Sometimes you can encounter difficult data recovery jobs where you need all the help you can get; this is the reason why I have decided to compile this list. As you can see, almost all of the utilities in this list are free and open source with only two exceptions Spinrite and Recover My Files. Not all software in this list is dedicated specifically to recover data but all of them are essential in the data recovery process. The list is done according to importance and usefulness. I must point out that most of the programs are free, however, that does not mean that they are lower quality; they are as good and some of them better than similar commercial products. These are the tools I use whenever I have to perform a data recovery job.
1 – Ddrescue:
Ddrecue is not at the top of my list for nothing. Ddrescue truly works magic when you have to recover data off a bad hard drive, and when I say bad I mean it literaly. Ddrescue works by extracting a raw image from a bad hard drive to a good one, what makes it good is that it tries to obtain that image in every which way it possibly can, even reading data backwards. This makes Ddrescue VERY effective even when trying to recover data off hard drives with mechanical malfunctions. Obviously Ddrescue cannot recover data in 100% of cases because there are factors outside it powers, like hard drives with bad logic boards, plates that do not spin, stuck heads, bad heads, etc. However, if it can be recovered, Ddrescue will do it. If you want to learn how to use it, read my article on how to recover data even when hard drive is damaged.[Free, Open source].
2 – Ubuntu Rescue Remix
Ubuntu Rescue Remix is a bootable LiveCD containing a collection of data recovery utilities, such as Ddrescue, TestDisk, Photorec, Foremost, etc. It is essential when doing data recovery due the amount and quality of the software contained in it. Read my article on how to use Ubuntu Rescue Remix and Ddrescue. [Free, Open source].
3 – TestDisk
Testdisk is one of the best programs out there to recover lost partition tables and MBRs. Operating systems usually make backups of the MBR and write it somewhere in the disk. TesDisk finds these backups and restores them. It works better than the Microsoft utilities that come with the operating system disk, like fixboot and fixmbr. If you wish to learn how to use TestDisk, read my article on how to recover lost partitions. [Free, Open Source].
4 – PhotoRec
PhotoRec is a program designed to recover erased files, or files that are not readable due to corrupt partitions etc. Contrary to what its name implies, Photorec does not only recover photos, but a wide variety of files as well [Free, Open Source].
5 – SpinRite
I generaly prefer free and open source utilities, however, there is no program that does what Spinrite can do. Spinrite recovers data from bad sectors, and somehow it gets it right. The way Spinrite works is that it reads the same bad sector up to 2000 times, every time it might get a different reading, then, it chooses what it believes is the right bit based on the results of its readings. Then it takes this information and moves it to another good sector [Commercial].
6 – HDAT2
Some utilities like Windows ScanDisk claim to fix bad sectors, but all they do is relabel sectors as good again. This is useful when viruses mark sectors in the hard drive as bad, however, it does not really work when sectors are damaged for real. HDAT2 does not recover data per se, but it fixes real bad sectors so they can be used again. It works by fixing or re-magnetizing the damaged area so it can be writable again [Freeware].
7 - Recuva
Recuva is a software everybody should have on their computers. It does the same as Photorec but with a nice GUI, making it more user friendly. It works well, however from experience, I prefer Photorec, since it tends to be more reliable [Free, Open source].
8 – Foremost
Foremost is a program designed to extract files out of raw images. It works by using data carving on raw images to obtain actual files. It is designed to work in conjunction with Ddrescue and other imaging software [Free, Open source].
9 – Parted Magic
Is a collection of data recovery tools in a LiveCD similar to Ubuntu Rescue Remix with the difference that it has a GUI and therefore it is more user friendly. The reason why it is not at the top of my list is because Ubuntu Rescue Remix has more tools for data recovery. Parted Magic does data recovery, but it is not its main focus; it is more of an “all-encompassing” hard drive tool. It is very handy when you have to move files among hard drives and convert or resize partitions [Free, Open source].
10 – Recover my Files
Recover my Files is software designed to recover lost or erased files. Out of all commercial packages, this is probably the one I like best for its purpose. I have been able to recover files with this software even when hard drives exhibit the famous “click noise of death” [Commercial].