The failure of a hard drive can be one of the most devastating things to happen to any computer user – within the realms of computing, at least – particularly if you are unprepared and have not been particularly diligent at creating regular backups.
Should the worst happen to you, you could sent your drive off to a team of data recovery experts, but you’ll have to pay a fairly hefty fee if you want your files back. But there are plenty of occasions when your files may not be accessible due to a no-physical problem with your drive, and TestDisk is a free tool that could get your data back without the need to part with a penny.
With this tool installed you can not only attempt to recover files, but also fix corrupt or deleted partitions. TestDisk is a tool that can be called upon in numerous circumstances: fixing a drive that is non-bootable, recovering file that you have accidentally deleted, restoring partitions that have been deleted and recovering file tables.
The first thing you’ll notice is that there’s no GUI to work with; this is a text driven program which does not need to be installed to run. This is obviously going to be off-putting to some people, but it does mean that TestDisk is flexible enough to run in Windows, DOS mode, or from a bootable disk – there are also versions available for other OSes such as OS, Linux and even FreeBSD.
Because there are no dependencies, there’s nothing to stop you from popping the app on a boot disc so you can use it on a non-booting system.
The tool starts by scanning for any drives that it can detect – this is the first potential stumbling block as your drive needs to be at least visible, even if not functioning correctly, in order to work with it.
Having selected the drive you want to work with you need to indicate where it came from – such as PC, a Mac or games console – before getting down to work. You can jump right in and start analysing the disk for lost partitions, but you can also change the number of sectors, modify the MBR or even wipe the partition table. These are great if you have suffered at the hands of a virus or some form of software issue that has messed up your drive configuration.
This is what TestDisk is all about. Whether you’ve lost valuable files because they’ve been deleted and you’ve since emptied the Recycle Bin. Working through the various screens of the apps, you are guided towards fixing problems with partition – which is certainly useful – but many people will be turning to TestDisk for file recovery.
If files have been deleted, providing they have not been overwritten with other data, you stand a very good chance of people able to recover them and restore them to their former glory. It’s a little strange to find that the undelete option is buried so deeply in the program, but it’s good to know that it is there.
Unlike other file recovery utilities, TestDisk does not allow for an in-depth scan of drives to reveal a list of all recoverable data, and the list of deleted files that is displayed does not give you an idea of the health of files
It does not end there with TestDisk; there are also a number of extra tools and features packed into this tiny app. You can also recover boost sectors, and create an image of any disk that the program is able to see.
This is not the sort of utility to be approached lightly. If you don’t know what you’re doing it would be all too easy to make an existing problem worse, create a new problem, or even render your data all but unrecoverable. In the right hands TestDisk can get you out of a very sticky situation and potential save you a great deal of money.
There are limitations to what the program is capable of, and there are more user-friendly, more powerful file recovery tools available, but this is a utility that excels at partition related operations rather than data recovery. Should you find that a partition, or even an entire drive, has gone missing, this is good first port of call before you start to panic.
Some of the options are a bit hidden and it is not immediately obvious where you need to head to perform operations such as searching for and recovering lost files. These quibbles aside, this is a great tool to add to your toolkit as you never know when it’s going to come in handy.