Binary Biz Virtual Lab Data Recovery (£26)

Binary Biz Virtual Lab Data Recovery
Binary Biz Virtual Lab Data Recovery

Virtual Lab Data Recovery supports a wide range of devices.
It’s easy to download and install, but you’ll need to activate the program before you can use it. This process took us more than 30 minutes.
The software is slow, but recovers files well. It groups files into folders; Jpegs into a digital photos folder, for example. Confusingly, though, it put Word documents into a folder full of Zip files.
Verdict: Not the quickest to get started with, and some oddities in how it recovers files, but it gets the job done without costing the earth.

Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recovery (£30)

Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recovery
Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recovery

This software promises to recover data from Windows PCs, mobile phones and MP3 players, and even from defective or accidentally quick-formatted CDs or DVDs.
It’s not an easy program to use. With the default settings applied it didn’t recover anything from our corrupt or reformatted drives, so we had to delve into the software’s more advanced settings.
We also found the way the software opens in the middle of the screen and can’t be moved annoying. It’s a slow program and its effectiveness varied depending on the way the drive had been formatted.
Verdict: Can prove frustrating to use, and not best-suited to users who won’t be comfortable with advanced settings. Mixed results with recovery.

Kernel Windows Data Recovery (£31)

Kernel Windows Data Recovery
Kernel Windows Data Recovery

This software proved tricky to use and involved too many steps to recover data. This might be forgivable if the program worked brilliantly.
It claims to recover most files from most media, with the exceptions being CD and DVD or iPods, although other MP3 players are supported.
However, results varied according to the way the drive was formatted – this isn’t a program we’d like to have to rely on in an emergency.
Verdict: Complicated enough to baffle non-expert users at a time when the last thing they need is added stress; you’d be better off trying the free Piriform Recuva.

Disk Doctors Windows Undelete (£32)

Disk Doctors Windows Undelete
Disk Doctors Windows Undelete
This program works well with Windows 7- or Vista-formatted drives.
It’s simple to install and intuitive to use, pulling deleted files back with all the right names, folders and subfolders, though it couldn’t resurrect any files from reformatted drives.
Sadly, it’s less reliable at recovering files from USB sticks and older Windows-formatted  drives. Were it not for these problems, we’d be falling over ourselves to recommend this program.
Verdict: The software works well, though it isn’t guaranteed to do the job universally; it’s simple and logical to use.

Mini Tool Power Data Recovery (£38)

Mini Tool Power Data Recovery
Mini Tool Power Data Recovery

Power Data Recovery claims to recover data from hard disks, memory cards, CDs, DVDs, USB memory sticks and even iPods. The free version recovers up to 1GB of data.
It’s easy to install, but the user interface could prove daunting for non-technical users.
It works well with Windows 7 and Vista drives, but less so with older drives or USB sticks. It’s not a bad tool, but it lacks crucial versatility.
Verdict: some compatibility issues, and not the most beginner-friendly interface. The free version is worth trying before splashing out on the full software.

Disk Doctors Windows Data Recovery NTFS (£87)

Disk Doctors Windows Data Recovery NTFS
Disk Doctors Windows Data Recovery NTFS

A free version of this pricey software only locates lost files and won’t actually recover them. The full version is dauntingly technical, though it’s very effective, taking some time to run a full scan.
But then it rapidly recovered everything on the drive, including deleted folders and subfolders, though it couldn’t restore files after the drive had been reformatted.
This powerful program recovers Windows 7 or Vista-written drives, but not older Windows written drives, and can be less reliable with USB sticks