Which are the best free file recovery tools? Comparing 5 of the most popular apps

In this day and age, you can find many apps that promise to help you recover deleted files. It is great to have lots of options, but the question is which programs are 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:

How we tested the file recovery apps

We took a USB memory stick and formatted it, to make sure there was nothing left on it. Then we copied a wide range of photos, documents, images and videos (123 files in all) with various file formats: bmp, cur, docx, jpg, mkv, mp3, pdf, png, txt, and xlsx. The total size of all the files was 2.66 GB.

Next, we deleted all the files permanently, using the Shift + Delete keys, and added 10 new files (jpeg images) 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 computer's hard drive.

Then it was time to test the data recovery apps we planned to review. We chose the programs you see below, because, at this moment, they are the most popular in the niche. We also wanted to restrict this review only to free apps, without any limitations, because most people are not keen on spending money on apps that they might use only once or twice.

1. 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 0.09 seconds and found 86 out of the 123 files we deleted. It recovered them in 18.16 seconds.

Out of all the 86 recovered files, only 71 were intact. The other 15 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.

NOTE: Recuva was the only app tested that did not count the "Thumbs.db" file as a file to recover. This file is not essential and is created by Windows in folders and represents an image cache for making thumbnails viewing faster.

Download: Recuva

2. Puran File Recovery

Puran File Recovery is a free and easy to use file recovery tool. It is a portable application that you do not need to install 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 87 files out of the 123 we previously deleted.

Recovering the lost files took about 1 minute and 15 seconds. Puran File Recovery managed to recover only 65 intact files. The other 22 files proved to be corrupt, meaning their content was partially overwritten.

Download: Puran File Recovery

3. IObit Undelete

IObit Undelete offers an easy to use interface that also looks good. The file recovery process can be as simple as selecting what type of files you lost, choosing the drive on which they were found and then start searching. This app does not include many advanced settings, but that means that you can jump right into getting your files back, without having to read user manuals.

IObit Undelete recovered a total of 87 recovered files, in only 18 seconds, but only 65 were in an excellent condition. The rest (22 files) were broken and could no longer be used.

Download: IObit Undelete

4. Undelete 360

Undelete 360 is another data recovery app that stands out from the crowd. It offers a pleasant and straightforward user interface that is perfect for beginners. When you run it, you have to press the Search button on the top menu bar and then select the drive on which you want to look for lost files. The search is fast, and the recovery is on par with other recovery tools.

Identifying the deleted files from our USB memory stick took 7 seconds. Undelete 360 recovered 87 files in 1 minute and 48 seconds, but only 65 were intact. The other 22 files were in bad shape and could no longer be used.

Download: Undelete 360

5. Testdisk

Testdisk is an excellent data recovery app, but novices might not like it because it does not have a graphical user interface that works with a mouse. It is text-based, but the options are clear and are relatively easy to get a grasp of. Another big pro of Testdisk is that it is open-source software, meaning that it is entirely free for anyone to use.

The search for the deleted files on our USB memory stick was instant, TestDisk managing to find 87 files. The recovery of all the deleted files took 39 seconds, but 22 of them were corrupt.

Download: Testdisk

Comparing 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, it is evident that the clear winner is Recuva. Looking at the number of files that were recovered, Recuva managed to recover more than all the other apps. The other apps had slightly lower results, and none of them managed to recover as many as Recuva. We also noticed meaningful differences regarding the scanning speed, and the time it took to recover the deleted files. However, from any perspective you look at it, the clear winner is Recuva.


We hope this comparison has been useful to you in making an informed choice. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to leave a comment. Also, if you have used any of these file recovery apps, share your experience below. It will surely help others.