How To Recover Data From Hard Drive For Free

How To Recover Data From Hard Drive For Free

Data loss can happen to anyone at any time. While the experience is frustrating, free file recovery tools and data recovery software can restore files sometimes, depending on the storage device, data loss scenario, and operating system. The experts at Secure Data Recovery, the leader in RAID, SSD, and hard drive recovery, outline the appropriate conditions for attempting to recover data from a hard drive for free, and offer several options.

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When To Use Free Data Recovery Software

Recovering data can be complicated. Different failure scenarios require different approaches. Free data recovery software might restore lost data on a formatted device but cannot recover files from damaged storage media.

In general, free data recovery tools are designed to address accidental deletion or formatting and minor file system corruption. Data recovery software can quickly retrieve important files and reduce downtime in these instances.

For example, data recovery software can access and restore deleted files. That’s because hard disk drives (HDDs), USB flash drives, and SD cards do not immediately erase deleted data.

(Note: It is much harder to recover deleted files from an SSD due to the TRIM command. TRIM is an interface command that allows the SSD to perform proactive garbage collection. Once issued, the SSD wipes the deleted data from the device. While TRIM optimizes the SSD’s long-term performance, recovering data is almost impossible unless the command is disabled beforehand.)

The file system of a hard disk drive or memory card simply marks the space that the data occupies as available for rewriting. That means file fragments reside in unallocated space, even after users empty the Recycle Bin on Windows or Trash on Macs. The deleted files are often recoverable until overwritten by new data.

Those looking to recover data from a hard drive with free software must consider the following to achieve the best results:

First, act fast. The longer deleted data remains in unallocated space, the likelier it will be overwritten. Free tools are most effective when used as soon as data loss occurs. Minimize computer usage to preserve the files that still exist on the storage device.

Second, do not save data recovery software to the affected hard disk drive. Doing so could overwrite the inaccessible data. Download the software to an external drive instead.

In the end, understanding the data loss situation is a critical part of the recovery process. Data recovery software can be a valid option. However, in other cases, it will not produce the desired outcome.

Knowing when to use data recovery software could be the difference between restoring lost files and permanent data loss.

How To Use Windows File Recovery

If opting for software, most users should start with Windows File Recovery. The free software utility is a built-in feature of Windows 10 and 11. Users just need to download the tool from the Microsoft Store. Microsoft developed Windows File Recovery to restore deleted data from local hard disk drives, external hard drives, USB flash drives, SD cards, and, in rare cases, SSDs using specific file systems. Windows File Recovery primarily supports NTFS, but features a separate mode to restore lost data for FAT and exFAT file formats.

Windows File Recovery uses a command-line interface. Users input a command into the application, which executes the directive. Though effective, command-line interfaces can be punishing for novices.

The steps below explain how to use Windows File Recovery to recover deleted files from a compatible storage device:

  1. Download Windows File Recovery from the Microsoft Store.
  2. Press the Windows key.
  3. Enter Windows File Recovery in the search box.
  4. Launch the application.
  5. Select Yes when the application requests permission to make changes to the device.

Now, administrators must interact with the command-line interface to recover files from the drive. Commands are entered in the following format:

winfr source-drive : destination-drive : /mode /switch

In other words, winfr (Windows File Recovery) commands require multiple parameters to restore files.

The source drive is the disk being scanned for deleted data. In most cases, it is the C: drive.

The destination drive is the disk where recovered files are saved upon restoration. That is often the D: drive.

The mode depends on circumstances. Regular mode restores recently deleted files on an NTFS-formatted drive. Extensive mode recovers formatted or permanently deleted data from drives using the NTFS file system. In addition, Extensive mode locates FAT and exFAT files.

The switch refers to a set of further instructions that dictate how the application searches for lost files.

Here is a data loss scenario and how Windows File Recovery can restore deleted files:

The user’s computer runs Windows 11. It has an NTFS-formatted hard drive that contains a large number of professional documents. While performing maintenance, the user deletes an old project and associated files. Months later, the user needs that data back, but it is no longer stored in the Recycle Bin. The user connects an external hard drive and launches Windows File Recovery. The user needs a particular Word document. Its file name is example.docx. In the application, the user enters:

winfr C: D: /regular /n example.docx


Image of Windows File Recovery

When prompted, the user presses Y to start the recovery process. Windows File Recovery attempts to retrieve example.docx. If successful, the recovered file from the C: drive will be saved to a new folder on the D: drive. If unsuccessful, the user can opt for Extensive mode for a more thorough scan. To use Extensive mode in the same situation, enter this command:

winfr C: D: /extensive /n example.docx


Image of Windows File Recovery

However, both of those scenarios assume the user remembers the exact file name and type. Fortunately, Windows File Recovery has other methods to restore lost data. Users can choose other search paths. Follow these commands in the given circumstance to recover data from a Windows computer for free and save it to an external drive.

For those that want to recover all files with a particular phrase in its name, where project is a generic placeholder:

winfr C: D: /regular /n *project* winfr C: D: /extensive /n *project*

For those that want to recover a specific file type, like .docx (Microsoft Word), .xlsx (Microsoft Excel), .pptx (Microsoft PowerPoint), .pdf (Adobe Portable Document Format), .mp3 (audio files), or .mp4 (multimedia files) on Regular or Extensive mode:

winfr C: D: /regular /n *.docx winfr C: D: /regular /n *.xlsx winfr C: D: /regular /n *.pptx winfr C: D: /regular /n *.pdf winfr C: D: /regular /n *.mp3 winfr C: D: /regular /n *.mp4 winfr C: D: /extensive /n *.docx winfr C: D: /extensive /n *.xlsx winfr C: D: /extensive /n *.pptx winfr C: D: /extensive /n *.pdf winfr C: D: /extensive /n *.mp3 winfr C: D: /extensive /n *.mp4

For those that want to simultaneously recover numerous file types on Regular or Extensive mode:

winfr C: D: /regular /n *.docx /n *.xlsx /n *.pptx /n *.pdf winfr C: D: /extensive /n *.docx /n *.xlsx /n *.pptx /n *.pdf

For those that want to recover all files in the Documents or Downloads folder on Regular or Extensive mode, where Username is a generic placeholder that represents the unique Windows username:

winfr C: D: /regular /n \Users\Username\Documents\ winfr C: D: /regular /n \Users\Username\Downloads\ winfr C: D: /extensive /n \Users\Username\Documents\ winfr C: D: /extensive /n \Users\Username\Downloads\

For those that want to recover .jpeg or .png files in the Pictures folder on Regular or Extensive mode, where Username is a generic placeholder that represents the unique Windows username:

winfr C: D: /regular /n \Users\Username\Pictures\*.JPEG winfr C: D: /regular /n \Users\Username\Pictures\*.PNG winfr C: D: /extensive /n \Users\Username\Pictures\*.JPEG winfr C: D: /extensive /n \Users\Username\Pictures\*.PNG

While other filters can locate deleted files that match certain parameters, it is recommended that general users follow the listed format. Advanced users can find more information on command-line syntax and Segment and Signature modes on the Windows File Recovery page.

SecureRecovery for Windows

SecureRecovery is data recovery software developed by our team of experts. The proprietary hard drive data recovery software is a more powerful, user-friendly option. SecureRecovery is capable of salvaging lost files in several cases of logical damage, including deleted data, a formatted drive or card, or a corrupted file system.

A free download of SecureRecovery starts with a comprehensive analysis of the HDD, SSD, USB flash drive, or SD card. Unlike most software, SecureRecovery evaluates the condition of the storage media. If SecureRecovery determines data recovery software is safe, its algorithms scan the storage device’s contents for recoverable files. Users can elect to perform a quick search or a deep scan based on the circumstances of the case.

Regardless of the disk recovery method, SecureRecovery provides comprehensive scan results and a preview of recoverable files.

Like most software, users have the option to purchase a full license to recover the files previewed by SecureRecovery.

Do not download SecureRecovery on the device that suffered data loss. Saving the software to a different drive could preserve files stored on the failed hard drive.

To start recovering files with SecureRecovery:

  1. Select the presumed location where lost data resides. For most users, that means selecting the C: Drive under the Device/Disk column.

    Secure Recovery

  2. Click Next in the bottom-right corner of the window.

At this point, users must choose a scan mode. For a quick scan:

  1. Select Quick File Search.

    Secure Recovery Quick File Search

  2. Select the relevant file or folder.
  3. Select the relevant subfolder if applicable.
  4. Select the file(s) from the list on the right side of the window. You can use the menu on the left side of the screen to search for files or sort them. Double-clicking a file provides a hexadecimal view of it and estimates the odds of a successful recovery.

    Secure Recovery Files

  5. Click Next in the bottom-right corner of the window.
  6. Click … to select the output folder for the recoverable files. For most users, that means selecting the D: Drive under This PC.

    Secure Recovery Output Folder

    Secure Recovery Destination Drive

  7. Click Recover in the bottom-right corner of the window. If successful, a status bar will appear.
  8. Click Finish in the bottom-right corner of the window.

If a quick scan was unsuccessful, or users want to begin with a deep scan, follow these steps:

  1. Select Full Scan.

    Secure Recovery Full Scan

  2. Click Next in the bottom-right corner of the window.
  3. Wait for the scan to complete. The scanning process might take some time.

    Secure Recovery Scanning Process

  4. Select the relevant file or folder.
  5. Select the relevant subfolder if applicable.
  6. Select the file(s) from the list on the right side of the window.
  7. Click Next in the bottom-right corner of the window.
  8. Click … to select the output folder for the recoverable files. For most users, that means selecting the D: Drive under This PC.
  9. Click Recover in the bottom-right corner of the window. If successful, a status bar will appear.
  10. Click Finish in the bottom-right corner of the window.


Though SecureRecovery software does have some constraints. First and foremost, it is limited to recovering data from a hard drive or storage device with logical errors. SecureRecovery cannot reverse data loss caused by physical damage. Do not attempt to restore files from a beeping or clicking hard drive with free data recovery software. Unusual noises often indicate mechanical failure or physical damage and require hard drive repair before data can be extracted.

The free version of SecureRecovery comes with a preview of recoverable files, so users understand what the software can retrieve. To recover that data, users must own a license. However, upon purchasing a license, users can recover unlimited amounts of data. No restrictions or forced upgrades.

Data Recovery Service

If the files are essential, then a data recovery service is the most reliable option.

Certified data recovery services are not free, but their expertise can provide excellent value. An experienced engineer can deliver customized solutions for dozens of data loss scenarios that free software and utilities cannot, including severe logical issues, such as significant corruption or being the victim of a virus attack.

Data recovery services produce much better outcomes than software or utilities given specialized facilities and data recovery tools. Experts should perform invasive procedures inside a cleanroom that filters particulates and pollutants to prevent further media damage. In addition, technicians can create a byte-for-byte clone and restore data from that disk image to protect the original files. A data recovery service can even bypass the file system and recover data from the raw disk space. The technique, known as file carving, involves specialists reassembling file fragments to restore its contents.

Data recovery engineers also have more sophisticated software than commercial options. Free data recovery software is limited to common extensions and file types. Professional data recovery software can locate uncommon extensions and offers the ability to write custom scripts for proprietary file types.

In terms of success rates, free software cannot compete with data recovery services.

Finding the Perfect Recovery Solution for You

There are options for users that need a data recovery solution.

Data recovery is not a one-size-fits-all industry. In some situations, free data recovery software is sufficient. Other instances might require a more advanced recovery program. Certain users with critical files or challenging cases should likely enlist a data recovery service.

Windows File Recovery is an effective, free data recovery tool for restoring deleted files on Microsoft’s operating system. Other data recovery software, like SecureRecovery, can confront more complex issues.

If neither works, the experts at Secure Data Recovery might still be able to reunite you with your important files. Since 2007, we have encountered all data loss scenarios, from mechanical failure and physical damage to file system corruption following a malware infection. In that time, we have maintained a 96% success rate across all storage devices, manufacturers, and operating systems. Our success rate, certifications, and state-of-the-art Class 10 ISO 4 cleanroom are a testament to our expertise.

Our data recovery services are even backed by our “No Data, No Recovery Fee” guarantee. You get your data back, or you pay nothing.

Call 800-388-1266 to start a case and receive a free data recovery consultation.

Category: How to Guides
Article by
Contributors:

T.J. Burlee is a content writer for Secure Data Recovery Services. He specializes in various topics in the data industry, including data recovery technology, storage devices, and digital forensics. Throughout his career, he has covered complex concepts and provided accessible solutions for users. Before joining Secure Data, he worked as a freelance technical writer.

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