How to Recover Data

data recovery

A few years ago, i was on holidays in Barcelona. I had one camera and one memory card. On my last day there my camera gave me a ‘memory card corrupt’ error. Gutted. After taking the card out and putting it back in 100 times, i finally had to concede that it was indeed corrupt. Sure enough when i got home and put it in to my PC, the card was empty…

How that happened i’ll never know. I bought the card on ebay, from China which may have had something to do with it, but i just put it down to bad luck. Any memory can just commit suicide like that – thankfully it hasn’t happened my RAM or a Hard Drive, but it does happen and can happen for no reason…

So what did i do? Well at first, i didn’t want to format the memory card for fear i’d erase anything that might be recoverable, but i had no choice. The memory card would not open without being formatted for some reason, so i had to bite the bullet. I knew that theoretically, provided i didn’t write over any data, my pictures & video could be recovered. And i was right.

I can’t remember what software i used, but i was able to recover about 90% of the pictures i took… some of them were pretty stunning too and it would have been a real shame had i lost them all. So if you ever find yourself in that sort of situation here’s what to do…

STOP!!!! Do not do anything.

Do not take pictures, do not copy paste data to a hard drive, do not even power up your device. If you want to recover as much as possible, don’t make the situation worse. If you take a look at my ‘destroying data’ post from yesterday, you’ll know that if your rewrite over files, they’ll be gone forever. So lets say your use your memory card or hard drive after you’ve deleted files accidentally or it’s gotten corrupt – you risk overwriting the data you want to restore which isn’t good.

Again, think ‘old cassette tapes’. If you tape over something, you can never recover that ‘something’ because you’ve gone and put new stuff on it.

Data recovery software

I’ve listed two free data recovery tools below. Download them both if you want but whatever you do, DO NOT download them on to the memory you want to recover files from. So if you want to recover files from your PC’s hard drive and you’re using that PC now, switch it off and use another PC. Or install this software on to a usb key or something.

The Test

The only way i could really test this stuff was by erasing something and then recovering it. I took a 4gig memory card loaded with hundreds of pictures and a few videos, deleted a few files off it, formatted it and made sure it was empty. As you can see below, it was.

folder is empty

I then installed & ran both pieces of software and noted the results…


recuva interface

Some of you might have heard of software called ‘CCleaner‘ which stand for ‘crap cleaner’ and it does what the name suggests – deleted crap from your PC. I use it. So should you. The same company behind CCleaner (piriform) also have a recovery tool called ‘recuva’. Like Cleaner, it’s free, has a nice interface and is incredibly simple to use.

After you open it up, select a drive you want to recover from a drop down list, select the media type you want to recover (e.g. documents, pictures, video or audio) and then click ‘scan’. Choose a ‘deep scan’ for best results. Then wait patiently and let it works it’s magic.

In my own test, it recovered the vast majority of images on the card i’d formatted. 426 of 444. About 96%. However, it recovered none of my videos (well it saved 6 videos as thumbnail jpgs). I had 24 HD videos though. So i’d be pretty pissed off if i couldn’t get them back.

Of course not all video camera’s save in the same format, so perhaps recuva only searches for the major video formats like .mpg, .avi etc.. still, if i’m an average user, i’ve lost all of my videos for good, but at least i’ve recovered the vast majority of my pictures.

Download recuva now!



First of all, let me start off by saying this is the worst interface ever if you’re an average joe user. Brace yourself, it’s a command line interface… However, you’ve just last all of your data and don’t have it backed up, so can you really afford to be bitching and moaning about a program which is eventually gonna restore your data? Didn’t think so.

I ran this software the old fashioned way… following prompts in the command prompt window (e.g. typing ‘y’ for yes, ‘n’ for now and using the arrow keys to select the drive i wanted to recover data from). Painful to do in 2010 where everything should have an interface but i can’t knock this software too much because it does what it says on the tin.

It recovered every single picture and video clip i’d erased & formatted (444 images, 24 videos) in about 5 minutes and saved them in a new folder for me. Job done without any frills so that’s what i really can’t fault this software – it does what it’s supposed to do well, but the interface will put a lot of people off.

Download testdisk now!


TestDisk, although uglier and much more difficult to use, actually recovered more pictures than Recuva and all of my videos (recuva recovered no videos) . So if we’re basing it on ‘how much recovery software recovers’, then TestDisk has to win. Ideally, you should use both and hopefully combined, they’ll leave nothing uncovered.

Recuva has a nice interface, it’s pretty simple to use and it offers you previews and details of the stuff being recovered which is nice. It also has some advanced options. So it’s much more user friendly.

So now we can all go home happy knowing that we can deliberately format any drive we want and then recovery everything with this software. Go ahead, try it out on your hard drive… format your hard drive now and then run this software…

It’s a bit like those ‘trust tests’ where you tell someone to stand behind you and catch you as you fall back. Do you trust this software enough? If you do, you’re an idiot 😉 Recovery software should never be used in an ideal world. You’ll have backups in place. Lots of them.

However, as you can see from this post, if you do happen to accidentally or deliberately erase something, it may not be the end of the world. Just stop using the memory immediately, run recovery software like i’ve done and cross your fingers you get everything back.

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