Updated: March 2, 2016
As you may or may not know, my review request queue is getting longer by the day. Most of the time, it takes me months, and sometimes even years to finally accommodate some of the stuff you ask, which could create an impression that you are being ignored. Far from it. Power Data Recovery by MiniTool is one such example.
I was asked by the dev team to take their software for a lengthy spin. Elevenish months later, I had the chance to install the program and start fiddling about. For those of you wondering, Power Data Recovery (PDR) version 7.0 is a tool designed to help Windows users, well, recover lost files and folders from damaged partitions, SD cards, find lost files, and such. Any good? Let's find out.
Apart from typos here and there on the official website and various menus, the setup is quite simple and fast. One of the big warnings the program pops up is to make sure you do not install the program to a drive where you might expect to search for lost data, as this could lead to a permanent data loss. Fair enough.
The main program menu comes with a modernistic interface, slightly too smartphony for my taste, but rather easy to understand and navigate, although some of the options can be slightly confusing. The free version will only let you recover up to 1GB of data, so it's not really useful. You will need to upgrade if you want to use this tool seriously. The transparent border is also a little annoying, as it makes for less than dainty screenshots.
You have several options, with little to no configurations or settings, which can confuse power users, as implied in the software name. Undelete Recovery will simply try to recover files you have deleted, any which way.
The three options: Digital Media Recovery, Lost Partition Recovery and Damaged Partition Recovery are almost identical, with very small differences. The first will attempt to find lost data on SD cards and USB drives, i.e. mostly Flash storage. The second option will work on recovering stuff from partitions overwritten by new installations and such. The last option can be used against devices that have had their partition data messed up or damaged, and you are unable to see the filesystem structure.
The distinctions are subtle, and you do not a little bit of technical expertise to understand what gives. In fact, the use of some of the technical jargon can be a little difficult for less skilled users, and I would advise against running the tool blindly, without knowing what it can do. However, that may exactly be the temptation, because of the very happy and inviting interface. CD/DVD recovery is as the name implies.
Search and Rescue
Let's put out mouths where our bytes are. Time to see if we can recover anything. I decided to randomly delete several files on the C: drive, using both the Del + Recycle Bin method and the more rigorous Shift + Del option. Then, I also took an external hard disk and went ballistic on it.
Originally, it had a 1TB FAT32 partition with roughly 100 CD-size media files on it, mostly backups of various video clips and such. I had the partition table deleted, a new one created in its place and formatted with NTFS. Overall, a somewhat intrusive operation.
I tried the files thingie first. There are two scans. First, a discovery of all the visible drives, so you need to select the device from which you want to recover - Windows filesystems only. Then, the actual scan of the content, a rather fast operation.
The results were rather disappointing. On the fully formatted USB hard drive, no files were found. The tool could not see the underlying FAT32 data. On the C: drive, it found a lot of stuff, but none of the randomly deleted files, regardless of the method I used. There was a whole bunch of other stuff to recover, but it wasn't really useful or interesting for me.
Recovery from partitions
This type of operation worked much, much better. While only FAT, NTFS and HFS+ are officially supported, the tool did see all the partitions. You will need to detect the right partition before you start the full scan. Our test bunny was the external disk.
Depending on the size of the device, it could take many hours. Indeed, I gave up after only about 5-10 minutes, with less than 1% of the data structure analyzed. Don't expect anything fast. It's a messy sector by sector operation. Probably worth it if you are recovering valuable personal information. In my test, I stopped with about 40 files detected on the external disk. Good.
If you check the scan log, even after an aborted partial scan, you will still get some results. I was pleasantly surprised to find a bunch of video clips showing up in the log, roughly matching the original size of the objects that I had saved on the FAT32 partition.
After selecting the desired objects, you can then save them to the disk. In a way, this is a copy operation from the damaged partition structure into a target directory somewhere. It does not guarantee your data will be valid or sane, especially if there's physical damage or some of the information has been overwritten, but it's worth a try. Plus, the file names will be completely off, so you will need to restore those too, if you can actually identify the objects. A small price to pay for a successful recovery.
You can also try to preview the files, but this won't work if the objects are bigger than 20MB, making the functionality rather useless for any kind of media except maybe songs. But it should be useful for images, documents and the like. Within reason. Plus typos.
The recovery worked, and I was able to play the selected file. Nice. It was a 2h 5min movie, and it seems to be intact. Alas, the video playback stopped at 1 h 44 min, so I guess some of the video data is damaged beyond repair. To be expected when you are trying to salvage things that have been destroyed. This is why having the right backup strategy in place is quite important.
I then tried the lost partition recovery. Same results. No magic there. What is gone cannot be ungone. Moreover, you do get some advanced settings after all, but they only define what filesystems and types of data to look for. Nothing fancy. Then again, if HFS+ is supported, then Linux filesystems should be on the list, too.
Power Data Recovery 7.0 is a decent tool. It is simple, elegant, and most importantly, safe and non-destructive. It has an interface that allows most users to go through the motions of recovery, but the terminology can be confusing, and there are some typos, quite a few actually, in the menus. That's fine, but it can be tricky. Plus, it does not look as professional as it could.
As far as recovery goes, I liked the partition operations. I found the file recovery to be lacking. Either way, do not expect miracles. You can't really save bytes that have been irreparably overwritten with other data. That does not happen. Overall, for what it's worth, the program offers a reasonable compromise between technology and expectations for a broad selection of users. The personal license price of USD69.00 is a little steep, but if it can save some bacon, I guess the numbers won't be a showstopper.
All in all, Power Data Recovery is an okay program, and you might want to consider it in your arsenal. You could also go for Linux recovery tools, but they will often be much geekier and more difficult to use. The GUI approach is quite elegant. Improvements in future versions should include a much more robust and accurate file recovery system, better language proofing, and maybe clearer terminology when it comes to different functions. As such, 7.5/10 seems like an okay grade for this product. See you.