Update September 17, 2016: This is tool no longer free.
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We all know that backing up our data is essential. Data backup usually it isn’t something we have to worry about; centralized backup is found even in small companies, and if the backup policy doesn’t protect all of our files we do manual backups. So in theory there shouldn’t be a market for applications that recover deleted files. But we also know that backups can be out of date or the backup process could have failed completely.
Many applications exist that try to recover deleted files in these situations. Most professional recovery software is pretty pricey, though—it’s almost as if their producers want to make some extra bucks from your misery. If you ever find yourself in the unpleasant situation where you lost some files and don’t have an up-to-date backup, you might not care much about the price to get these files back. However, powerful recovery tools are available for free. One of them is NTFS Undelete. As the name implies it can recover deleted files from NTFS formatted drives.
The tool provides three functions: browse, search, and recover marked files. You can choose between them by selecting the corresponding tab. The preselected tab, Browse, shows an Explorer-like interface. When you click a drive on the left side to expand its view, a window pops up indicating that the drive is being scanned for deleted files.
The tool marks your deleted files and folders with a red X.
To undelete them just check the box next to each file or folder you want to recover. Then, click the tab “Recover marked files” and select a destination folder. Be careful here: Don’t recover files to the drive where the undeleted files lie or some of the deleted files could be overwritten with the recovered data. The recover tab offers some useful options, as e.g. unmarking the recovered file, and a recovery log. The search option comes in handy if you are looking for a specific file. It isn’t very sophisticated but it should fulfill your needs.
NTFS Undelete can only revive deleted files if they haven’t been overwritten. That’s a major drawback, but all other recovery applications suffer from the same limitation. Only highly specialized laboratories are able to recover physically overwritten data. Their service is far from free, as you can imagine.
The tool’s inability to recover deleted but overwritten files is especially problematic if the lost data lies on the system drive, where Windows constantly saves data. In that case downloading and installing NTFS Undelete is not an option as every further activity bears the risk of overwriting the deleted data. The best practice would be to shut down the computer immediately and recover the file without using the Windows installation on your hard disk. Fortunately the developers of NTFS Undelete also provide a bootable ISO image. When you burn this image to disk and boot from it, no data will be written to your hard disk until you restore the deleted data to another hard disk.