Image: iStock/Kikovic

Despite the popularity of cloud services and the ease with which Time Machine creates entire system backups, Mac users regularly accidentally delete files and, sometimes, entire directories, for which users possess no backup. Sometimes the accidentally deleted files only existed on thumb drives, so no cloud archive, server backup, or other safety net is available.

Regardless of the circumstances, users struggle to recover important files when mistakes are made. Fortunately, inexpensive tools, such as CleverFiles’ Disk Drill Pro, help users recover lost files, deleted directories, and even entire lost partitions. Best of all, users tasked with performing the data recovery service need not be lifelong IT professionals.

SEE: 5 steps to a clean and healthy Mac

New file recovery enhancements

TechRepublic contributing writer Derek Schauland reviewed Disk Drill in 2011, and since then new file recovery enhancements simplify the process more than ever. The programs have become more user friendly, complete scans quickly, and possess surprising capacity to recover long-list files, even on media repeatedly overwritten or frequently reformatted for use between different operating systems.

Putting Disk Drill to the test

Upon loading Disk Drill, the application offers to enable data protection on the main drive, monitor disks for SMART hardware issues, and review and manage disk scanning results. These options are likely best for inexperienced users who wish to maximize data protection. There’s also an option to view an updated product tour.

Having previous experience using other data recovery tools, I chose the Run Disk Drill in portable mode, which skips the installation options and enables proceeding straight to data recovery, bypassing the application’s data protection features.

To begin recovering files, I opened Disk Drill Pro, selected the disk (my choices were the Macintosh HD Logical Volume and an external thumb drive connected to my MacBook Air). A blue Recover combination button/drop down menu offers the ability to run all recovery methods, perform a deep scan, search for universal partitions, or scan for lost HFS partitions. I chose to run all recovery options on the external disk. The program immediately began searching for lost partitions and scanning for HFS partitions and then proceeded to performing a deep scan.

Following scan completion, I selected the mount found items as disk button. Via a resulting pop-up window, the application noted it needed to install Fuse to enable Fuse for OS X to mount virtual drives within Mac OS X, which simplifies searching recovered files by displaying recovered items within the familiar Finder window. In subsequent scans, once Fuse is installed, you can also click the Show In Finder button located on the bottom of the Disk Drill application window to open Finder and view the files Disk Drill recovered.

Following many reads and writes and even OS X “erasures” and several reformats, Disk Drill continued recovering 10.3 GB of files. Although many of the names of recovered files are changed — a family movie clip containing the names of my family members in the filename was changed to, for example — Disk Drill collects files by type (documents, pictures, video, archives, audio, etc.) within the recovery window.

I conducted several tests storing and purposefully deleting common file types, small and large, on a drive; Disk Drill consistently recovered the files after they were deleted. Whether I was intentionally trying to lose videos, images, documents, and even applications, Disk Drill recovered the items.

Increasing the challenge, I began adding and deleting additional data to the drive. As additional files are stored to a drive, the odds of a previously stored files’ contents being overwritten increase. Still, I suffered no file loss; Disk Drill continued recovering lost files.

Upping the ante, I reformatted the drive for use in Windows. Following Windows operation, I again reformatted the drive, erasing its contents, for use in OS X. The developments didn’t slow Disk Drill, which continued to recover lost files and lost partitions dating back years. The applications’ deep scans required less than nine minutes to complete scanning a 16 GB drive.

Of course, experiences writing, storing, deleting, and overwriting data vary. In the tests I conducted, the program recovered files long deleted and forgotten.

Disk Drill

Image: Screenshot by Erik Eckel/TechRepublic

Free and premium versions

The free version of Disk Drill offers its Recovery Vault, Recovery Vault protection, recovery of protected data, the ability to back up failing disks to DMG files, and a preview of all recovery methods.

The $89 paid Pro version adds the quick and deep scan features, the ability to rebuild HFS+ catalogs, lost partition search, and more for up to three Macs.

An Enterprise version, which adds commercial data recovery licensing and support, as well as forensic data export, is available for $399.

Lifetime upgrades, meanwhile, are $29 for Pro users and free for Enterprise customers.

Also see

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Recover lost Mac files and directories in a snap with Disk Drill