Mac Data Recovery Software
How Can Data Recovery Software Help You?
The top performers in our review are Data Rescue, the Gold Award winner; R-Studio, the Silver Award winner; and Stellar Phoenix, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing Mac data recovery software to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
You’re having a bad day. You’ve lost all the photos of your baby or perhaps a 20-page research paper that is due in the morning. Whatever your reason for visiting our comparative review of Mac data recovery software, it’s understandable to feel a sense of panic or dread. Go ahead and take a deep breath because, depending on when the data was lost and what kind of data loss it was, you likely still have a great chance of recovering it. In most cases, successful data recovery comes down to whether the scenario is physical or logical in nature.
Physical data loss occurs when the actual components of your hard drive are damaged, destroyed or simply worn out. Physical components are just like any other device – they can wear out or simply stop working. If this is the case, Mac data recovery software most likely won’t help you. You’ll need to send your hard drive or entire computer to a hard drive recovery service so that trained recovery technicians can open the drive in a certified cleanroom and attempt to recover your data. As a result, physical data recoveries are costly, ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
Logical data loss occurs when the file path has been removed or corrupted. There’s nothing wrong with the physical device; rather, there is something wrong with the logical steps that your operating system uses to access the file. To picture this, imagine that your hard drive is like a giant warehouse that stores all of your files. Your operating system is like the warehouse foreman holding a clipboard with a directory that lists all the locations within the warehouse where every file is stored. However, files aren’t stored wholly in one place – they are stored in parts, scattered throughout the warehouse. So when you request a file, the warehouse foreman looks at the directory, pulls the parts from the warehouse and assembles the file for you.
When you delete a file, you’re only sending the file path to the recycle bin, not the actual ones and zeros that make up the file. So when you empty the recycle bin, you’ve removed the file path from the warehouse foreman’s directory. The ones and zeros of the file are still in the warehouse, but the foreman simply doesn’t know where to look. To make matters worse, when you empty the recycle bin, you’re telling the foreman to recycle that space, storing new data over the old. This is why it’s critical that you stop using the hard drive once you’ve realized that data loss has occurred – the longer you use your computer after experiencing data loss, the chances of successfully recovering data are dramatically diminished.
Mac recovery software scans your hard drive and tries to put the pieces of your lost files back together by looking for patterns among the data. Once the scan finishes, you can preview the results to determine whether or not the files are 100 percent restored and fully functional. However, not all software is capable of recovering every last piece of every file you may have lost. Many recovery applications we reviewed are better at recovering photos, while others are better at recovering documents. The best Mac data recovery software should have a high success rate with any file type.
If you prefer to be proactive about protecting your important files, rather than waiting until disaster strikes, you can use software like disk imaging software or data backup software to create a copy of anything on your computer. That way you can reinstall them if your computer crashes, or even restore them onto a different PC or Mac system if needed. Imaging software also lets you move all information on one computer onto another computer, in case you want to upgrade your computer’s components or buy a different machine altogether.
Mac Data Recovery Software: What We Tested, What We Learned
To test each data recovery program’s aptitude for recovering a wide range of file types, we compiled folders of photos, documents, videos and music. In each case, we used a variety of file types. For example, the photos folder contained JPG, TIFF, GIF, PNG and other common picture file types, while the document folder included files common in an office or academic setting, such as DOCX, XLSX and PDF. Each test was performed on the same desktop Mac, and we performed the tests on a standard hard disk drive, a solid-state drive and a thumb drive. In addition, to account for variables, we performed each test multiple times so that the data represents an average.
It's important to note that a one-percent difference in the success rate is significant. For reference, one percent of a standard 1TB external hard drive is 10GB of data. This can represent the loss of ultimately thousands of documents and photos, hundreds of songs and dozens of movies. In other words, a product with a 99-percent success rate is significantly better than a product with a 98-percent success rate.
Lost File Recovery
The most common cause of file loss is simple deletion. The scenario generally goes like this: You’ve deleted a folder without looking at the contents. Then you emptied the recycle bin. It isn’t until later that you realize you actually need some of the files in the folder. In other scenarios, a virus may have corrupted the file path, or maybe your computer crashed while you were working on a paper. To test how well the software recovers lost files, we securely wiped a hard drive, added our folders of photos, documents, videos and music, and deleted them to the recycle bin. Then we emptied the recycle bin. We scanned the drive and recovered the data with each Mac recovery software program in our review. After the data was recovered, we compared the original folders to the recovered data to determine the recovery percentage.
In many cases, an application would recover a file that appeared to be whole but would result in an error notice when we tried to access the file. Many of the programs recovered videos that, when played, produced a black screen with no audio. With music files, it was common to find more files than were originally on the drive because the software would mistakenly cut a song into hundreds of small snippets. In each of these cases, we only considered a file that we could access and compare to the original as a successfully recovered file.
Reformatted Drive Recovery
In this common data loss scenario, you’ve attached an external hard drive to your Mac, or transferred your hard drive to another Mac machine, but the format doesn’t match the operating system. Your Mac asks you to format the drive, and you do. The problem, however, is that, when you access that drive, all the data is gone. Similar to the deleted or lost file recovery, the files are still on the drive. Only the paths have been removed and the format changed to the operating system’s new architecture. To test each program’s proficiency recovering this kind of data loss, we simply added our photos, documents, video and music to the drive and reformatted it. Then we scanned the drive with the software to recover the files.
In some cases, the software has a specific “reformatted drive” scanning option. However, with some of the software, this scanning option failed to recover much data at all. In these instances, we also scanned the drive using the deepest scanning option available with the software. In every case, this produced better results. As with our lost file tests, some of the programs returned media that didn’t work, either partially or fully. We only considered full file returns, not partial fragments, to be successfully restored files in our testing.
Ease of Use: Easy and Effective Software is Best
As mentioned at the top of this article, if you’re reading this, you’ve had a bad day. You don’t want to use software that’s just going to make you more frustrated and angry. It doesn’t matter if you’re an IT professional or if you struggle to find the power button on your machine – the best Mac data recovery software should be intuitive. You should never have to guess what the next step is in the process. As such, we looked closely at the interface of each data recovery application and gauged how easy it made it to scan, preview, sort and recover your lost data. The best Mac recovery software has no learning curve.
We graded each step of the recovery process, from installation to recovery. We looked for clearly labeled scan and recovery buttons. We favored interfaces with clear definitions under the scanning options. While it was relatively easy to initialize a scan with most of the programs, the recovery process after the scan proved to be the least intuitive step for most of them.
Scan Speed: Faster Doesn’t Mean Better
Sorting through all the data on a hard drive takes time. Some software can scan a standard 1TB hard disk drive in about five hours, while the slowest scan we reviewed would take over a week. We didn’t find any correlation between scan speed and recovery percentage, so a slower scan does not mean that the recovery will be more successful. In fact, a high scanning speed simply means that you’ll recover your lost data quicker, which means that you’ll be able to put this frustrating ordeal behind you sooner. We timed multiple scans on HDDs and SSDs. In almost every case, the scan on the SSD was dramatically quicker than the scan on the HDD.
Recovery Speed: Faster is More Helpful
Once a scan is complete, you have to recover the data, which means that the software writes the data to a new drive. As with the scan, this takes time. Depending on the amount of data you need to recover, your recovery could take a few hours to several days. The fastest recovery in our review was 450GB per hour on an SSD, which translates to being able to recover a 1TB hard drive in roughly three hours. However, the slowest recovery time we reviewed was approximately 12GB per hour on an HDD, which equals a 1TB hard drive taking almost two and a half days.
Help & Support: Get Answers and Technical Solutions Fast
Data recovery is a stressful and frustrating experience. The best data recovery software for Macs comes with exceptional support to make the process as smooth as possible. We looked at the avenues you have to contact customer support staff, specifically whether each manufacturer offers a phone number and live chat options. We also looked at the resources on the developers’ websites – tutorials, articles, FAQs and manuals. You should have little trouble receiving the help that you need with the best software.
Our hands-on testing is designed to simulate typical, real-world experiences. For our tests on Mac data recovery software, we obtained the programs either on loan from developers or through retail purchase. The manufacturers have no input on our testing methodology, and our rankings are not shared with them prior to publication.
Mac Data Recovery Software: Our Verdict and Recommendations
Three data recovery software programs – Data Rescue, R-Studio and Stellar Phoenix – rose above the rest in our review because of their ability to thoroughly scan and recover lost photos, documents and media files from standard or reformatted drives and SSDs. These are the factors we considered to be the most important in our comparison and evaluation.
Data Rescue 4 earned our Gold Award for best Mac recovery software because it has an exceptional balance of performance for all file types and ease of use. R-Studio for Mac earned our Silver Award because of its impressive performance with all file types, but the interface is complicated and difficult to navigate. Stellar Phoenix, our Bronze Award winner, also proved to have exceptional performance, but the scan and recovery speeds were the slowest of the programs we reviewed.
Most of the products we reviewed cost under $100, but Cisdem DataRecovery is an even more affordable option at about half that. In our tests, it had a success rate of 96 percent for lost photos and 98 percent for photos from a reformatted drive, but it didn’t do well in recovering documents, videos and music. Another downside is the lack of file organization after recovery. Most of the programs recover file types in a file tree, with each file type given its own folder, but Cisdem has no organization to the recovery.
In an effort to prevent suffering from future data loss, consider backing up your computer with online backup services or other computer data backup options. Backing up your computer protects your data and allows you to restore any lost files quickly and with little stress. It doesn’t matter if you accidentally deleted files or if your computer was stolen or destroyed – backing up your data can turn a potentially devastating and time-consuming event into a minor distraction. Online backup services often provide infinite storage for a reasonable monthly fee, while backup software generally comes at a one-time cost but requires a second device or computer to store the backed-up version of your data.