Data Recovery Freeware – 3 Main Things To Watch Out For

by Rod Dunne on July 12, 2010

in Data Recovery

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Using any kind of freeware brings its own dangers about the level of application testing that was done and how these tools actually work. If you need to recover lost data then data recovery freeware can be a suitable option – if you manage to choose the right tool. Here, we’ll look at the 3 main considerations when picking a tool that could save you from damaging your computer.

Format Types: All data recovery tools focus on supporting specific file system formats. In Windows it is common to have FAT and NTFS data recovery freeware which works on most internal hard drives and some external storage devices (for example, flash drives are FAT based so don’t require specialized flash card data recovery software).

If you choose the wrong Windows data recovery freeware, then at best the application will fail to recognize the file system, but at worst it may be able to identify files to recover. For example, using NTFS data recovery freeware on a FAT based hard drive might identify files, but the concern would be that recovering these files could damage other data on the drive. these tools will also work for SD card data recovery (each is also FAT formatted).

However, Zip disk data recovery software can only be used with Zip disks, as this is a proprietary file system format.

Nature of Data Recovery Services (How They Work): Secondly, it is important that the data recovery tools only recover hard drive data by duplicating/copying the files you wish to retrieve. Any data recovery services that remove (extricate/cut out) the data clusters from the hard-drive are inherently dangerous as there is the potential of removing data clusters in error.

Unfortunately, some freeware developers will not consider this issue and develop their applications to manipulate the data clusters which is always deemed bad practice. It is also rare for freeware tools to document exactly how they retrieve the data.

Specialization (Deletion/Formatted/Corrupted): Finally, each data recovery freeware application will focus on a certain type of data recovery so you need to choose the right tool for your needs based on whether you are attempting to find files from a formatted drive, recover files from a corrupted drive or recovering deleted data.

Deletion:  Deleted files recovery is often the easiest for data recovery freeware to retrieve. When a file is deleted, its associated data clusters (how the file is stored to disk) are not wiped from the hard drive. Moreover, the file allocation table (FAT) will retain a reference from the file name to the associated data clusters – only the file’s directory location is cleared (or set to point at the recycle bin). Data recovery tools therefore only need to read the FAT to identify the data clusters to retrieve.

Formatted: With a data recovery after format, the FAT is potentially (but not always) cleared of file references. Data recovery services then need to scan the drive for data clusters and use logic to identify data clusters that could be reassembled back into files that you’d recognize.

Corrupted: Lastly, for a corrupted hard drive you should consider using DOS-based applications, before starting into your PC repairs, and boot up Windows in DOS-mode. The setback with this process is that the volume of information that your data recovery freeware can salvage will be constrained by the target file systems you have available to copy to (for example, if your C drive is corrupted then you may only be able to recover corrupted files by copying them to a floppy disk if you have no D drive). This approach would also work for compact flash data recovery.

See Also:
- Our post on flash data recovery.
- The approaches suggested in our post on how to wipe a computer also apply to flash memory.

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