One of my worst nightmares is deleting a file from my PC just to realize that I still needed it. It has happened to me several times, especially since one of my favorite key combinations is Shift+Delete, which “permanently” deletes a file– bypassing the Recycling Bin. Then a few moments later is when you say “uh oh!” Have no fear, because Windows just deletes the reference to the file without actually removing the file from your hard disk…therefore giving you the possibility to recover your lost file. This is also important because if you can recover files that have been “deleted,” so can many other people.
I tested four freeware applications that are all designed to restore your files after they are supposed to be gone. The applications were as follows:
- Restoration 3.2.13 (Homepage / Mirror) – No installation is needed for this application and it is so small that it could run on a floppy disk. This is great to store on your USB drive and carry around with you so that you have it easily accessible when it is needed. Not only that but this tiny little application also offers the ability to permanently delete a file from your hard drive.
- PCI File Recovery 4 (Homepage / Mirror) – This program is a little larger because it is available in various languages. It does require installation before being able to use the features.
- Smart Data Recovery 3.3 (Homepage / Mirror) – This is also a really small application but it does require installation. It can recover files from “hard disks, digital cameras, and any type of storage media – flash drives, USB drives, memory stick, PC card, multimedia card, secure digital card and diskette.” It also has an option to “wipe” a file off of your hard drive and therefore making it unrecoverable in the future.
- FreeUndelete 2.0 (Homepage / Mirror) – The size of this application is similar to the previous one and also requires installation.
All of the applications mentioned here support both FAT and NTFS file systems, and I was testing them on Windows XP machine that has the drive formatted as NTFS. I created one text file and renamed the three setup files (Restoration has no setup file) so that I could use them as my “test” files. Here’s what the files looked like before deleting them:
I pulled all of the applications up so that I could test them all immediately, one after another with the same files shown above. After they were all up and running I went ahead and performed a Shift+Delete on the files so that they would bypass the Recycling Bin and be permanently deleted. Then I ran a recovery on all four applications, and this is what the results were:
- Restoration – This application was definitely the fastest at providing the results, and the files I was looking for came up immediately. The application does provide a filter in case you are looking for a specific file, which would probably be the case. I, however, wanted to see what it returned and it looks like it also pulled in a lot of garbage from the temporary files as well.
- PCI File Recovery – This was my least favorite application because it took a little while for the results to be returned. If I had filtered the results it might not have been so bad, but if you are looking to browse through files I don’t think this is your alternative.
- Smart Data Recovery – I found this program to be my absolute favorite. The search went reasonably quick but what really won me over was the file directory navigation on the side. It is exactly what we are used to using in Windows Explorer, so navigating for your deleted files is a no-brainer. They also provide checkboxes so that you can easily recover more than one file without any hassles.
- FreeUndelete – If you are looking for something plain and simple, but gets the job done well then this is the program for you. Navigating for the lost files is similar to Smart Data Recovery where you go through a folder structure, except they don’t have a navigation tree on the left-side.
All four programs did find all four files that I deleted. Here is the end result of all the applications (I highlighted the files I was looking for so that you could easily notice them):
I was fortunate in this case because all of the different applications found all of the files I was looking for. It might not always work out that perfectly for you, especially if a lot of time has gone by since the files have been deleted.
One thing that you should note is that when you recover a file using any of the applications mentioned above, you should always set the destination of the recovered file to be on a different drive than the deleted file. You don’t want to take the risk of partially recovering the file to the area on the disk where the deleted file is stored…that would result in a corrupt restore.
I would make sure that you put all four of these applications in your bookmarks because when you need them you’ll be scurrying around searching the Internet which just wastes more and more precious time. I would also put the Restoration program on your USB drive so that you have it ready to go at a moments notice, and who knows you might even be able to help a friend out that has lost some files!