Roundup: 6 Data Recovery Tools for Portable Storage

Undelete 360

  • File Recovery
  • Price: Free
  • OS: Windows 2000 and later

There's little question Undelete 360 is easy on the eyes: It's got a snappy-looking interface reminiscent of an Office 2007 application. But despite the splashy looks, it's not as self-guiding as Recuva -- and it does a far weaker job of recovering data than the competition.

Undelete 360

When launched, Undelete 360 scans the available drives in the system and lets you choose one or more to inspect for deleted files. If it finds anything, it produces a list that can be filtered by file types and properties. Some file types can be previewed (provided the program judges them to be in recoverable condition), and a hex view tab lets experts peek at the file's raw data if they're curious.

I suspect Undelete 360 only scans directory structures and does not perform the kind of intense block-by-block scan used by other products here. To begin with, it returned a list of potentially recoverable files a great deal faster than the competition -- which seemed like a good thing on the face of it, but also implied a superficial search. The program also didn't do as good a job of recovering the files -- half the time, files were reported as "overwritten," even when the very same files were restored by other apps reviewed here.

Worse, Undelete 360 seemed to be just about useless when confronted with a quick-formatted drive. When I performed a quick format on my media and let Undelete 360 scan it, it turned up nothing -- and again, turned up nothing a little too fast for my own comfort. No options appear to exist to force the program to do a deep search for files from the beginning.

There are a few handy features, like the data-wiping tool reminiscent of the one in Recuva and the ability to recover alternate NTFS data streams. But those fall flat in the face of Undelete 360's much larger weaknesses.

Bottom line

A good interface and a nice preview system do not compensate for the program's inability to deal with anything more than recently deleted files.

Conclusions

Undelete 360 worked best when dealing with recently deleted files, but anything more ambitious than that (e.g., quick-formatted media) was beyond it. CardRecovery's biggest limitation was the limited range of file types it handles: It's designed mainly to recover files created by cameras and almost nothing else.

Recover My Files may be costly, but I liked its tunable scan function; its professional-level support for devices like RAID drives may come in handy. Remo Recover is functionally similar to Recover My Files, but it turned up a high number of false positives during testing.

The biggest surprise was how two of the best programs cost nothing to use. While PhotoRec was the least novice-friendly -- its text-only interface could scare off the uninitiated and its documentation is spotty -- it was also one of the most powerful. Recuva was likewise quite strong and wasn't lacking any functionality in its free version.

As a result, I recommend PhotoRec for tech-savvy users and Recuva for everyone else.

Best practices for Recovering Data from Mobile Drives

Restoring data from USB drives and memory sticks comes with some of the same caveats as any other data-restoration effort. Here are a few useful tips:

Use write protection. To prevent further accidental destruction of data, mobile storage devices should be mounted as read-only whenever possible before you attempt any recovery operations. SD cards typically have a write-protect switch, which makes it easier to protect them before attempting a recovery operation. Removable USB drives are a stickier wicket, since Windows does not have a way to manually mount their file systems as read-only. There is a Registry setting that works with Windows XP SP2 and higher; it forces all USB mass-storage devices into read-only mode. (Note that any program that expects the device being recovered to be writable, such as Remo Recover, may balk at this.)

Be patient. If you're using a program that supports deep scanning at the cost of a slower recovery process, use it. The speed of this type of scan depends on your system's CPU rather than its I/O, as most of the work involves matching file signatures and checking for false positives. If you're in a hurry, run a deep scan using the fastest machine you have access to.

Remember to use the "Safely Unplug Hardware" option. Memory cards and sticks generally tolerate immediate removal, but do yourself a favor and remember to safely eject these devices before removing them, just to be sure. This cuts down on the possibility that data will be lost in the first place.

Serdar Yegulalp has been writing about computers and information technology for a variety of publications for more than 15 years.

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