Data Recovery Options for Mac Users

Do you need to recover files that were deleted from a Mac’s hard drive? Here’s a quick overview of three options.

Option 1

By far the easiest way to recover a file is to restore it from the most recent backup. This is why I’m such a strong proponent of setting up a comprehensive backup system including automated TimeMachine or CrashPlan backups. By default, TimeMachine runs every hour and CrashPlan runs every 15 minutes. Here are the tech tips I wrote about how to restore files from Time Machine¬†and CrashPlan backups.

This option is appropriate for a wide range of situations including: accidentally deleting a file and realizing it a minute or a month later, suffering from a malfunctioning hard drive, losing your computer or having it stolen. Assuming that you make multiple and frequent backup copies of your data, this option has a very high recovery success rate.

This is the last of the good options. The two remaining options are either expensive, time consuming or have a much lower chance of success — or some combination thereof.

Option 2

Use data recovery software such as ProSoft Engineering’s Data Rescue. Data Rescue and comparable applications can search a hard drive for deleted files and it can try to search a malfunctioning hard drive for files. Both of these processes can take hours to run and their success is far from guaranteed. When a file has is deleted it’s not really removed from the hard drive. Instead, the entry for that file is removed from an invisible list of all files and the space where the file resides on the hard drive is marked as available for re-use. Depending upon how much time has elapsed since the file was deleted, it may or may not have been over-written. If a hard drive is failing who knows if you’ll be able to recovery any files from it.

Option 3

Use a professional data recovery company like DriveSavers. DriveSavers has been around since the mid 1980s. They have a stellar reputation and success rate. In the rare cases that I’ve had a client who needed professional data recovery, I’ve often used DriveSavers. They have fortunately been able to recover most of the needed data. The downside of professional data recovery companies is the relatively high cost.

In the past decade, I’ve only sent two hard drives to DriveSavers. One hard drive was from an Mac made in the mid-1990s. It hadn’t been used in years and my client suddenly realized that she needed some data from it. The hard drive no longer worked properly. She spent about $2500 to recover a few dozen files which she needed.

In the other instance, a woman phoned me after most of her iPhoto Library suddenly vanished before her eyes. She didn’t have any backup of the hard drive so we sent the hard drive to DriveSavers. She paid about $1500 for the recovery work. DriveSavers recovered thousands of jpeg photos, but some of them were random clip art files so my client then had to spend countless hours weeding through the recovered files.

In my opinion, options 2 and 3 aren’t really attractive options. They are expensive, time-consuming and the odds of getting all of the files needed are not as high as I’d like. In comparison the cost to buy a couple of backup hard drives or to pay for CrashPlan’s online backup storage system is much less. Please set up an automated, redundant and reliable backup system for your Mac.

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