Accidental file deletions or file corruptions can be a headache, especially if you’re not making use of cloud storage or online backup. Both commonly support deleted file recovery and versioning to help you out of such jams. In case you’re not making use of the cloud, often your only chance to reclaim lost or damaged data is to roll the dice with data recovery software.
There are two problems with that approach. The first is that data recovery software doesn’t always work. The second is that data recovery software can be expensive, with the top tools costing around $100 or more for a license.
In this guide, we’re going to outline some of the best free data recovery options. Rather than second-rate choices, many of the tools mentioned are trial-versions of professional tools like Stellar Data Recovery and Prosoft Engineering Data Rescue: names that you’ll find highlighted in our best data recovery software guide.
Before we get to the list, however, let’s talk some more about some features and traits we looked for in compiling it.
What Makes Free Data Recovery Software the Best
There are many things to look for in a data recovery tool and just because you’re looking for a free option doesn’t mean you’ll need to settle for buggy or clumsy software.
Many of the best options only let you recover a certain amount of data before having to go to a paid version. However, most often people look for free data recovery solutions because it’s not a tool they need routinely.
With that in mind, we elected to include limited-recovery software in order to be able to suggest options that are not only generally easier to use, but more capable than most always-free solutions.
On that note, we put a lot of weight on performance, both in terms of recovery time and recovery success. We also looked at what types of files can be recovered, including documents, videos, images and audio files.
Finally, we considered user experience. We’ve tested a number of data recovery tools, and we’ve run into far too many sloppy, difficult-to-navigate tools. Just because software is designed to be a utility doesn’t mean it has to look like it was developed in 1990.
User experience is a big reason we’ve decided to make Stellar not only our first pick on our freebie list, but also rank it the number one data recovery solution overall, paid or unpaid.
Best Free Data Recovery: Stellar Data Recovery
Stellar makes some of the best IT tools in the industry, ranging from Outlook file repair to its flagship product, Stellar Data Recovery. While a license typically costs $99, you can download and recover up to 1GB of data for free.
All common file types are recoverable by this data recovery software, including:
- Documents: Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDF
- Images: JPEG, PNG, RAW, Photoshop, Illustrator
- Audio: MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC, Ogg
- Videos: MPEG-4, QuickTime, AVI, WMV
- Archives: Zip, Gzip, RAR, Stuffit
Stellar isn’t limited to your computer hard drive, either. You can recover data from external drives, SD cards and even optical storage, like a burned CD.
One of our favorite things about Stellar is how flexible the user experience is. You can run quick and deep scans, and, conveniently, run scans based on file type. Scanning by file type will help speed up the process if you’re looking for a specific deleted file or files.
The tool is also as well-designed as any we’ve seen. While built for the IT professional, most home consumers shouldn’t have any difficulty running a scan and recovering their lost files.
In testing Stellar’s performance, we ran quick and deep scans. A quick scan should work fine for most accidentally deleted files, so long as it hasn’t been too long since the deletion occurred. This type of scan ran in about six minutes on a 500GB partition for us, as opposed to over two hours for a deep scan.
The software passed all of our tests, too, recovering all of our deleted files without a hitch. Our Stellar Data Recovery review covers everything you’ll need to know before going ahead.
Other Reasons We About Stellar Data Recovery
Dealing with recovered files is easy with Stellar thanks to options like sorting results by file type and file previews. It really is the complete package.
While you’ll have to pony up for a license to make use of this feature, Stellar also supports cloning. With cloning, you can copy over your file system to a new computer when dealing with a failing hard drive.
Support is based in India, which can occasionally lead to communication issues. However, overall, we’ve found Stellar’s support technicians to be fast and responsive, often hitting the proverbial nail on the head with the first go of it. Email support is provided 24/7, while live chat and telephone support are offered during business hours.
- Recover 1GB for free
- Easy to use
- Powerful recovery algorithms
- Full license is expensive
While we generally consider Stellar’s product to be a step above the rest of the field, we nearly named EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard the top option for this particular article. The reason for that is that while an EaseUS license costs about the same as Stellar , you can recover twice as much data for free before you have to pay for it.
2GB of data recovery can get you out of a lot of jams. EaseUS supports recovery of most file types, too, including documents, music, images and video. While not capable of recovering data from optical media, Data Recovery Wizard does support external drive, SD card and flash drive recovery in addition to working with your computer hard drive.
The reason we rank it below Stellar is that you can’t limit scans to specific file types and EaseUS can only scan by partition and not your entire hard drive at once. You can, however, sort results by file type and preview them before recovery. That will help you get the most out of that 2GB of free recovery.
Quick scans with EaseUS took about two seconds in our testing for a 518GB partition, while deep scans took close to two hours. All of our tests resulted in successful recovery of our test files, as you can read about in our full EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard review.
Other Reasons We Like EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard
Stellar provides adequate support, but EaseUS goes above and beyond, with some of the most responsive and accurate technicians we’ve encountered. Email and live chat are both offered. For self-help, the company also has a thorough and searchable knowledgebase.
For users willing to purchase a license, RAID recovery for servers and network-attached storage (NAS) devices are also supported.
- Recover up to 2GB free
- Easy to use
- Powerful recovery algorithms
- Can’t scan by file type
- Full license is expensive
While not as fancy or feature-packed as top-of-the-line solutions like Stellar and EaseUS, Piriform Recuva is far more budget-friendly. That assessment includes a 100 percent free version of the tool that, unlike those top-line solutions, doesn’t put a cap on how much data you can recover before you have to buy a license.
As discussed in our complete Piriform Recuva review, the free version of the software doesn’t have any support, so you’ll have to be comfortable going at it alone. The free version also doesn’t include automatic software updates or optical media recovery.
If those are features you need, the good news is that a license for Recuva Pro only costs $20 a year. While we don’t recommend this software for IT professionals, there’s also a business license for $35 per year.
Piriform Recuva isn’t available for Mac users, but it’s Windows version performed well in our tests. You can scan only for specific file types and run either partition or full-drive scans. Files on external drives and removable media can be recovered, too. SD cards aren’t supported and Recuva can’t be used to recover deleted partitions like our top two picks, though.
Quick scans take just seconds to complete, while deep scans of our 518GB partition actually ran twice as fast as those with Stellar and EaseUS. All of our test files were successfully retrieved, too, so it definitely works.
Other Reasons We Like Piriform Recuva
There’s really not much else to say about Recuva. It works and is completely free, and for many users that will be enough. The client, however, isn’t very well designed and support, even if you pay for a license, is below average.
- Unlimited free recovery
- Fast recovery times
- Scan by file type
- Poorly designed interface
- Weak support
- No deleted-partition recovery
IOBit Undelete is another functional data recovery tool that will never cost you a dime. It works with video, images, music and documents, and it has one of the simpler interfaces of any tool we’ve played with.
That simplicity makes it a good choice for home users that don’t need a feature-packed tool. You can scan for specific file types and scanned files can often be previewed before completing recovery, which itself is a matter of checking a box and hitting a button.
The big knock on IOBit Undelete is that it isn’t capable of running deep scans, meaning it’ll be generally less successful than other options. However, it works fine for accidental file deletions and usually works fine for partition formatting and file corruptions.
Other Reasons We Like IOBit Undelete
While completely free, IOBit Undelete still has a decent support network thanks to the fact that the company makes money off of other products, including Advanced SystemCare Pro and DriveBooster Pro. Help options include email and a knowledgebase.
- Free unlimited recovery
- Simple to use
- Scans aren’t as thorough as better tools
- Weak feature set overall
Don’t let the name fool you: PhotoRec isn’t just for recovering photos, although it works really well for that purpose. The software actually supports hundreds of different file types, including documents, audio and video, too.
What will detract some people, however, is that the software is command-line based. There’s no fancy or not-so-fancy (looking at you, Remo) interface to make life easy.
That said, the command-line interface isn’t so hard that most users can’t figure it out. More importantly, PhotoRec is backed by a powerful set of algorithms that can stitch even highly damaged files back together.
PhotoRec is also open source and completely free. You can recover as much data as you want without ever having to pay a dime. The downside of being a free, open-source tool, however, is that support is pretty thin.
Other Reasons We Like PhotoRec
PhotoRec works with a broad range of devices, not just computers. That includes digital cameras, smartphones, tablets, memory cards and CD-ROMs. While partition recovery isn’t offered, companion software called TestDisk can help there.
Like PhotoRec, TestDisk might seem a bit intimidating due to its command-line approach, but it’s free and, more importantly, works really well.
- Unlimited free recovery
- Thorough scans
- Command-line interface
- Weak support
Honorable Mention: Wondershare
Like Piriform Recuva, Wondershare is another budget-friendly data recovery solution that we really like for home users, although not IT professionals. Unlike Piriform Recuva, however, you’re capped at 100MB of data recovery before you have to buy the software.
A lifetime license costs $40 for one computer, which isn’t a bad deal for the features you get. Those include quick and deep scanning, scanning by file type, great sorting features and even cloning. Wondershare also works for external drives and most removable media, though not SD cards.
The biggest downside of the software is that deep scans take quite a long time to complete. In our tests, detailed in our Wondershare Data Recovery review, a 518GB scan took over seven hours.
For those without much data to recover or those that don’t mind working with underdeveloped software, there are a whole host of free data recovery options that you can try. We highlighted five of our favorites, headed by what we consider two best-in-class options, free or not: Stellar Data Recovery and Prosoft Engineering Data Rescue.
However, there are many more options besides those we landed on. The trick is finding a tool that has powerful scanning algorithms, otherwise, you’re likely going to be wasting your time, and, for some of us, time is money.
Of course, the best bet is prevention, and for that, we recommend taking a look at our best online backup guide, where you’ll find reputable solutions like Backblaze, IDrive and CrashPlan. Feel free to chime in with your own picks for free data recovery below and thanks for reading.