How to Survive the Worst PC Disasters

Problem: You deleted a critical file, and you have no backup.

Vista's Shadow Copy feature (see step 4) lets you restore folders (and their files) to previous versions.
Vista's Shadow Copy feature (see step 4) lets you restore folders (and their files) to previous versions.
Likely Cause: Not enough sleep.

In Video: How to Retrieve a Deleted File

The Fix: Most Windows users know that deleting a file doesn't really erase it. There's a good chance it's recoverable, even if it's no longer in the Recycle Bin.

  1. First step: Immediately stop using the PC in question. Close all open programs and stop any real-time indexing services such as X1, Google Desktop, or Windows' own indexing service, as they could overwrite the file you're trying to recover.
  2. Give one of the popular undelete products a spin. QueTek's File Scavenger ($49) or Diskeeper's Undelete ($30) are affordable and can make quick work of scouring your drive for deleted files.
  3. If an undelete tool doesn't work, start thinking about alternate places where the file might live. Did you e-mail it to someone? Check the sent items in your e-mail client, or ask the recipient to send it back to you. Was the file a photo or video? Check your camera's memory card, or perhaps you uploaded it to Flickr or YouTube. Many files exist in temp folders scattered around your hard drive.
  4. With certain versions of Vista, you can use the Shadow Copy feature (on by default) to restore your files. Right-click the folder where your file was, and select Restore previous versions to retrieve your documents (see the Windows Tips column, "Work Smarter With Vista's New Productivity Tools" for more details).

How to Avoid It Next Time: Nightly backups (or better yet, real-time backups) will make this problem a thing of the past. Also, once installed, programs like Undelete keep track of erased files until they are overwritten, and so make recovering them much easier.

For a visual tutorial on this subject, watch our video.

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