Free Data Recovery Software – How to Use It

When you start thinking about data recovery it is very likely that you have lost some important files. Maybe the data loss is due to not making regular backups, failed hardware soon after major data update or because a digital camera damaged the compact flash card. Regardless of the nature of the problem any lost data means also lost time and money.

Data recovery can be divided into two large groups: physical and logical data recovery. Physical date recovery deals with broken hard drives, damaged memory cards or snapped tape. The storage device or media needs to be repaired to access the data. To repair hard drives, removable flash memory cards or portable media players you need special tools and a lot of experience. In most cases you will have to use professional data recovery service. This is not cheap so the value of your data has to justify the cost of recovery.

The second group deals with logical data problems. The storage device (hard drive, memory card, floppy disk) works but the data is corrupted. The disk seems formatted, there are no files or some files are corrupted or missing. This kind of problems can be caused by hardware malfunction, bugs in software, faulty device drivers, power failure during writing, etc. To rescue the files you need data recovery software and some basic knowledge about file systems. And because of availability of free data recovery software you can recover deleted files for free—you only need some time and patience.

Data Recovery Preparation

You will need a working computer with data recovery software and if necessary some interface to access the damaged device.

The first rule is to not write to the damaged disk or card. If the problem is on the system disk, i.e. the disk partition where your operation system is located, then you should shut down the computer, remove the hard drive and do data recovery on another computer. This is needed because the operating system may overwrite damaged files and prevent any data recovery.

When the data problem is somewhere else, even on the same disk drive but on a different partition than the system one, then you can use the existing computer. If the device in question is not the hard drive then you may need also some hardware interface to connect it to the computer. One such example is a Compact flash to IDE adapter. This is mandatory for compact flash data recovery since it allows direct access to the card memory.

An elegant solution is to use portable tools on USB flash disk. You don’t have to install anything, simply copy them to the flash disk and use them where the files are missing.

And finally you will need data recovery software. There are many universal and dedicated recovery tools around, try to start with free tools—here you can find a list of free data recovery software. Choose a recovery tool that supports your file system and has functions you need. Since you are not recovering from the system drive you can install the software anywhere, just don't put it on the drive from where you intend to recover files.

Data Recovery Software In Action

Before you run the software it is a good idea to read the manual. You will learn about basic problems with file systems and approaches how to deal with them. There is a difference between recovering a corrupted partition and individual file recovery. Another good practice is not to recover the data directly on the corrupted media. Therefore if you have additional drive you should make a disk image—check free disk imaging software.

Once you are ready and comfortable with the software you can start analyzing the disk. Repair the partition table if necessary and check the file system. Deleted files can be recovered if they were not overwritten. Recovery of deleted files works on the principle of finding file headers with known data (signatures). Each file type has some known data structure in the header which helps to determine file start and its size. Digital image recovery is a special function of some recovery software. You can preview found image files and recover them even if some part was overwritten.

Since you have a copy of the corrupted drive you can try different tools and see what results can be achieved. Anyway, data recovery is not a trivial operation. Even to undelete a simple file you need some experience. A common mistake is to search for undelete software and install it on the drive where the file was deleted. On the other hand, a lesson with lost files usually leads to making regular backups and necessary caution with storage devices.


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