Depending on what task you ask it to perform, Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recovery Pro Edition does either an impressively stellar or a woefully earthbound job of bringing lost files back to life like the phoenix in its name. The program suffers from plenty of interface glitches, and it was unable to perform some tasks that rival package OnTrack Easy Recovery Professional (which retails at £129) managed easily. On the other hand, it completed some recovery tasks even more smoothly than OnTrack's offering.
When you need to recover lost data, you don't need to pay for the software until after it scans your disk to test whether it can retrieve your files. If the program displays your lost files in its preview screen, it can almost certainly recover them, and you can then pay for the program online to enable the recovery features.
Starting with stellar
When you start up Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recovery, it offers a simple menu with three options: Drive Recovery, CD Recovery, and Photo Recovery. The Drive Recovery option is the most powerful, and leads to a full range of recovery methods. You first select the drive where you want to recover data, then choose from four methods: Quick Recovery, Deleted Recovery, Advanced Recovery, and Raw Recovery.
The first method takes only a few seconds to scan a drive, the rest take longer. Raw Recovery can take as long as an hour to scan a very large disk. In my tests on an NTFS-formatted hard disk, the Quick Recovery method was enough to recover the deleted files I was looking for, but a disk with a scrambled directory structure would have required the Advanced or Raw methods.
As with rival products, I tested Stellar Phoenix with deleted documents on my hard disk, and with a USB stick that I had formatted to use as an emergency boot disk but which – before I formatted it – I had used to store backup copies of music files. In each case the program scanned the drive and displayed tree-structured lists of possibly recoverable files.
Like rival products, Stellar Phoenix requires the user to know what they’re doing when choosing files from these lists. For example, I searched for a deleted Word file named "Two Broadcasts.docx." The program listed a deleted file named "~$o Broadcasts.docx" but that wasn't the file I wanted – instead, as the file list showed me, it was a 162 Byte file probably left behind by Word when I last edited the file.
The file I actually wanted to recover was named "$RC9HQRN.docx," as I discovered by highlighting it in the program's list and looking at its content in the program's built-in previewer – an invaluable feature that OnTrack Easy Recovery Professional and Recuva both lack. In both those other programs, I had to save each deleted file to a disk and then open it in Word to see if it was the file I was looking for.
I had a harder time recovering MP3 files from a USB stick that I had reformatted, with the effect that none of the MP3 files were visible in Windows Explorer and apparently did not exist. OnTrack Easy Recovery Professional took ten minutes to scan my 8GB USB stick and let me recover hundreds of MP3 files to a different drive. OnTrack even displayed each file by its original name and let me open it in my default music player software to make sure it was the file I wanted.
In contrast, Stellar Phoenix took almost four hours to scan the same disk, and then listed nine music files as recoverable. Unfortunately, when I recovered those files and tried to listen to them, they all turned out to be corrupt and unplayable. Recuva also couldn't recover any music files from my USB stick, but at least it didn't claim to be able to recover them.
There are further niggles with the program, too. Stellar Phoenix includes a feature that lets you save recovered files to an FTP server instead of to a local disk. Unfortunately, most modern FTP servers use Secure FTP instead of the traditional FTP supported by Stellar Phoenix, so this feature may only have limited use in the real world. The program does include some other advanced features that match similar aspects of OnTrack Easy Recovery Professional, for example a feature that creates a full image of a drive, allowing you to try and restore data from the cloned copy. This comes in handy if the drive is getting physically flaky and might not be accessible at all at a later time.
All in all, Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recovery is well worth a punt when you're trying to recover lost files from your desktop or laptop, and you don't have any recovery software already on hand. Just download the program, let it scan your disk, and pay up to purchase the software if it can display your lost file in its preview pane. You can't lose, and you can certainly gain. But if you're preparing in advance for possible data disasters, you'll probably prefer a competing package such as OnTrack Easy Recovery Professional.
A bit of a mixed bag, Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recovery certainly offers some neat features, such as a built-in file previewer which makes finding the right file to recover far easier. The fact that you can try and see if a recovery is possible, before you buy the product, is also laudable. However, there are distinct weak areas in the interface, and some features don’t work as well as they should. The program’s performance with music file recovery from a USB stick was particularly unimpressive.