How To Recover Deleted Data And How To Maximize Chances Of Successful Restoration
Data recovery is the process of restoring files even after they have been deleted from the recycle bin. In this article we'll go through things that you need to always keep in mind when a data recovery process is required, and how to use the best free Windows applications.
- When is data recovery possible?
- I lost an important file or folder- what should I do?
- The best data recovery software
This article is for recovering data exclusively from HDDs that are fully functional and recognized by the system. Data recovery is also possible on disks that notify you that they need to be formatted, in which case you should not perform so as not to lose your data permanently.
If the disk cannot boot, makes weird sounds while working and is not recognized by the system, then no application can restore them. In this case you should contact a specialized data recovery company for a relatively high cost, and has no guarantee that any of the data will be recovered.
Right after deleting accidentally a file or folder, you have to be very, very careful in order not to decrease the chances of recovery.
The disk type from which you’ve deleted the files from plays a particularly important role in data recovery. When deleting a file from the recycle bin, the file is not physically erased from the disk. The data remains exactly where it used to be, but the file system marks the sectors occupied by the file (or files) as "free", and that new data can be written on top of the old. This is the only reason why data recovery is possible with a simple application.
On an HDD, old data will remain on the disk indefinitely, until new data is overwritten. That's why it's important to make a complete and secure data deletion if you’re thinking of selling or giving away a used HDD.
However, SSD drives support the TRIM command, which physically deletes data, since this is important for high disk performance. Not all SSDs use the TRIM function in the same way, though. Depending on the algorithms used in each model and the SSD controller, some disks immediately replace all deleted data with zeros, and others wait for the garbage collection algorithm to be deleted.
Because it is generally difficult to know the exact algorithms that your disk uses, SSD data recovery in general has very few chances of success, not only just with free apps, but even with specialists. Even organizations like the FBI may have trouble recovering data from SSDs with the TRIM feature, depending on the implementation.
One of the most difficult scenarios for data recovery is if the data that you deleted was located in the drive that the operating system is installed. In this case, you must immediately stop using the computer.
If these files are extremely important, then you should not even shut down Windows normally! Instead, turn the power switch off or hold the power button for a few seconds, until the computer is turned off completely.
The reason for such extreme measures is the same reason that you are able to recover data in the first place. If you continue using the computer after you deleted your files- even if you are just staring the desktop- the processes that run in the background will continue to write and modify files on the disk. It’s a matter of time for some data to use the deleted files’ sectors that are marked as "available", and eliminate all chances of recovering them.
That's why it's so important that you shut down the computer as soon as possible, and even avoid a normal Windows shutdown, which writes a lot of data on the disk before it is turned off. And if the system decides to install Windows Updates, which are known to be installed at the most inappropriate moments.
If the data you accidentally deleted was located on a second disk partition or another storage drive, things are simpler.
Usually, the system does not write data on secondary disks, therefore you are safe as long as you do not transfer files on that disk. You should also not strain the computer a lot so as not to use virtual memory, which, depending on your settings, is also likely to use secondary system disks.
Additionally, disk partitions use a specific part of a disk on a physical level, so the data writes that will be performed on a disk partition will not affect another disk partition.
Under no circumstances should you install the data recovery software in the same local disk or partition in which you want to recover data from, for the reasons outlined above. It would be quite ironic to install the recovery program only to destroy some of the files that you want to recover.
If the files to be retrieved were located on the drive in which Windows is installed, then the data recovery process should be performed either via a non-Windows environment, such as a Linux Live DVD/USB, or in another computer, after the disk and to it. On a desktop computer this is a rather simple operation, even if the disk originates from a laptop. However, if you have two laptops and want to retrieve data from one of them, you can buy a USB adapter for hard disks.
Data recovery varies from case to case. In one case, application A may have better results than application B, and in another case, the reverse will happen.
Since the following apps are free, it is recommended that you first try one of them, and if you are not happy with the results, try another one. It is possible that no application can recover your data completely, but a combination of the applications can bring a better result.
It is also worth noting that using these applications does not affect deleted data, so there is no limit in how many applications you can run for the same purpose.
During installation, it will remind you not to choose the disk from which you want to retrieve data for the installation location. After installation and you open the application, you can select the disk in which the files used to exist to be scanned.
The program will make a quick check and show you the deleted files that it found.
After the quick scan is finished, the Deep Scan will take place. This operation is much more time-consuming and more likely to return files that are irrelevant to what you are interested in recovering.
Once you've found your files, select them and click on Recover. Finally, select the disk that you want them be restored in, keeping in mind of course to be different from the recovery disk.
The only limitation of EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Free is that it allows the recovering up to 500MB of data in the free version. However, if you make a post in your social media accounts from within the program, you’ll get 1.5GB more.
Recuva (review) is one of the most popular free data recovery applications, created by Piriform, the developers of the well-known application CCleaner, and has the advantage of being available as a portable version.
Once you open Recuva, you will be presented with a wizard that guides you step-by-step through the data recovery process. First, you are asked to select file type.
Then, select the past location of the files.
Finally, Recuva will make the initial search and display the results.
Files that are in excellent condition are indicated with a green icon, and under the State field they are reported as Excellent. Just select one or more of them and click on Recover to recover them.
In the event that the first scan does not find the files that you are looking for, you can perform an in-depth scan by running the Wizard again, and checking the Enable Deep Scan option.
The free version of Recuva has no limitations regarding functionality.
TestDisk runs exclusively via command line, and specializes in complete recovery of lost partitions- it does not deal with individual files.
PhotoRec, even though it includes “Photo” in its name, is suitable for retrieving data of any kind and not just photos. Like TestDisk, it's a command-line program, but if you run the qphotorec_win file, you can use it with a basic GUI.
To use it, simply select the disk from which you want to recover files, which can be either a physical disk or a partition. Leave the available options as they are, and from the Browse button select where to store the retrieved data.
Finally, under File Formats you can click on Reset to deselect all file types and check manually only those of interest (e.g. jpg for photos).
So, click OK and then click on Search.
PhotoRec will automatically restore all files that it will find, without you being able to select only a few of them, inside a recup_dir folder within the directory that you selected. Also, it does not keep the original file name after recovery.
If you have any thoughts or experiences you'd like to share, let us know by posting in the comments section below!