Handy tips on data recovery

While we've discussed ways to hide your data, and even methods for utterly destroying your data, there's a far more important procedure everyone should be familiar with: How to recover lost data.

It happens to everyone. You accidentally drag more than one item to the trash, for example. Panic ensues. In this scenario, however, all you need to do is open the trash, select what you want to recover, and drag it back out of there.

However, if you deleted the trash before you realised your error, then things get trickier. Your first step is to NOT write any new data to the hard drive. Your lost/deleted file is probably recoverable, because the hard drive space it occupied has not been overwritten – yet. Once it has been overwritten, then the file is lost. But if you stop what you're doing, you have an excellent chance of recovery. (This is all assuming you don't have a backup of the file already – which you really should have, for this very reason, and others).

The reason you have a chance of getting your precious file(s) back is because there are some great data recovery tools out there. Some will even do more than just grab deleted files; they'll perform entire hard drive repairs.

Here’s our choice of four pieces of software which can help you get your precious files back…

This is simply the most powerful file recovery software we've seen for Windows. It finds files the competition doesn't and will save them to any medium, even burn them to a DVD. Plus, it includes disk imaging for backup of a failing disk, so you can do a recovery even if the hard drive dies. There’s a free trial version available on the website, too.

DiskWarrior 4.3 (£61)

This highly powerful utility can restore the entire directory structure on a Mac hard drive when other programs can't. With a clear and simple interface, it's the essential disk repair utility for any Mac OS X machine.

Another high-powered, data recovery tool for Mac OS X users, Data Rescue 3 scans all of the sectors of damaged disks, or finds all the deleted files on healthy disks. If failure is imminent, it clones the drive for recovery after. This is one fast and slick program.

If you’d rather not fork out any money for your data recovery, then check out this free offering. Recuva is a user friendly recovery program which you can even run from a USB flash drive to avoid overwriting sectors of your hard drive. It’s not as powerful as the paid alternatives, but you can buy a Pro version of Recuva for £20, which is still a pretty reasonable option.