Choosing the best data recovery software is a pretty tricky endeavor. There are plenty of programs around and more are being added every day, with each provider promising results like never before. Most of them end up being duds, though, which is why we had to be pretty strict while putting together our data recovery software reviews.
After all, people desperate to get their family photos or a critical work presentation back are the perfect prey for unscrupulous vendors. Data recovery is never done with a calm mind, so we’ve made sure all the above reviews are clear and concise, meaning you can get started as quickly as possible.
However, before we talk about anything else we’d like to offer a disclaimer: you should never assume data recovery will always succeed. It simply isn’t possible for each program to work in all cases, all the time.
In the end, you’re always taking a gamble, even with the most dependable services. We’ve done our best to make sure the chances it won’t happen to you, but even the best services can let you down.
This is because data can get lost in all kinds of ways and for all kinds of reasons, which not all programmers can anticipate. Sometimes a hard drive is just too old (check out our article on how long a hard drive will last) or simply too damaged for you to retrieve whatever is stored on it.
On top of that, data recovery can never protect against fire and water damage, which is why data recovery should always be the sorry option, with your safe one being any of our best online backup providers. However, if your backup has failed — or you didn’t have one in the first place — then you have no choice but to get your files back by using data recovery software.
Before we get to which ones we think are best, let’s first go over how we selected and tested them.
How We Rate
As reviewers, we’ll always be working on the fine line between objective and subjective opinion. However, we’ve tweaked the criteria for all our reviews in such a way that we always come down hard on the side of our readers. If you like to see how that work on other categories, please check out our VPN reviews library or even our cloud storage reviews.
Pricing and Licensing
At Cloudwards.net we like to put money first, which is why we start each and every data recovery review with how much the software will set you back. With this type of software judging this seems simple at first because almost all companies maintain a single-license payment system, rather than the monthly charge you expect with storage or best business backup providers.
However, plenty of providers like to pull a fast one and make a license only single use, or valid for a single device. Others will tell you something is free and then charge you to recover more than a certain amount of data. Thankfully, after a few years experience, the Cloudwards.net team has gotten very good at spotting these shenanigans and we’ll warn you if we see one.
Under “features” we determine the range of tasks any one piece of software can perform. In the case of data recovery, you could think of things like which operating systems it will work on (Mac and Linux are badly catered for, generally), whether you can scan and sort by file type (handy if you just want to get your pictures back) and whether the program can recover optical disks and RAID arrays.
As not all providers are always up front about what their software can do, we recommend you pay close attention to our feature section as we may have found an important deal breaker lurking somewhere in the program manual.
This section is about how easy it is to use the program in question. After all, no matter how good or cheap an app is, if you have trouble figuring out how to operate it or doesn’t do what you need it to, it’s a waste of time and money.
What we do is run a few scans, usually a deep one and a quick one, and see how intuitive the process is, if finding what you need is easy, all that. This section also acts as a basic tutorial for new users, so we recommend you don’t skip it.
Performance is the other side of the coin from recovery process: it’s how well the program in question works. We don’t just take amount of data recovered in review here, we also look at the amount of time the software needed to scan your disk and recover your files. Some services take forever for no real reason, while other might be quick, but recover only a fraction of data.
To make sure everything was done fairly, we generally do a few runs and then take the average results so you can be sure that the data recovery solution in question is up to the task of getting your data back.
Last but not least is customer support, where we check out the tutorials and knowledgebase of each provider to see if it will meet your needs. We also fire off a few questions of varying difficulty at support reps and see how they handle them.
Data recovery software has a lot of quirks, so good support is paramount. If you’re worried that you may run into trouble while using a program, make sure you check out how support staff treated us.
The Best Data Recovery Software
With all the above in mind, we tested around twenty programs, with only ten or so being declared fit to be actually reviewed. Free options especially seem to serve as nothing but a way to deliver a payload of nasty malware.
Note that while these are the best services out there, as we mentioned earlier no data recovery software is ever guaranteed to restore everything, all the time.
Stellar Data Recovery — the “Phoenix” bit got dropped after a rebranding in 2018 — is our top pick for several reasons. For one, it will recover almost any type of file from almost any type of personal device or storage medium, making it extremely versatile. On top of that, it’s also fast and efficient, meaning that you won’t have to wait too long to see results. Read our Stellar Data Recovery review for the metrics on that.
The only real downside is that servers and RAID arrays aren’t catered to; for these more commercial applications you may want to check out our Piriform Recuva Pro review. Another minus is that Stellar is a fairly pricey option, so if you’re on a budget you may want to look elsewhere.
Another option for commercial users is EaseUS. There is not a device or application made that this excellent program can’t recover data from, as you can read in our EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard review. However, it has one massive downside that keeps it from the number one slot: it cannot scan a full hard drive and only goes by partition, instead.
While this may not be that big of a deal with people running a small home system, anybody else might get annoyed with EaseUS. That said, it’s still a very efficient, fast and thorough piece of software, and it’s a bit cheaper than Stellar, too.
Disk Drill is the first real budget option on our list. However, with this lower price also comes a smaller features set, making it a good fit for people that have simple data recovery needs but not for seasoned professionals. We recommend you read our Cleverfiles Disk Drill review to see which label applies to you.
Cleverfiles is also a great choice if you’re recovering data from a broken phone or from a Mac. In fact, it’s one of the best out there for Apple’s OS as it actually offers more features for Cupertino fans than for regular ol’ Redmonders. All this together gives Disk Drill a proud number three spot, which may be a number one for some readers.
Prosoft Engineering has taken a different tack from the other services on this list, focusing more on a smaller suite of features but bringing as much power as possible to bear on them. This is an approach that works great for some, but not so well for others; check out our Prosoft Engineering Data Rescue review to see if it’s a good fit for you.
Downsides of Data Rescue are its price, which is a few percentages over market average, and that features are scattered strangely over plans. This could mean that in some cases you’d have to upgrade a whole tier just to get a single option, an expensive proposition for home users.
The last but not least of this list is Wondershare Data Recovery, a very attractive option thanks to its kind pricing and great ease of use. People looking for more oomph and flexibility will likely be disappointed with it, however, so we doubt it will ever crawl up from the number five spot.
As you can read in our Wondershare Data Recovery review, quick scans are very quick, indeed, and also quite efficient. Deep scans, however, are ridiculously slow, making it a very bad option if you’re worried about underlying issues, but the average home user should be delighted by Data Recovery.
Data Recovery Frequently Asked Questions
With software as complicated as data recovery, you’re bound to have questions. Below we’ve put together the ones we’ve most frequently heard, plus our answers.
How Much Does Data Recovery Cost?
As with many things, you pay for quality. That said, data recovery software won’t require you to take out a second mortgage, either. Depending on what you need, you can expect to pay as little as $40, while professionals looking for heavy-duty solutions could spend as much as $400 per year.
How Can I Recover My Data For Free?
There are several free options on the market now. If paying money is something you prefer to avoid, we have put together a selection of the best free data recovery software, though be warned that all the options there come with some serious caveats.
How Is Data Recovery Done?
Slowly and painfully. Though the tech behind it is a bit more involved than we can go into here, data recovery software basically goes into your hard drive, finds traces the lost data has left behind and tries to reconstruct it. As you can imagine, this is not a bullet proof system, which is why we recommend it only as a last resort.
How Far Back Can Data Recovery Go?
Technically, all the data that was ever on a storage medium is still there, so in theory all your lost data ever could be found again. In practice, however, that’s generally beyond the ability of most data recovery programs, so expect nothing from before the last disk format to show up.
What to Use for WhatsApp Data Recovery?
Losing WhatsApp chats is a real pain, made worse by the fact that it seems to happen a lot. The first thing we recommend is that you backup your WhatsApp chat messages to avoid needing to use data recovery at all. However, the service that seem to do best with recovering data from phones are Stellar and Wondershare, so make sure to check those out.
How Dependable Is Data Recovery?
Not very, if we’re honest. Data recovery software should always be your last resort simply because it can’t be relied upon to always restore the files you need. There is just too much that can go wrong, so if you lost something particularly important, you may want to send a prayer to whichever deity you subscribe to when booting up whichever program you settled on.
We hope you find the above information useful and that our data recovery software reviews help you find the best solution for your needs. While data recovery is never completely dependable, a good solution will go a long way toward offsetting the risk. Thank you for reading.