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Can I recover my files with free data recovery software? 

In today’s flexible working environment, backing up your files is of increased importance. 
 
You can no longer rely on IT support being three cubicles down to help when something goes wrong – if they are even in the same time zone anymore. 
 
And just because you’re working from home, don’t assume that the cyber-attackers can’t find you, indeed the incidence of data loss and security breaches as a result of flexible working patterns is rising rapidly. 
 
But you have everything under control, right? 
 
You have a backup drive connected to your laptop, which you frequently copy important files to. 
 
You have all of your photos and videos syncing to the Google cloud, because you just never know. 
 
You have a cloud icon in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen, so that is obviously doing its job and taking those work files off to some super datacenter somewhere. 
 
And of course you have the company network backing everything up to their big server room – you know, the room with all the flashing lights and big towers of…technology? 
 
So what could possibly go wrong? 
 
It turns out that your definition of ‘frequent’ is actually once per week at best. 
 
And those photos to Google cloud? Well, they only actually sync whenever you open that app, which turns out to be about twice per year when you’re trying to search for something. 
 
And yes, that cloud drive installed by IT does a great job – when you actually save your files specifically to it, and not save them all over your desktop, C drive or elsewhere. 
 
Lastly, is your laptop permanently connected to the network and configured to back everything up all the time? Or do you only get a full backup taken when physically connected in the office, which you haven’t visited for… three and a half weeks? 
 
So when the inevitable happens, and the important proposal you have been slaving over all week suddenly disappears without a trace, do you need to take out a second mortgage to pay for a professional data recovery company to recover the data in their lab? What about those 'free' software recovery tools you've heard about...? 

Will data recovery software get my data back? 

Often, the answer to this question is no. 
 
Clearly there are many scenarios that a software tool is never going to be able to fix, mostly related to physical and / or electomechanical failures. 
 
So running recovery software on a laptop that fell into the bathtub, or an external backup drive that clicks and whirs ever since you knocked it off your desk is unlikely to be helpful, and in many cases will actually make the data loss situation worse. 
 
But accidentally deleted files, formatted systems, software malfunctions, malware issues? All good candidates for software recovery, and there are several products out there which are user friendly enough for you to attempt a DIY recovery. 
 
Further, most competent / reputable tools have a free or trial version which will allow you to try before you buy, so assuming you are happy that the device is physically sound, why not give it a go? 
 

What is the best software recovery tool? 

There are several tools which commonly top ‘best of’ lists, and we can recommend each of these following 3 for different reasons: 
 
Best for range of features: 
Stellar Data Recovery 
With a fantastic 4.8/5 on Trustpilot, many awards including techradar.pro Editor’s Choice, and the most comprehensive list of features we’ve seen, Stellar’s recovery tool is an IT Technician’s Swiss Army Knife. 
 
Facilitating recoveries from internal and external hard drives (including SSD devices), as well as SD cards and RAW partitions, all common storage devices are covered. 
 
And not only does it perform well across Windows versions, it also supports storage media and RAID arrays with FAT, exFAT and NTFS file systems. 
 
So whether you need to recover virtual RAID constructions, get data back from a non-booting system, or regain access to data from a drive that has bad sectors, Stellar Data Recovery software has you covered with tailored scanning. 
 
As with all products reviewed here, Stellar have free versions of their software to ensure you know what is possible before committing to the purchase, as well support for iOS / Mac, and several tools for recovering and repairing mail files specifically. 
 
Support is very good, and the product goes through regular update cycles to ensure compatibility with newer devices and operating systems. 
 
Best for end to end data recovery: 
Ontrack EasyRecovery 
Provided by the world leader in lab / physical data recovery, Ontrack’s product is a fantastic on-ramp to data recovery services, as they provide a seamless link to remote (engineer-assisted) or full lab services if the software is unable to perform the recovery for whatever reason. 
 
This doesn’t mean that the DIY tool necessarily recovers from more data loss scenarios than other credible tools on the market, but it does make it easier to identify a path to recovery when software doesn’t work, which makes it an excellent first port of call. 
 
Similarly-featured to the Stellar product, and with both a user-friendly interface and good global support (so you can get a response to technical queries in your time zone), Ontrack’s EasyRecovery is a highly recommended option with options for all common storage devices and operating systems. 
 
EasyRecovery has a free version allowing 1Gb of data to be recovered at no cost, and an additional toolkit for adjacent tasks such as disk cloning and corruption repair. This makes the product useful for all users including individuals at home, businesses and professional IT technicians. 
 
Best for ease of use: 
EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard 
EaseUS is a very well established software company that has been providing popular data recovery tools since 2004. 
 
Apart from covering all the usual bases with regard to data recovery capabilities, EaseUS is particularly well known for its straight-forward user interface meaning even the least tech-savvy of us will be able to use it effectively. 
 
That’s not to say this is a lightweight solution technically, far from it in fact. Again, most storage devices and systems are covered including RAW files, and the EaseUS product has a useful ‘preview’ tool to let you check what you’re able to recover before committing to the full process. 
 
The product is provided in 20 languages, further helping the user experience, and of course there’s a free version to get you started (although we wouldn’t say the tool is the quickest available, and the free version shows you what you can recover rather than actually giving you any data back). 
 
Pricing-wise, there are several options available, but whilst the user interface makes this a great option for private users, the cost could be a little prohibitive outside of business-use. 
 

Which data recovery software is best for me? 

 
Stellar Data Recovery 
Ontrack EasyRecovery 
EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard 
Ease of use 
8/10 
7.5/10 
9/10 
Features 
9.5/10 
9/10 
8/10 
Tech rating 
8/10 
8/10 
7/10 
Support 
7/10 
9/10 
7/10 
Pricing 
8/10 
7/10 
7/10 
Overall 
81% 
81% 
76% 
 
Ultimately it comes down to a few factors, although you can’t go far wrong with any of the recommendations above. 
 
If you are comfortable with advanced features, and willing to spend time with a tool to get the most out of it, then we would steer you towards Stellar
 
If you are looking at a tool as a first step in the recovery process, and willing to invest more in a lab solution should the tool not work, then Ontrack is the company for you. 
 
For those that prefer a more hands-off approach, and are looking for the easiest way to try and get your files back, then perhaps EaseUS should be your choice. 
 
But in every case, make sure you stop whatever you are doing and contact a professional data recovery outfit if you suspect your device has physical issues. 
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