Which Are The Best Free File Recovery Tools? Comparing 5 Of The Most Popular Programs

These days you can find quite a few programs that promise to help you recover accidentally deleted files. It is great to have lots of options but, which programs are really good at recovering deleted files? Which of them deliver on their promise? To find out, we tested some of the most popular applications in this niche, all of which are free for personal use. Let's see what we discovered.

The Testing Procedure

We took a USB memory stick and formatted it, to make sure there's nothing left on it. Then we copied a wide range of file formats to it, 67 files in all, including: pdf, doc, docx, rtf, epub, azw3 (Kindle eBooks), iso, mp3, jpg, nef, pptx, exe, avi, mp4, 7z, tar and zip. The total size of all the files was 3.44 GB.

Next we deleted those files with Shift+Delete and added 10 new files on the memory stick, to see how good each program would be at recovering files when there are chances of having some deleted files partially overwritten by others. Since the deleted files were on a USB stick, we recovered the files to our test computer's hard drive.

Then it was time to test the data recovery programs we planned to review. We chose the programs you see below, because, at this moment, they are the most popular programs in the niche. We also wanted to restrict this review only to free programs, without any kind of limitations, because most people are not keen on purchasing a lot of software.

Piriform Recuva

Recuva starts with a wizard, which helps you choose the location and file types you are about to scan. The application made the scan in 0.06 seconds and found 57 out of the 67 files we deleted.

It recovered them in 2 minute and 45 seconds.

Out of all the 57 recovered files, only 47 were intact. The other 10 files were only partially recovered, meaning that their contents were partially overwritten. These files were corrupted and could no longer be used.

Running Recuva a second time, using the deep scan option gave the same results.

Disk Drill

Disk Drill is a recovery program that also starts with a wizard. The interface is really simple and all you have to do is select a drive you want to scan and press the Recover button.

The program made a fast quick scan and detected 57 lost files, out of the 67 we originally deleted. Then, it automatically started a deep scan. The quick scan took only 1 second, while the deep scan lasted for about 5 minutes.

Recovering the lost files took 2 minutes and 15 seconds.

Out of the 57 deleted files it detected, Disk Drill managed to recover only 43 files. None of the restored files was corrupted.

PC Inspector File Recovery

The third program in our review is PC Inspector File Recovery. Each time you run the program, you have to choose your language, which is kind of annoying. Why wouldn't it remember the choice you make the first time? Then you choose what kind of recovery you want to do.

You have to select one of the three weird looking tabs on the left-hand side. The top one is for recovering deleted files (which is what we want for this review). The second tab is to recover data from a crashed or formatted drive and the third tab helps you recover files from drives that have disappeared, for instance when a drive has lost its drive letter. Since we were interested only in the first of the three scenarios, it is the only one we tested.

Then, you are asked to select the drive from where you want to make the recovery. After we selected the USB memory stick, we almost immediately had a list with 57 found files, out of the 67 that were deleted.

Recovering the deleted files took only 1 minute, but it ended with an error. We repeated the process, but the same error was encountered and the program remained unresponsive.

PC Inspector File Recovery managed to recover only 23 files out of the 67 we initially deleted. Furthermore, 2 of the files recovered were also corrupt, therefore unusable.

Puran File Recovery

Puran File Recovery is a free and easy to use file recovery program. It's a portable application that you don't need to install in order to use it. Once started, you must select the drive or volume you want to scan for lost files. Then, the program immediately displays all the deleted files it found.

It managed to find 57 files out of the 67 we previously deleted.

Recovering the lost files took about 2 minutes and 50 seconds.

Puran File Recovery managed to recover 47 intact files. The other 10 files proved to be corrupt, meaning their content was partially overwritten.

Wise Data Recovery

Wise Data Recovery is another recovery program that is very simple to use. After you start it, select the drive you want scanned and press the Scan button. All the lost files it detects are immediately listed.

Wise Data Recovery managed to find 57 files out of the 67 we previously deleted.

Recovering the lost files took a lot longer than all the other programs we tested so far. Wise Data Recovery needed almost 6 minutes to restore the lost files.

Just like Recuva and Puran File Recovery, this program only truly recovered 47 files. The other 10 it said it restored, were corrupt and unusable.

The Best Free File Recovery Tools

We created a table with a summary of our findings. Take a look to get a good overview:

If you look through the numbers, you could say there are two winners: Recuva and Puran File Recovery. Which is not necessarily untrue, as both are fast at scanning and recovering files. However, Recuva is a more mature product and updated a lot more regularly than Puran File Recovery. We are not saying Puran File Recovery doesn't work well though. Even if it is a more basic program, it gets the job done and it can be considered a good second choice.

The other programs though, were largely disappointing. Even Wise Data Recovery, which recovered a similar number of files to our winners. The program has a friendly interface and works well, but it needs much more time to recover your files than competing solutions.

Disk Drill and PC Inspector File Recovery were by far the worst performing solutions in our testing, being able to recover less than half of our deleted files.


We hope this comparison has been useful to you in making an informed choice. If you have any questions don't hesitate to leave a comment. Also, if you have used any of these programs, share your experience with us and our readers.