Mac Hard Drive Recovery Review
Why Buy Mac Hard Drive Recovery Software?
The top performers in our review are Data Rescue 4, the Gold Award winner; R-Studio for Mac, the Silver Award winner; and Stellar Phoenix Mac Data Recovery, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing an application to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
Experiencing data loss is never a fun experience. You can't find any of the photos from your kid's first birthday. You've accidentally deleted that critical accounting spreadsheet for your business. It's the night before a 20-page paper is due and your computer crashes before you've saved your work. Whatever your reason for reading this review of Mac hard drive recovery software, we recognize that you're having a bad day. Before we begin, there's no need to panic, because there's good news – with the best Mac hard drive recovery software, you have a great chance of recovering your lost photos, music, documents and videos, as long as you stop using your hard drive.
Everyone with a computer, even a Mac, faces the reality that data loss can strike at any moment. Parts wear out. You accidentally delete the wrong folder. Your computer crashes. It's incredibly deflating when you can't access the files that you want. Your experience can be as tragic as recovering a hard drive from a flooded home, or as pedestrian as deleting a folder by mistake. Regardless of the situation, you can still recover some, if not all, of the files from your Mac's hard drive. However, the first step is determining whether the data loss scenario is physical or logical.
Physical data loss happens when the hard drive is physically damaged. This can be the result of a flood, a fire, a drop, or simple wear and tear. The physical components of your hard drive are just like any other mechanical device. Eventually, the actuator arm will wear out or the circuit board will stop working. You'll hear odd noises or smell a strange metallic scent. In these data loss scenarios, Mac hard disk recovery software won't recover the data. In fact, using recovery software could cause more damage. Instead, you'll have to send the drive to a hard drive recovery service. These services have trained recovery technicians that take the hard drive apart in a certified cleanroom. As a result, these services are costly, ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
Logical data loss happens when the operating system has no logical path to the file. In these cases, there's nothing physically wrong with the hard drive; instead, the file path has been removed or corrupted. The file is still on your hard drive, but your operating system has lost its ability to access it.
One way to picture logical data loss is to imagine that your hard drive is a giant warehouse filled with blocks of ones and zeros. The blocks make up your files. The Macintosh operating system is the foreman of the warehouse. He carries a clipboard, which lists all the specific areas in the warehouse where the blocks of a file are located. However, all the blocks of a file are stored randomly in the warehouse, so the clipboard is critical for the foreman to know where to look. When you request a file, the warehouse foreman consults the directory on the clipboard to find the blocks for assembly.
When you delete a file, you actually only send the file path to the recycle bin. You never actually delete the ones and zeros of the file. Logical data loss occurs when you empty the recycle bin because this removes the file path from operating system. It's like erasing the file's existence on the clipboard, but not in the warehouse. The blocks that make up the file still exist in the warehouse. The foreman simply doesn't know where to look. And once the file path has been removed from the directory, the foreman assumes that space in the warehouse is available for new blocks of data. This is why it's called a recycle bin – you're literally recycling the space on the hard drive.
As such, the first and most important step for a successful recovery of your lost files is to stop using the hard drive. If it's an external hard drive, disconnect it until you have Mac hard disk software installed on your computer. If it's an internal drive, stop using your computer until you can scan the drive with read-only software, which doesn't install anything to the drive, or you can install Mac hard disk recovery software in a boot-up environment. You don't want your iOS to write any new data to the drive. The longer you use your hard drive after the data loss has occurred, the greater the chances that the file will be overwritten, which dramatically reduces your chances of a successful recovery.
If the iOS overwrites any of the blocks of ones and zeros, you will not recover the file. There is no Mac hard drive recovery software or hard drive recovery service capable of recovering an overwritten file. When your iOS writes data to the hard drive, an actuator arm in the hard drive either magnetizes or demagnetizes a specific area of the hard disk's platter. A magnetized area is a one. A demagnetized area is a zero. When your iOS overwrites a file, the physical area on the platter is changed and the old file is unrecoverable.
To test this principle, we filled a 5GB partition on a hard drive with videos, documents and pictures. Then we deleted the files and cleared out the recycle bin. We added 1GB of music to simulate a week or two of continued usage. Then we scanned the partition with each Mac hard disk recovery software program in an attempt to recover as much of the deleted data as possible. Simple math would lead you to assume that if only 1GB of new data was added, you'd recover at least 4GB of the deleted files. However, since your iOS typically writes data blocks randomly across a platter like a farmer spreading seeds over a field, very few of the deleted files were not at least partially overwritten. In fact, the most successful recovery in this scenario was less than 0.5 percent of the original files.
Mac hard disk recovery software is able to go into the warehouse without the file director and put the files back together. This software is like your hipster friend who's really good at putting complicated puzzles together without the box. The software scans your drive and looks at the patterns in the data. After the scan finishes, you can preview the results to see what can be recovered.
The best Mac hard drive recovery software will reassemble all of your lost files without any trouble. It doesn't matter what file type you're trying to recover. However, we discovered that there was significant parity in the success rate for various file types among Mac hard disk recovery apps. While some are great at recovering photos, they might suffer when recovering documents. While some are great at recovering documents, they might not have much success with videos and music. To learn more, read our articles about Mac hard drive recovery.
Mac Hard Drive Recovery Software: What We Tested, What We Found
Our tests of Mac hard drive recovery software started with compiling several data sets of photos, documents, videos and music. In each data set, we used a variety of common file types. For example, the photos data sets contain JPG, TIFF, GIF, PNG and other common picture files, while the document data sets comprise DOCX, XLSX, PDF and other document files common to an office or academic setting. We performed each test on the same Mac desktop computer and the same HDD, SSD and thumb drive to ensure a consistent and equal testing environment for each product. We also performed each test multiple times to account for variables and generate averages.
While much of the data we compiled appears very close, especially with concern to the success rate of photos, it's important to note that a 1 percent difference in a success rate can be significant. For example, the difference between recovering 99 percent of a 1TB hard drive and 100 percent is 10GB of data. As such, a 1 percent difference in a success rate can represent thousands of documents and photos, hundreds of songs, and dozens of movies.
Finally, since we realize that you're having a bad day, we had a novice user perform the tests to analyze the process from the installation to the recovery. The majority of Mac hard drive recovery situations involve an end user with no experience using such software. And they're using the software in a stressful, often panicked situation. There's no sense in turning to Mac hard drive recovery software that is too confusing and difficult to use. We want your hard drive recovery experience to be as stress-free as possible. The best Mac hard disk recovery apps must balance performance with an intuitive process and interface.
Lost File Recovery
Human error is the most common cause of data loss. Usually, it starts with deleting a folder without looking at the contents, followed by emptying the recycle bin. Eventually, you realize your mistake. In a different scenario, you've downloaded some nefarious file with a virus and the virus has corrupted the directory. To test these scenarios, we added the original data sets to empty HDD, SSD and a thumb drive. Then we deleted the data set and emptied the recycle bin so that the drives appeared to have no files. At this point, we installed the Mac hard drive recovery apps and scanned the drives to recover the deleted files. After each recovery, we compared the original data set to the recovered data set. This determined the recovery percentage.
Many times, we found that an app would appear to recover a file wholly, but when we tried accessing the file, we'd receive an error notice saying that the file was damaged and couldn't be opened. We also found that many of the programs recovered MOV files that, when played, produced nothing but a black screen with no audio. Another strange discovery was audio files recovered in snippets – the Mac hard drive recovery apps would cut the song into hundreds of second-long MP3s. We didn't consider any of these instances as successful recoveries. To us, a successful recovery was only a complete file that we could access without an error message.
Reformatted Drive Recovery
Another common data loss scenario is the reformatted drive. Typically, this begins with attaching an external drive to your Mac that isn't formatted for your current iOS. Your Mac recognizes the mismatched format and asks you to format the drive. You click OK because you want to use the drive. However, you don't realize until after the drive's been formatted that the data is gone. To test this scenario, we added the data set of photos, documents, video and music files to an HDD, SSD and flash drive. Then we reformatted the drive and used the Mac hard disk recovery software to scan and recover the data set.
Many of the programs have a specific scanning option for this scenario – a reformatted drive scan. However, we found that the reformatted drive scan was often not very successful. For these products, we scanned the reformatted drive again with the deepest scan available. In every case, the deeper scan produced better results, and we used those results in our data.
Ease of Use
Again, data loss is a stressful experience. We don't want to make your day worse by sending you to a complicated Mac hard drive recovery app that will only frustrate you further. You shouldn't have to bug the techy family member to help you recover the data. The best Mac hard drive recovery software must have an intuitive interface. It should walk you from one process to the next with no learning curve. To test this, our tester was someone with no experience using Mac recovery software. As such, the tester paid special attention to the interface, the scanning process, the preview tools and the recovery process.
We graded each step of the process – installation, scan, recovery and interface. We looked for clearly labeled buttons for the scan and recovery stages, and for clearly defined scanning options. We even considered the number of mouse clicks you must make between each process and how long it took our novice user to figure out how to start a scan and recover the data. The best Mac hard disk recovery software walks you through the process like a tour guide. The least intuitive apps will leave you feeling lost and confused.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the units in our comparison from the companies or through retail purchase. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important in Selecting Mac Data Recovery Software?
Whether you need to recover all the files from a 1TB external hard drive or just a few photos, it's important to consider the scan speed and recovery speed of each app in our Mac hard drive recovery review. The sooner you can move through the process, the sooner you can put this bad day behind you.
Scanning all the data blocks of a hard drive takes time. The fastest apps in our Mac recovery review can scan a 1TB hard drive in five hours, while the slowest app we tested would take over a week to scan the same drive. From our tests, we didn't find a correlation between scan speed and recovery success. In other words, a longer scanning time doesn't necessarily result in a higher success rate. A faster scanning speed simply means that you'll recover your data quicker.
To test scan speed, we scanned the HDD and SSD multiple times with each app. We ran multiple scans of each drive, timing each scan to determine the average gigabytes per hour that the software scans. With almost every product, the SSD scan was much faster than the scan of the HDD.
After a scan completes, you can preview the files within the Mac hard drive recovery software's interface. You can choose to recover all of the files, or you can specify exactly which files you want to recover. Once you've determined the files you want to recover, you move to the recover stage, where the software writes the data to a different hard drive. As with the scan, recovering data takes time. Whether you specify that you want to recover all the files or just a few, your recovery could take anywhere from a few minutes to several days. The fastest recovery in our test was timed at an average of 300GB per hour on an SSD.
With almost every product we reviewed, the original file names aren't included with the recovered files. Instead, the recovered files have strange file names, usually numbers, that the software automatically assigns to them. Data Rescue 4 and EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard were the only programs that recovered original file names. The file names weren't always accurate; it wasn't uncommon to have an MP3 with a name that didn't match the actual song. Still, having mostly accurate file names is better than sorting through unrecognizable strings of numbers.
Help & Support
As data recovery is such a stressful and frustrating experience, the best Mac data recovery software comes with exceptional support to make the process as smooth as possible. We looked at how you can contact the support staffs of the manufacturers, whether they had phone 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.
Mac Data Recovery Software: Our Verdict and Recommendations
After all the testing, the Data Rescue 4 earned our Gold Award for best Mac recovery software. It proved to have one of the best success rates for all file types and the best ease of use for each stage of the recovery process. Our Silver Award went to R-Studio for Mac because of its exceptional success rate with all file types, but the interface was by far the most complicated in our review. It has a large learning curve. Stellar Phoenix Mac Platinum is our Bronze Award winner because it also performed well, but the scan and recovery were very slow.
Most Mac hard drive recovery software on the market costs around $90. However, if you're looking for a more affordable option, Cisdem DataRecovery is about $50. In our tests, this software successfully recovered photos at a rate of 96 percent for the lost file test and 98 percent for the reformatted drive test. However, it wasn't as successful with documents, videos and music, with rates well below average for each file type. You also won't receive any type of file organization with the recovery, as the files are not recovered in folders according to file type like with all the other software in our review. This makes sorting through the recovered data difficult.
In the future, you'll want to protect against data loss by backing up your data with an online backup service or Mac data backup software. This way, when you experience data loss, you can easily restore the data because there's always a copy. Backing up your data doesn't cost very much and can turn what could be a terrible day into a minor inconvenience. Online backup services provide the best protection by storing the backed-up data geo-redundantly in server farms. You can access the data on any device using an internet connection. On the other hand, backup software comes with a one-time fee and backs up to a physical device in your home, making it easier to access when you lose data on your primary computer.