Which Data Recovery Software Should I Use on my Mac?

| MGG Answers


My hard drive is dying and I need to recover some data from it before I pitch it into the digital graveyard. From my extensive search I have not been able to find any independent reviews of data recovery software. All I find is PR announcements of free giveways from other sites and self-congratulatory descriptions from the vendors' sites. What do you use for data recovery and what do you think is best?


I was thinking about this earlier this week, and this tidbit will likely come across more as an opinionated blog post than a technical answer. Nonetheless is is my definitive answer to this question, so I share.

Data recovery software is a really hard thing for someone in my position to be appropriately knowledgeable about simply because it's not the kind of thing that can be easily tested on a broad enough scale to form a quantitative opinion. I think many of my peers find that true, as well, and this is likely the reason that trusted reviews are so hard to find. Obviously I'm aware of all the options out there, but because it's not the kind of thing one person needs (or can reliably test) on a regular basis, it's impossible for me (or probably most anyone) to have a fully-informed opinion about which applications are the best at any given moment in time.

THAT said, I do get asked about data recovery software often and may even have to use it myself some day, so I need to have an opinion on the subject. To form that opinion I defer to software vendors I trust for other reasons and assume that they're just as committed to making data recovery software as they are at everything else they do. Thinking along those lines, in recent years I have become really impressed with Prosoft Engineering's Drive Genius for disk repair (but it doesn't do data recovery). Drive Genius has really become an excellent product, doing the best at most everything it does. There are times that Alsoft's DiskWarrior can "fix" a drive that Drive Genius can't, so I do keep both around, but Drive Genius has become the disk repair app I use first. With that in mind I feel more comfortable recommending Prosoft Engineering's Data Rescue for data recovery once I've exhausted the repair options available in the aforementioned apps.

Not exactly a review, per se, because I haven't used it enough to be able to do that, but I trust Data Rescue simply because I know how Prosoft is with their other products.

Hard drive image above provided by Shutterstock.

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Each week Dave Hamilton and John F. Braun provide some great troubleshooting advice to listeners of the Mac Geek Gab podcast. Here with MGG Answers we share some of those tips with the rest of the world!


A Brody - Author of dozens of tips on Apple Suppor

Prosoft Data Rescue is the first choice, before Alsoft Disk Warrior.  Why?  Disk Warrior is invasive.  Prosoft Data Rescue tries to be as non-invasive as possible.  I’ve seen drives die under the hands of Alsoft Disk Warrior before any files could be recovered.  I’ve seen Data Rescue recover things off a drive Disk Warrior couldn’t handle.    That said, Data Rescue is not the only package that purports to do non-invasive data recovery from an external boot CD or drive.  Newcomers, which I haven’t tested included

Subrosasoft Filesalvage
Boomerang’s Boomerang
Stellar Info’s Mac Data Recovery
Clever Files Disk Drill
Wondershare Data Recovery

Subrosasoft is one that already has a good reputation amongst Mac geeks.  So before you try your hand at Alsoft Disk Warrior, try more non-invasive techniques.  If all of the above fail, then spending thousands at DriveSavers may be your only choice.


It seems that disk recovery software is a boom area, with new products appearing every week. But when you look into them, they are often not all they claim. For example, Stellar Info’s product when first released seemed to do little more than standard OS X utilities did. I haven’t looked at it lately to know whether it has improved.
Then there is iSkysoft’s Data Recovery for Mac which was a freebie for Mother’s Day. It could not see USB flash drives at all, whether they were damaged or not. It could also not access disk images. The support person I asked about this didn’t answer the question but just waffled on. There is a product called iDisksoft Data Recovery for Mac which looks and behaves like iSkysoft’s product with all its faults. It could not even find any deleted files on a highly-active big disk with many files constantly changing.
Disk Drill also did not work with disk images when I was a beta tester a year ago.
My first action when presented with a damaged disk is to block-copy it to a disk image so I can play around with it without damaging the physical disk. Any software that cannot access disk images is useless to me.
I have also had good results with Data Rescue, and the free TestDisk and PhotoRec are also worth a try, although they are a bit geeky to use.


An ounce of prevention…

Use Time Machine and backup your data before you need to panic and use data recovery. It’s a bit like auto insurance or a firearm: You hope you never need it.

John Dingler, artist

Hi Dave and All,
Yeah, lots of “data rescue” tools out there for Mac. I need to recover a dead 2TB G-Tech external drive.

I was nearly ready to purchase Stellar Phoenix Mac Data Recovery after trying it out. It seemed to recover everything, including folders themselves. I am assuming that they would contain their original contents. I don’t know. Maybe they are empty with its contents scattered into loose files. It’s $100.

But then I read that iSkysoft Data Recovery for Mac is free, a “Giveaway from May 9 to May 15,”  along with the access code. I have never heard of this company’s data rescue tool before. I am concerned that it might do inadequate work compared to, say, Phoenix which, according to toptenreviews.com comes out on top but does not mention iSkysoft. My other concern is that using data recovery software, I read, alters the files or file structure in some way, making for a less recoverable disk, so I don’t want to jeopardize the recovery using the tool I would eventually use, in this case Stellar.

After an exhaustive search, I found no independent review of its quality/capability, only wholesale promotionals taken directly from iSkysoft’s site, as if no independent expert cares even to review it.

Top Ten rates the top ten this way. Some may be Windows only:
Stellar Phoenix, first.
Data Rescue
File Recovery for Mac
Virtual Lab
Disk Drill
Boomerang Data Recovery
Disk Doctor Mac Data Recovery, last.

Has anyone heard or used iSkysoft’s?

Dave Hamilton

While we’re going through all the options, people rave about SpinRite from Steve Gibson’s GRC. It’s Windows-only, but folks report great success with HFS+ drives there, too.

John Dingler, artist

Hi Dave,
From its website, “SpinRite 6.0 recognizes and…can…repair and recover Apple Macintosh…hard drives by temporarily moving them into an Intel-based PC,” and, on another page, it says that the HD must, I guess, be removed from the Mac enclosure and put into a—here I am guessing again—Win. PC so that the Win PC’s UI must be used. And I think a companion program must be used. Too technological for me.

Still waiting for a response from iSkysoft if its temporarily free iSkysoft Data Recovery tool actually times out tomorrow, the 15th.

Brian M

ProSoft Data Rescue for pure recovery.  If the disk is questionable use its clone option to increase the chances of being able to recover data.

SpinRite can sometimes help a failing disk (do a recovery attempt first if possible of anything critical just incase the drive gets worse)

I have used both in the field for years.

As mentioned multiple backups of anything critical is best for prevention, but there are always exceptions and even multiple failures can occur.

Bo C

There are some scenarios and logic that left out of the decision as to how to respond to a disk that needs file structure repair or just data recovery.

  How valuable is the data?  If it is critical, you might not want to attempt to fix or recover directly from the bunged HD.  You or a drive service might want to do a forensic clone of the hard drive first (assuming it spins up.)  This lets you try to recover off of a copy of the drive.  If it doesn’t spin up you get to pay for Drive Savers next employee party.

  SSDs are starting to replace HDs and becoming rather common.  Recovering from an SSD is not something I know about yet, so I trust archives and clones to save my hind end.  I would send an SSD out to someone who knew how to recover data from it if I was lazy enough to not have mine thoroughly backed up and cloned.  (I’ve had one SSD go poof already.)

  WeibeTech offers a forensic tool which write blocks the hard drive while you make a copy so no further changes are done to the original bunged HD.

  Rather than spend the money, some people would rather go to a tech shop and have them do the work and that might make sense with valuable data.

  Myself, I want to continue using Carbon Copy Cloner for daily archives of changed files (some minutes a day for me).  Once every couple weeks I do a clone of the entire HD to a partition on my backup HD.  CCC & HDs are so CHEAP now days, that in both $s and time they are a godsend for eliminating or minimizing drive failure issues.  There are times when I am working on complex large files and I set CCC to archive every hour or manually after a critical step in a complex design. 

I can’t envision redoing a whole day’s lost work.  That is a numbingly painful thought.


I “accidentally” formatted my external 2TB Firewire drive (with all my photos and home videos) a year or so ago. I tried three or four of the recovery programs and mostly ended up with a whole bunch of files (millions of the little critters in fact) with no associations to the applications they were created in, and very inconveniently renamed “recovered file #001, recovered file #002” and so on.

Finally I used Data Rescue 3. It churned away for about three days straight, but I eventually ended up recovering maybe 80% of the drive contents. Complete with folders, file names, icons…the lot.

In the end, I was a very happy camper indeed!


As Ian noted, be prepared to run a recovery app for many hours or even days. The time taken can increase if you’re recovering from a larger capacity drive.

I’ve had a data recovery app run for 4 days to recover several hundred gigs of data.

You could try Disk Warrior and if DW can. it’ll ‘create’ a temporary virtual partition that you can then copy off to another hdd.

But the best protection is redundant copies of all important data.

And for the paranoid, you can run an app like SMARTreporter, and hopefully you’ll get advance notice of a hdd’s impending failure/death.
SMART reporting technology in modern HDDs doesn’t always catch HDD failures though….

John Christopher

I’d like to add my rather biased opinion regarding data recovery. As an employee of DriveSavers, Inc. for the last 19 years, the single most important piece of advice we pass on to potential customers is that running a data recovery program on a “dying” hard drive is not the best idea if you absolutely, positively need to get your data back.

Keep in mind that we receive hundreds of hard drives a month and in most cases the end user, their knowledgeable friend, neighbor, family member or someone else—decided to recover the data using a software package like those mentioned in Dave’s article.

Sadly, in some cases previous attempts at recovering data using software causes media damage which destroys any chance of us being able to get back anything functional. So, use data recovery software programs with caution. If the data is “irreplaceable” your best bet is to avoid going the software route and to send the drive to an established, reputable, professional data recovery company.


VirtualLab Data Recovery does its job better then most that could cost the same or more. After I purchased it I realized that I will not need another software for data recovering, this one works perfect.


VirtualLab is not as easy to work with as Prosoft Data Rescue or Subrosasoft Filesalvage.  Contacting VirtualLab, they refuse to make an boot DVD or USB Flash drive to boot off of that includes their utility.    As such they require you have more space on your recovery hard drive than your internal drive, with enough room to install an operating system, and their tool.  So don’t be fooled by their cheaper price.  If you have that resource already, it is cheaper, but whether or not it is better, depends on what you can afford.


Virtuallab recovered from my external drive. Same structure. I was very impressed.


I’m not trying to be pedantic, though it might come out that way a bit.

Data recovery software does work but it’s always a bit of a crap shoot. If the sector that your critical file is corrupted then you won’t get it back. Therefore, rather than trying to recover files from a corrupt HDD it’s far better, and more efficient to recover them from a backup copy. Backup, backup, backup. Test your backups. Keep a spare copy of your backups off site. Above all don’t rely on being able to repair a HDD. Sometimes they just go south big time and can’t be recovered at all no matter what software you have.


I’ve had great success with Data Rescue - but backing up is the best defense. Also, let it be said that we’ve been in the digital age long enough to say with assurance that hard copies of things will outlast your hard dive. Physical paper backups still have their place, and Facebook or Google can never snoop them.


Dave et al:

Great discussion and follow-on thread. I’ve heard consistently good things about Data Rescue and will now likely bite the bullet and buy it.

Regarding repair, I’ve had inconsistent success with DiskWarrior, and have lately let it slip from my arsenal. I’ve not required it in a long enough time that I’d need reason to try it again. I have to admit, I have enough machines to service that, for heavy duty repair and recovery, I won’t hesitate to hand over to professionals, like MacMedics here in the area. My time is simply too limited to spend on a massive effort.

@geoduck: your advice, as usual, is quite sound regarding multiple backups, both on and off site. The only time I ever did not have a recent backup, my hard drive crashed while I was in remote field duty, with no way back. It was ugly, and I never forgot it. I’ve maintained quadruple redundant backup, including onsite, ever since. That said, it doesn’t obviate the need for repair and restore if there is hidden cruft causing a crash, but the advice stands nonetheless.

Also, let it be said that we’ve been in the digital age long enough to say with assurance that hard copies of things will outlast your hard dive.

@Jamie: That depends substantially on where you work and store your files. I work in locations (mainly the tropics and sub-tropics) where that is absolutely not the case, and is one of the most unreliable means of data storage. If the L. saccharina (silverfish), weevils, cockroaches and rats don’t get your files, the fungi and bacteria will. In fact, not only paper files, but optical media are susceptible to the elements. Last year, I lost season 1 and 2 of my STNG DVDs that I keep overseas in a sub-tropical worksite. My housekeeper showed me that termites had not only eaten into the packaging, but were munching on the disks as well. I’d have never believed it had I not seen it for myself. They were eating the disks! For those reasons, if we have to store hard copies for things like clinical trials (which the US FDA require for licensing trials) we have to use expensive, specialised storage protocols, otherwise all hard copies are transcribed to electronic media and multiply backed up as soon as possible.

For storage, nothing beats redundant on site and off site backups; and @geoduck advises, test them. Regularly.


”... I’ve heard consistently good things about Data Rescue and will now likely bite the bullet and buy it.”

I don’t know whether it would be profitable to first check-out the free VirtualLab Data, as wpyron & gopher3 advised in their well-caveated strong endorsements, which are echoed in the mostly 5-star endorsements on MacUpdate.com’s webpage for it.  That’s what sounds best to me, but it would require searching for advise for other users of it, before commencing, i’d say.


Has anyone found TechToolPro 7’s advertised recovery capabilities very useful?


Has anyone found TechToolPro 7’s advertised recovery capabilities very useful?


Not, recently. When I last used TechToolPro, which was some years ago, it worked flawlessly.

In general, whether it is attributable to improvements in OS, third part software, or just blind luck, I haven’t had much cause to rescue. And now that I’ve said that…

John Gate

I’ve had great success with Disk Drill data recovery tool. Deleted file recovery and backup work like a charm, and data recovery was able to pull data off my Boot Camp partition without issue. You can find it here: http://download.cnet.com/Disk-Drill/3000-2094_4-75984417.html

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