Recuva promises to recover any file type from any media, including damaged and newly-formatted hard drives—a feat many of its competitors can’t perform. But when it’s mission-critical to recover data that was accidentally deleted or corrupted, can it deliver on its promises? If I trust Recuva when I’ve just deleted my pitch deck and the investor meeting is in half an hour, am I going to go home empty-handed? Or when I accidentally wipe our kid’s first birthday pictures from the camera’s memory card and then realize I forgot to back them up first, am I going to have to go pay Geek Squad a ton of money to get them back? (Ask me how I know.) Let’s dive in and find out.
The Lowdown On Piriform Recuva Data Recovery Software
Recuva data recovery software is a tried-and-true tool that’s been trusted by users for over a decade when undeletion is the task at hand. Their last stable release came in 2016, and could mean one of two things—it’s out of date or it’s already as good as it needs to be. In reality, it seems to be a bit of both. While Recuva still saves the day for many users, it doesn’t always work when you need it to, and it’s not always obvious why.
However, its small price tag and supportive community could make the tool a worthwhile option, even at the free tier. Users must balance factors such as time, budget, and priority of the file to be recovered, since the tool can make for an ultra-fast recovery but also has the potential to lead you down a winding road of frustrated menu option changing and forlorn disappointment if you’re one of the unlucky few whose files simply don’t show up.
If you opt for a paid tier, you do get other perks, including premium support and virtual hard-drive options starting with Recuva Professional and additional data tools with the professional-level bundle package. Here’s the quick-and-dirty of how Piriform Recuva software stacks up by the numbers:
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Recuva Is For When You Need To Get Your Files Back
Recuva is a one-trick pony. Files + Deletion. That’s its entire schtick. Did you delete a file and you shouldn’t have? It can help you recover it. Did your computer destroy the file, and it’s gone or corrupted? Recuva software can probably still find it so you can get the info you need. Do you have a file that you’ve deleted that you need to really be deleted—like, for good? Recuva has military-grade secure overwrite features to make it extra deleted, so even users with tools like Recuva can’t get it back.
The software is made by Piriform, the same folks who are behind CCleaner, a popular registry cleaning tool. Because the name is already trusted and the company has a long track record (at least in tech-years which are kind of like dog-years), there’s an inherent trust that comes attached to Recuva that new competitors simply can’t create. Trust and recognition play an important role in choosing a software that can access these parts of your system, and many users find themselves hesitant to try new companies for fear that they will cause damage to their systems, lose their files, end up with malware, or a host of other complications. Known software that has been reviewed by trustworthy sources such as PCMag gives users peace of mind.
- Speed – Just about everything is fast with Recuva. The download, the installation, the initial setup, answering the questions in the wizard, even the scan itself is fast. For me, it took under 15 seconds to scan all the drives on my computer. The only thing that makes it slower is if you need to do a deep scan. For me, that still only took about 10 minutes.
- Size – That speedy download is due to its tiny file size—just over 7MB. This makes it easy to install on any machine so user always have an option when the moment strikes that they need file recovery, a time that usually comes at the most inopportune second. (Chalk it up to Murphy’s Law.) Have it on standby in case you don’t have internet when you need it or when your presentation is T minus 5 and PowerPoint ate all your slides.
- Freemium model – This means you can try it out to see if it works for you before committing to buy it. Even the professional and professional bundle licenses for Recuva data recovery are reasonable—very affordable compared to others on the market.
- Portable version – File deletion happens without regard to where you’re at. It’s simple to keep a copy on your keys so you’re covered at home, work, or anywhere else you might need a file recovered quickly.
- Doesn’t list all relevant file types by default – In my example, I tried to recover multiple file formats, including a .txt text document. When following the prompts on the Recuva file recovery wizard, it seems reasonable to choose the “document” option for a text file created in Notepad, a tool commonly used by people when they need to jot a quick but important thought on their PC. Upon further examination, this setting did not search for .txt files at all, an oversight that would lead many users to believe their file was unrecoverable when, in reality, the software never actually searched for it.
- Simple-but-confusing interface – Questions like, “Where did the file used to be?” seem simple enough on the surface. But when you’ve got options like “My Documents” and “The Recycle Bin,” less tech-savvy users (and even tech-savvy users are freaking out over a lost file) can easily choose the wrong option. If it was in your documents folder, but you accidentally hit delete, then, technically, it was in your recycle bin.
- May not work for everyone – Okay, this one requires further explaining. There is no file recovery software that can be guaranteed to work for everyone all the time, especially when files are in a notable state of disrepair, have been overwritten, or are on a freshly-formatted drive (although Recuva claims to handle that task). What I mean by it in this context, though, is that it may not work for everyone even for basic tasks that it should be expected to be able to perform mostly flawlessly. When it works, it works, and it’s all sunshine and rainbows and hallelujahs. But when it doesn’t work, panic and four-letter words start running together. It’s a risky bet to fully rely on it, at least at the free tier.
Recuva software can recover data from any rewritable media type including hard drives, external hard drives, flash drives, camera memory cards—it even manages virtual drives when you upgrade to the professional version. It isn’t file-type limited either. Users can recover photos, emails, spreadsheets, text documents, videos, and anything else they might need to get back on quick notice.
The Process For Recovering Data With Recuva
Most of the steps for using Recuva are simple and straightforward. The user interface is clean and the user options are largely self-explanatory, although the average user never needs to access most of the available options. Here’s how I used Recuva to try to recover both text and image files that were deleted from my PC:
After a quick file download of just over 7MB, I ran the Recuva setup which was foolproof. It does give you the option to customize your installation settings, but the average user won’t need to change anything here.
Advanced users have a few options they can tweak prior to setup.
After install, if you opted to see the release notes, you’ll see a browser page where you get an option to buy the pro version for a discount—20% off—as well as sign up for newsletter updates for either home or business. Further down the page are the most recent release notes. The most recent release at the time of this writing was June 8, 2016. Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken, wise people say.
Once the Recuva software installs, users are prompted with a wizard to help recover missing and deleted files by asking simple questions that most users will have an answer to. But first we need a file to “accidentally” delete, so we can have something to recover.
There. With a text file created and subsequently permanently deleted, Recuva has an opportunity to show its effectiveness.
Recuva offers a simple option list to guide users through the file recovery process. The first order of business is to choose the general category of the file you’re missing. While, in theory, this feature works great, some of these radio button options don’t come innately equipped with all the file formats some users might expect them to. This means needing to manually verify and/or edit the file-type list during the search or advanced search cycle.
This trend continues with a simple question about where the file was prior to deletion or corruption. The most common options are listed, although users need to be mindful in order to prevent false results. If you “regular” deleted your document, then the last place it was is in the recycle bin. If you shift-del (permanently deleted) your file, then it’s wherever you had it last saved.
And that’s it. Two easy-peasy questions and Recuva is ready to go find my lost files.
The process of scanning my computer went so fast that I almost didn’t have a chance to grab a capture. It was done in less time than it takes to drink a sip of water.
Uh-oh. Recuva isn’t sure about my file system type, and it didn’t find any files to recover. Let’s try advanced mode.
In advanced mode, I can see that the document type listed doesn’t include .txt, which is the type of deleted file I’m searching for. I remove the other files in that last such as .doc and add .txt, then check on the drives that Recuva sees in order to figure out why it can’t read one of them.
This menu shows that Recuva has found multiple available disks and shadow copies.
In the settings, I am able to choose which types of drives Recuva looks for, enabling me to find alternative locations, including drives that Windows wouldn’t normally see or show an end-user.
Recuva also offers the option to show files that would not otherwise be visible with general computer usage. This feature could come in handy, and it’s something that helps this software stand out from some of its competitors.
With many new options checked, Recuva is able to see more drives and more file types, and I try the scan again to see what it comes up with when searching for deleted .txt files.
This time, the list it returns is much more extensive.
Unfortunately, not extensive enough for me to find the file that I wanted to recover.
Since nothing has worked so far, I try a “deep scan” which Recuva warns could take more than an hour. Although the estimated time left began at a fluctuation 15-20 minutes, it didn’t take nearly this long to complete the deep scan. It quickly turned to a two-minute timer, and the entire process took less than 10 minutes which is a notable advantage over some of its glacier-slow competitors.
Alas, even the deep scan yielded no deeper results. Instead, I decide to try a different file, just in case. This time, I create an image file to see if we can find it after I delete it.
After an additional scan, one oddly-named .png pops up. Since files names can sometimes be altered in the deletion process, and the meta aligns with the correct timeline, I opt to recover this file, fully expecting that this will be the end of a successful journey with Piriform Recuva.
The file recovery itself seems to go flawlessly and quickly, literally completing in less than a tenth of a second. The dialogue box offers an upgrade to the software in order to unlock advanced features including virtual hard drive support.
Unfortunately, when I open the freshly-recovered png, I am greeted with messages saying unrecognized file format. The photo will not open in gallery view, or in 3D Paint where I quickly created it, or even so much as show up in the file folder preview. Despite saying the file was in good condition and that recovery was fully successful, it seems that this was not the case.
There is a chance, because I am using the same drive, that I overwrote onto that freshly-recovered png, rendering it unreadable. It’s important to understand that the software may not be able to fully read or recover files that have since been written over, so restoring to a separate drive and limiting any unnecessary actions (like downloading or web browsing) using the drive that needs a file recovered. Otherwise, you run the risk of not being able to access the file you needed at all.
Trying other searches, configurations, and orders of operation including creating and deleting a variety of files using different methods (to the recycle bin, clearing the recycle bin, permanently deleting from within its original folder…) leads me to “recovering” these temp files, but I am still not able to see any of the image or text documents I had hoped to recover.
When searching to understand why this might be the case, I stumbled on this helpful response from a community member on the CCleaner forums. What they’ve said makes perfect sense, yet these steps (and everything else I try past this point) don’t seem to work either. Not one to give up, I run through at least half a dozen more trials in different configurations in order to give this popular software a fighting chance, but, unfortunately, I never found any of the files I needed to recover.
Budget-Friendly Prices Are A Boon For Recuva
Recuva uses a freemium model, meaning they have a free version that you can use up to a certain point, but they offer paid plans as well. Advanced recovery comes with all three tiers, but a paid tier must be chosen to enable virtual hard drive support, automatic updates, and premium customer support. At the time of this writing, the Recuva professional tier costs $19.95 prior to any discounts you could use from the release notes page you saw during installation. The professional bundle includes a full suite of Pirisoft tools including the professional versions of Recuva, CCleaner, Defraggler, and Speccy. The bundle costs $29.95.
What Users Are Saying About Recuva
Lots of users swear by Recuva. It’s a tool that’s been on the market for years and has saved many projects. Users tend to think the software is both easy to use and affordable, and most users have few complaints. Of these complaints, many are directed at the community support forum where most users can find answers to their concerns or tips to successfully recover their files.
PCMag gave Recuva a 3.5 out of 5 because it is budget-friendly but can’t delve as deep as some data recovery tools are able to, although at notably higher price points.
TechRadar gives Recuva data recovery software a full 4 out of 5 for being fast and effective for most scans, but it loses points for a somewhat unattractive user interface and deep scans that can be time-consuming.
The Final Verdict On Recuva And A Fair Rating
I am the first to admit that maybe this is a PEBKAC kind of issue, but I was not able to make Recuva function for my purposes. Despite telling myself that I was giving it its last shot several times, I’m not one to give up. I tried several, several other methods to try to give the software a chance to work so I could give a fair and honest review of Recuva. Maybe the failings here still come down to user error, but I, born and raised geek, seasoned tech support veteran gone tech entrepreneur, was not able to make it function for me today no matter how many ways I tried to coax it to do what I wanted. For that, Recuva loses some points in my book.
That said, Recuva is still widely loved and used for its speed and effectiveness, so it is bound to work for many users, and work well enough to entice people to spend money on it. While it’s geared slightly towards a more technically-inclined user, the basic functions are simple enough that most computer users can easily follow along without ever touching the more complex options.
Although it has some slight oversights and reductions in functionality compared to more polished software offerings, it also comes at a significantly reduced rate. Basic functions can be used free forever, and active community support forums are available to help guide free users through any snags they encounter. Premium customer support and virtual drive support come with paid plans, and neither of the two paid options of Recuva are expensive. For most people’s purposes, the features of Recuva are more than enough to do everything they need, but there’s a catch.
In Recuva’s FAQs, they remind users of some important facts of data recovery. Always have your recovery software ready before you need it to avoid overwriting any files. When you know you need to recover something, stop using the drive. This means don’t transfer files. Don’t make new ones. Don’t install things. Don’t even browse the internet, if it’s a system drive. Have your recovery software ready for when you need it to avoid potential loss, because taking further actions could cause the deleted files to be overwritten in a way that makes recovery more difficult, if not impossible, even when using a recovery tool such as Recuva. Recuva has a small enough file size to fit any machine without being cumbersome as well as a mobile version so you always have a copy when the need strikes.