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6 data recovery tools for SD cards, USB drives and more

By Serdar Yegulalp
March 5, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Recuva

Piriform
Price: Free; home ($24.95) and business ($34.95) support available
OS: Windows XP and later

Say the name out loud: It's pronounced like "recover" -- which is exactly what this snappy little program does, and in a highly automated way. The free version of Recuva is full-featured but doesn't include any type of support. Piriform sells support to home users for $24.95, and it offers a business-support license for $34.95.

When first launched, Recuva starts in wizard mode, which prompts you with basic questions about what you're trying to restore -- a specific type of file, a specific drive, or even a specific type of drive -- and then gets to work. It took about 10 minutes to scan my 8GB card and I was able to run the scan unobtrusively in the background.

After the scan, Recuva presents you with a very detailed breakdown of what files were found. Click on any file and you'll be given detailed information about it -- how healthy the file was (i.e., whether or not it was partly overwritten), a hex dump of its header information, and even a preview for certain supported file types such as JPGs. Files to be recovered can also be browsed as thumbnails, which is handy if you're looking for one image among many. Note that file names are generally not recovered; the resulting files are given arbitrary names and have to be renamed manually.

Advanced options allow you to recover files that haven't been deleted -- e.g., from damaged drives -- or to try to restore the original folder structure of the source media. Recuva can also securely erase files found during a recovery operation, a handy way to make sure a given file has been properly destroyed if you're concerned about security.

All the test files I looked for were recovered, although Recuva interpreted my CR2 files as TIF images. It still recovered them properly, though, and they were fine once renamed.

Bottom line

The wizard-guided interface for Recuva makes the recovery process a snap. The quality of the program's file recovery and the price (free) make it a solid choice for the average Windows user.

Remo Recover (Windows)

Remo Software
Price: $39 (Basic); $49 (Media); $99 (Pro). Free trial available (only previews files)
OS: Windows 98 and later. Versions available for Mac OS X.

A close cousin to Recover My Files in terms of functionality, Remo Recover comes in three versions for Windows, depending on how much of a recovery you need to perform. The Basic Edition ($39) does simple file recovery, the Media Edition ($49) can recover RAW format photos, and the Pro Edition ($99) recovers files from lost partitions or reformatted drives. All the versions are contained in the same download and simply require different unlock codes, so I tried all three.

(Mac users can also find the same breakdown of editions and usability for slightly different prices: $59 for the Basic Edition, $69 for the Media Edition and $179 for the Pro Edition.)

No matter which version you've purchased, the opening menu lets you start a search based on the type of recovery needed; if you try to do a recovery type that's only available on a version you haven't purchased, you'll get a demo mode that allows a preview of what's to be recovered.

As with Recover My Files, you can choose which specific files to perform a deep scan for, as a way to narrow the search. Unlike that application, though, Remo Recover doesn't display the search results incrementally -- you have to wait for the whole scan to finish before you can choose what to salvage -- and there isn't the same kind of "common file format" selection choice.

That said, searching for all the known formats in Remo Recover was faster than the same search in Recover My Files: It took 15 minutes instead of over an hour. Recovery sessions can also be saved and resumed later.

One possible drawback to the way Remo Recover searches for files was the high rate of false positives, or wrong file type assignments, that turned up in my sample. I ended up with a great many files labeled ARJ, for instance, even though there were none in that format on the device to start with. (Deselecting ARJ for the search fixed this problem.)

I did like Remo Recover's ability to preview individual files from its lists of recovered files, although the preview only works for a small subset of file types: Images and audio preview fine, but there's no support for Office documents or PDFs.

Be warned that if you write-protect your media as a protection measure during the recovery process, Remo Recover does not deal with that well. During tests, it crashed consistently when I tried to recover data from write-protected devices.

Bottom line

The price, speed of search and breadth of files recovered with Remo Recover all make it a pretty good deal. I wasn't too fond of the rate of false positives, though, which means you need to be as precise as you can about which file types you're looking for. And be careful of recovering from read-only media.



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