When searching online for the best free data recovery software, you are likely doing it in reaction to something that has happened. Whether you accidentally deleted files, formatted your hard drive or had to reset your computer due to malware or other issue, it will be reactionary – most likely. Also, if you are searching for data recovery software, you must realise that it is possible. It is possible, but not always, depending on quite a few factors.
Unfortunately, in my experience using free data recovery software, there are generally two main barriers. The first barrier is what I like to call a “trial wall” – this is where restrictions are placed on the program that allow you to “trial” it. One way this is implemented is to restrict the number of files that can be recovered by the program. Another way is to restrict the amount of data that can be recovered. A third trial wall recovery software will employ, is to show you all of the files that have been recovered, but it won’t allow you to save them until you activate: read, pay for the software. In any case this doesn’t help you! This trial wall barrier is generally found with commercial or closed-source programs. The following programs fit under this barrier:
- The evaluation version of the software “is the FULL VERSION” – though you will be able to view all the recovered files, you won’t be able to save them
- Trialling this software will only allow you to recover up to 500MB – less than one CD worth of data, or about 150 – 200 photos
- Free version will not allow you to save files
- The free trial allows you to view the recovered files, but you will have to purchase it to save them
- Free trial allows you to view the files, but you will not be able to save them until you purchase the full version
- Free version can recover files from FAT partitions
- NTFS partitions (what is mostly used by people on Windows computers) in the free version are limited to 256KB per file – which is not very much – one photo from a modern camera or phone would be around 2 – 3MB, or roughly 10 times bigger
All of the programs here are quite user-friendly, that is, they are easy enough to use by non-technical people, however, they are not really free if you want to recover all of your files. There are many other tools for data recovery that come under this section, but they essentially do the same thing and have similar limitations, so it’s a bit redundant to list them all.
The second main barrier that I’ve found with free data recovery software is the level of knowledge needed to make use of it. There are two parts to this barrier, firstly the level of knowledge to use the tool to begin with, and secondly the level of knowledge to make use of the information that they provide. There are some very good open source projects and software, but they can be more difficult to use. Linux, in general, is a better operating system for these types of tools in my experience. Though when it comes to data recovery, these data recovery tools are used in the command line – people that use Windows may not be comfortable using the command line. The following data recovery software are listed below:
- Powerful and completely free data recovery software
- Can also repair disk partitions (as long as it is caused by software, and not hardware)
- Open source
- Another powerful and completely free data recovery program
- Similar features to TestDisk
- Open source
These free and open source data recovery tools listed here are very powerful and can recover great amounts of information, however, there is a steep learning curve. If you are unsure about TestDisk and Ddrescue then I recommend not attempting to use them as you can potentially do more damage and lose data permanently.
PLEASE READ: If you have experienced data loss, i.e. you have accidentally formatted your hard drive, deleted files (photos, videos, documents, etc.) then it is recommended to stop using the device until you are able to begin data recovery. The reason being is that you risk losing more data by overwriting the sections where the lost data resided.
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