Have you ever accidentally deleted a file, a folder or formatted an entire partition? It happens to the best of us, but all hope is not lost. There are a whole lot of free data recovery and undelete utilities available online, though it can be just as hard to tell which ones will actually work (and won't turn out to contain malware). If you're feeling a bit lost, we've rounded up the top five free data recovery tools for you, right here.
Of course, if there is actual physical damage to your drive like in the photo above, you might have to hand it over to a professional (not to mention you should always have a backup anyway.) However, for cases of lost or accidentally deleted data, these are the best tools for the job. Note that, as with our other top five lists, we haven’t trialled these services ourselves, but have collated the popular opinion of the ever-so-trustworthy denizens of the internet, including our experts right here in the comments.
Free data recovery app #1: Recuva
Recuva was your favourite free data recovery software when we last updated this list all the way back in 2009, and it seems not much has changed in the intervening years. It has pretty extensive manual controls, but most notably Recuva comes with a handy Quick Start Wizard. This means that if you just want to recover a handful of files without having to configure all the settings of the program, or if you’ve lost your files but you’re not entirely sure where they went, this is for you.
As well as letting you narrow your search to different types of files, you can also use Recuva for emails, music on your iPod or even unsaved Word documents. Recuva will also help you delete files completely -- if you want them to never be recoverable using any type of software. Recuva has a free and premium version -- the latter is $24.95 and adds virtual hard drive support and other premium features, but you should be able to fill all your data recovery needs with the free version.
Free data recovery app #2: TestDisk & PhotoRec
Platforms: Windows, Mac and Linux
Made by the same company, both TestDisk and PhotoRec had an entry in our last top five. This time they’ve been condensed, considering they both serve very different (but very useful) purposes. PhotoRec is a ‘signature based file recovery utility’ that can be used to recover lost photos or (even though the name suggests otherwise) all sorts of different kinds of files. TestDisk, on the other hand, is used for lost or corrupted hard disk partitions across numerous filesystems. It can also perform basic file recovery functions like PhotoRec, but the latter is more specialised.
Both programs run from the command line, meaning there’s no GUI and it can be a little hard to navigate without prior knowledge. However, CGSecurity’s website has a useful step-by-step that’ll show you how to use either of them.
The best thing about TestDisk and PhotoRec are, of course, that they’re available across all desktop platforms, in an area dominated by Windows software (at least when you’re only looking at freeware).
Free data recovery app #3: EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard
Platforms: Windows and Mac
EaseUS offers a whole load of computer utilities, including the Data Recovery Wizard, and like everything else it offers, it comes with a free version. EaseUS is able to recover all sorts of file types, and also offers partition recovery, in case you accidentally delete an entire partition, and ‘deep scan’ RAW recovery. EaseUS is also able to scan storage devices that are connected to your PC. One of the best things about this software is the clean, slick interface, making it a little more user-friendly than some of the others in this list.
Available for Windows and Mac, EaseUS looks like a versatile tool, though the only problem is that the free version has a 2GB limit for the amount of data you can recover. Whether this is timed or during your entire use of the program is uncertain, but it’s quite a catch. EaseUS is probably best used if you only have a couple of accidentally deleted files to recover.
Free data recovery app #4: Undelete 360
Undelete 360 is a fairly standard -- but reliable, and most importantly, totally free -- data recovery tool for Windows. While its interface is a little simple, it’s also fairly straightforward and easy to use. With a wizard-based setup, Undelete 360 is good if you want a standard, no-hassle experience retrieving your files.
Like Recuva above, Undelete 360 can also be used to restore files on hard drives (external or internal), cameras, USB flash drives and according to its website even floppy drives (lol). You can also use Undelete 360 to securely wipe files that you don’t want anyone else to be able to recover.
Free data recovery app #5: Puran File Recovery
Puran File Recovery is part of a huge suite of utilities from Puran, all of which are consistently highly reviewed and regarded. The file recovery utility is simple, with quick start options for people who are just looking for an easy way to get back a couple of accidentally deleted files. It’s also completely free for private use. Puran’s site claims it can recover almost all types of files, basing its scans off data patterns as well as file records. It can also retrieve files with path structure completely intact. For a free tool it’s surprisingly comprehensive.
This article has been updated since its original publication.