Recuva

As you might be able to guess from the playfully-spelled name, Recuva is designed to recover deleted data. It takes advantage of the fact that when files are files, they are not actually removed from your hard drive, and remain restorable until the space they occupy is overwritten with new files.

If you've accidentally deleted files and emptied the Recycle Bin, or even you've suffered from a virus or hard drive problem, Recuva might just be able to help you to get back your valuable data without having to pay expensive recovery charges.

Recuva can also recover deleted emails, or there is the option of using it the other way around to securely delete sensitive files you want to ensure cannot be recovered.

Recuva is delightfully easy to use and is a refreshing alternative to the selection of commercial recovery tools vying for attention. It's a great piece of software to have installed just in case you need it further down the line, but it can also be installed as a portable app so you can pop it onto a USB drive and use on multiple computers.

If you find that your computer has a lot of recoverable file, Recuva can home in on the specific documents you're looking for by filtering by type, or even searching for strings of text you know exist in the files.

User experience

There are a few ways to use Recuva, and the easiest option is to make use of the wizard. This guides you through every steps of the recovery process, although it does mean missing out on some of the program's options.

The first stage of Recuva's wizard asks you to specify the type of files you want to track down. You can search for any recoverable file, or you can speed up the process by limiting the search to just, say, image files. Searches can be restricted to individual folders or drives – including memory cards and CDs/DVDs. Alternatively, you can check everywhere – just be prepared for a lengthy search (it can take over an hour to scan a large drive).

Switching to Recuva's Advanced mode may not appear to unlock a huge selection of additional options, but it does provide you will much more information about files that are found and the state they are in. For any files that are determined to be recoverable, Recuva uses a traffic light system to indicate the quality of the data.

As well as the main program interface, Recuva can also be accessed through Windows' context menu. This means that searching for deleted files is as simple as right clicking on a folder or the Recycle Bin. This is handy if you know you have deleted a file from a particular folder, as it saves having to manually launch the program.

Fast, effective and free, this is the data recovery tool you probably thought didn't exist. Recuva is a hidden gem in the software world.

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