Unfortunately, it only takes a single mouse-click to lose a file. For example, you go to sort the photos on your SD card and accidentally delete the wrong picture, or you go to recover some deleted files on your laptop and find that you’ve just emptied your Recycle Bin instead.
In this week’s blog post, you’ll learn three good ways to restore lost data like deleted documents or photos. Plus, the TuneUp Blog team will show you how to repair damaged files and folders.
What steps should you take first?
If you experience data loss—whatever the cause may be—the first step is to do nothing. You read it correctly—all sorts of write operations on the hard disk or flash drive in question should be immediately avoided. The reason behind this? Deleted files are never actually erased or destroyed. The moment you get rid of a file (by emptying the Recycle Bin, for example), only the “pointer” is deleted. This just means that your picture or Excel spreadsheet will not show up in Windows Explorer anymore. Your data will remain intact. However, the Windows file system will mark your photo or Excel file as “overwriteable”. If a new program is installed, new files are copied over or new data is created on your hard disk, the “deleted” file might be fully or partially overwritten and in the latter case, it will be damaged.
You might be thinking “phew, I’m safe. I just don’t install programs, download files, or convert CDs on my hard disk.” And while this behavior certainly helps, it doesn’t protect your (already deleted) data from being destroyed forever. You see by just turning on your PC, starting applications and shutting down, Windows automatically creates temporary files. Depending on your start configuration, this might vary between a few to many hundreds of megabytes. Obviously, this only affects your hard disk and not external storage devices (like your USB thumb drive).
I’ve deleted two 2 Gbytes of video files from a USB thumb drive. The files were perfectly intact; TuneUp Undelete told me that their condition was still “Good”, although they were no longer visible in Windows Explorer. However, just by copying over three new photos, I destroyed both video files. It appears that some integral data of the video files were overwritten by the 18 Mbytes.
The best chance for recovering your data is simply to not use your drives anymore. If it’s your primary hard drive, you might be better off by taking it out of your PC or laptop, plugging it into another machine and performing all of the rescue operations from there. In the case of an external device, we recommend unplugging it until you’re actually using the file recovery methods we mention below.
Rescue files from a hard disk, USB drive, or camera card
If you just deleted your files, recovering them should be pretty easy. We’ll use TuneUp Undelete to rescue them.
- Do you have TuneUp Utilities on your machine? If you do, launch it and find TuneUp Undelete within the Fix Problems section. If you don’t have the software, you can get a 15-day trial version from TuneUp.
- TuneUp Undelete will ask, “What do you want to search for?” You can enter a certain file type (such as “.xls” for Excel spreadsheets) or a file name. Or you can just let it look for all of your deleted files by hitting “Next”. You’ll eventually see a list of all of the files you previously deleted.
- Depending on the condition of the file(s) you want to recover, you might be able to fully (“Good”) or partially (“Bad”) get them back. Mark the file(s) and hit “Restore”. Now make sure to tell TuneUp Undelete to save the file(s) to a different location by clicking “Restore to an alternate folder”. By doing so, you eliminate any risk of further accessing the target drive.
- Next, select the target directory (for example, your “Desktop”) and hit “OK”. In many cases, TuneUp Undelete will ask you to properly name the file(s) as some parts of the name(s) might be missing. Once you’ve done that, cross your fingers and hope that the file is in good shape!
It’s important to know that, during my tests, I tried out various file recovery programs. I noticed that some were able to restore files that others couldn’t—and vice versa. You might want to try out a variety of tools like Recuva (with its neat “Deep Scan” feature) or O&O UnErase 6. Lifehacker also featured a list of five great data recovery tools.
Rescue files from damaged CDs or DVDs
Remember the day you got your first CD or DVD burner? If you were like me, one of the first things you did was probably back up all of your personal data and store it somewhere on a shelf or in your cellar. Now, flash-forward a couple of years—you grab the disk only to find that it’s been damaged.
Usually, the error correction in today’s laptops and PCs is great, but it can’t perform miracles. If you’re trying to access the files in Windows Explorer and the only thing you hear is the drive spinning around and around, there’s no regular way to get to your data and see if it’s recoverable. This is where CD Recovery Toolbox, our personal recommendation, comes in. This free tool is capable of restoring CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays (as well as HD DVDs, if you were one of the unlucky early adapters).
To use CD Recovery Toolbox, install and launch the program. Upon start, select the drive you want to rescue and hit “Next”.
Next, you can freely choose where to store the recovered files. I’ve actually tried CD Recovery Toolbox on three disks (one CD and two DVDs) that were more than seven years old and heavily scratched. It worked flawlessly; I restored whole files and folders that I backed up back in 2003 and haven’t looked at since.
Repair damaged files
We’ve already covered the accidental delete and the scratched disk. But what if, all of a sudden, some of your files won’t open or just go missing? What if programs suddenly won’t run anymore and start showing “missing” or “invalid” file messages? What if Windows itself doesn’t boot up or gives weird hard disk warnings (see the below image)?
If you’re lucky, this is just a case of some bad drive sectors that can be repaired by using the built-in disk checker (“chkdsk”). Before you start the repair process, however, make sure to back up your entire disk or, if that’s not possible due to too many disk errors, try copying all your important data onto an external hard disk or burn it onto a DVD. Done? Then follow the next steps to run the disk check-up and repair tool: Simply click on the Windows Start orb, enter “cmd” and wait for the result to show up.
Right-click on “cmd” and click on “Run as administrator”. Once the command shell pops up, enter “chkdsk /f /r /b”. This will launch the most effective repair Windows has to offer—it corrects all of the errors, finds and restores bad sectors, and marks them as “Bad” if they are not recoverable.
Hit “Y” and restart your machine. Depending on your hard disk, this will probably take a couple of hours. If all of your files come back and are repaired, then you’re all good. However, I would watch out for further errors like the one you see above. If these types of problems persist, there is a hard disk defect, and you should look for a replacement (and if your PC or laptop still has a warranty guarantee, this will cost you nothing).
All three methods should help you get your precious files back and your PC up and running smoothly again! Got another recommendation for us or other readers? We’d like to hear from you!
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