Best Paid and Free File Recovery Utilities

There are hundreds of file recovery and data undelete tools available. Many are good, some are excellent and others are a complete waste of time and money. To save you some trial and error, I've put together some recommendations based on my own experience as a data recovery professional. 

Best Free File Recovery Utilities

If you are on a tight budget, you can choose from a number of free, trial or open source file recovery utilities. The advantage to a free data recovery program is, of course, the cost. The disadvantage is that these pieces of software are usually maintained by independent developers or a community of developers. While there are certainly exceptions, this model usually leads to a less stable product with little to no technical support. Freeware can also often fall by the wayside in terms of development, and may be outdated by the time you get to it. Open source software also tends to presume a more advanced user base. That is, the programs will be less user-friendly.

If you are comfortable with all of the above, then a free file recovery utility might be worth shot. Lifehacker has a good list of the top 5 free data recovery tools. Topping the list is TestDisk, a cross-platform command line tool for recovering data from formatted/corrupted disks and undeleting files from FAT, NTFS and ext2 file systems. Whereas TestDisk is an all-in-one tool, PhotoRec is made by the same group but focuses more on finding photos, videos, documents and other common files after a file system has been corrupted.

Best Paid File Recovery Utilities

In an era abound with free software, many are reluctant to shell out any kind of real money for a data recovery program. But the price you pay for your data recovery utility should be commensurate with the value that you place on your lost data. And when you compare it to the cost of having a professional data recovery lab reclaim your data, investing in a commercial piece of software is a significant savings.

While I haven't tried every single professional data recovery tool on the market, I have put a few of the top names to the test and have settled on a favorite. As an all-in-one data recovery utility, I like to use R-Studio. It's incredibly user-friendly, supports all the major file systems and is surprisingly fast as well. But best of all, beneath its user-friendliness are a range of advanced tools, like a hex editor, RAID reconstruction module and a file previewer. This makes it a well-balanced tool for the most common tasks that I encounter in the field. At $180 for the R-Studio Network edition (which supports data recovery over the Internet or a Local Area Network), R-Studio is definitely not cheap. But if you perform more than one major data recovery task, it easily pays for itself. For home use, you might want to try out R-Undelete by the same company, which is less expensive but has a smaller feature set. 

In the past, I have tried some other "off-the-shelf" programs, like Search & Recover, which you can now get at Best Buy for around $20. Search & Recover was fine, but you'll get about the same mileage as you would from a free utility. Lately, I've also seen "data recovery sticks" for sale for about $200. I would caution against these. They are nothing but a bootable file recovery utility imaged onto a $5 USB drive, which is something you could easily make on your own. For example, R-Studio has an emergency edition which can be burned onto a CD or imaged onto a USB stick. TestDisk is also found bundled  on the Ubuntu Rescue Remix, which is a distribution of Linux with some disk repair and data recovery  programs included.

I hope the above information helps you make a cost-effective and prudent decision. Best of luck!

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