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

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.

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.

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.

This story, "6 data recovery tools for SD cards, USB drives and more" was originally published by Computerworld.

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