Disk Drill 3 brings file recovery tools to Mac hard drives

Posted:
in Mac Software edited December 2016
If you don't have a good backup of your Mac, and as a result have lost something important, Disk Drill 3 aims to restore what's gone and try to protect you against future problems. AppleInsider offers a closer look.




The best of us make mistakes and delete documents or files that we really wish we hadn't. Usually the answer is to restore them from your backup, but it's still possible for them to slip through the cracks. When they do, you may well be out of luck -- but if you lost it on a hard disk, you may have a chance with recovery tools like Disk Drill 3.1.769.

Most of the time when a document goes missing, it's down to finger trouble: you pressed delete when you didn't mean to. We're going to be stuck with bad decisions forever, but what we're surely going to shed soon is the brilliant but rickety hard disk. Every hard disk goes wrong with small flaws or eventually total failure. When Solid State Drives with no moving parts can be made big enough and cheap enough, the hard disk is history.




Until then, tools like Disk Drill are good for both hard disk failures and distracted fingers. But, Disk Drill is probably not directly of use to you if you have an SSD. Why this is, is a discussion for another day.

However, regardless of drive choice, no disk recovery app is guaranteed to get absolutely anything back for you. If any other category of software had the success rate of a data recovery tool you'd be asking for refunds. Yet because they can be your only possible hope and because they can save the day at least sometimes, tools like Disk Drill are worth the money.

You're aware that absolutely everything you do on your Mac involves your hard disk in some way. Even if you aren't personally saving documents to the drive, Safari is keeping a copy of something. Word is writing interminable temporary files so that it can recover the documents it destroys for you.

All data recovery relies on one fact. When you or your computer deletes a file, it doesn't really get out a pencil eraser and scrub away at it all on a hard drive -- and this is related to why the app doesn't work so well on a SSD. Usually, though, for speed, it just lists the space that file took up as now being empty.

So the next time you or your computer needs to save something, that empty space is fair game. Once something else has been saved in the space, your old document is gone.

If writing an email or opening a web page can be enough to have a new file written to your disk, downloading an app like Disk Drill definitely can. So the makers recommend that you download it now, before you lose anything.

They would say that, they want your money. Still, they do have a point and moreover the app is free to download to see if you can save anything.

You can use this basic, free app for two things: monitoring the health of your hard disk and seeing if anything lost can be recovered. If you're in luck, and some files can be recovered, unlocking these Pro features costs $89.




Running the search for recoverable items is quick to start and on a 3 TB drive took us around four minutes. Once you've got the list, you can click on a lost file and recover it.

Nicely, though, you can also also click a button to have every single recoverable file be mounted as if they were on a separate hard disk. Then you can open that disk image and drag out whatever you need.

Sometimes you will need to do this because it's not always clear what documents have been recovered. Very large files are unlikely to have been saved in one single spot on your drive, they will have been broken up into chunks. When that happens, you may find Disk Drill has recovered all the chunks as separate files.

With everything on this disk image, it's smart, quick and easier to understand to find and recover these chunks. You might have to do some work stitching the bits back together but count yourself lucky that you've got them back at all.

Since it's only our most important data that we care about when we lose it, any time you recover something it feels like the most gigantic relief. This relief is then followed by a vow that you will backup properly in the future.

Before you forget to do that, you can use the free version of Disk Drill to keep an eye on your hard drive state. It won't protect you from finger trouble but it will tip you off that something is up with your drive.

A menubar app reads from the drive's own SMART data and displays basic status information. Then the main DIsk Drill window where you search for files also says whether your drive is healthy or has problems.




That screenshot includes all the physical hard drives connected to an iMac but also iOS ones. In theory Disk Drill can help you with recovering lost data from your iPhones and iPads but in practice it's necessarily a token effort.

The makers point out that what it really does is work on recovering any backup files that iTunes saves to your Mac hard disk which you may then have deleted. If you never backup via iTunes - because you use iCloud backup instead - then there are no files so there's nothing Disk Drill can do.

More, if you do backup your iOS devices to iTunes, that still might not mean you're in luck. Apple Mail messages, for instance, won't be saved to that backup.

Still, a minute ago you didn't have much of a chance, so it's better to have Disk Drill than not. That's as true for Mac hard disks as it is for iOS and as sales pitches go, you might as well get it because it's free isn't exactly compelling.

It's true, though, and if it helps you avoid deleting something or helps you get some things back, it's worth the cost of the Pro version.

Disk Drill 3 Pro costs $89 from the maker's website.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    The app actually worked for me. I had 2 external HDD that stopped working (at two different points of time as both are of different ages- the oldest almost 8 years old, the other only 3-4 yo). None of my Mac (iMac and rMBP) was able to read the them until I ran DD3 and lo and behold, both are now readable and usable again.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 12

    However, regardless of drive choice, any disk recovery app is guaranteed to get absolutely anything back for you. 
    I think this sentence means the opposite of what the author intended.

    Restoring an accidentally deleted file is pretty basic functionality for a data recovery application.  The article doesn't mention if the app can do more sophisticated recovery with data carving.  Data carving can recover files from unallocated space after a drive has been reformatted and reused. You get that sort of functionality from the free Photorec and can recover lost partitions with TestDisk.  Both free here: http://www.cgsecurity.org/wiki/TestDisk_Download

    If the data really matters to you and you have the funds, you should go to a data recovery specialist like Drive Savers. Or better yet, set up Time Machine before you have a problem.
    edited December 2016
  • Reply 3 of 12
    jdwjdw Posts: 463member
    The underlying flaw of this article is that it makes no comparisons whatsoever to any other utility, not even Apple Disk Utility. How then can we know what we really need?

    In my case, I've found nothing comes close to Disk Warrior. Even Tech Tool Pro, which supposedly will fix or replace damaged directories cannot fix damage to the catalog file (directory) in many cases, whereas Disk Warrior can replace the directory in every case I've ever had. And the fact is that if you can fix directory damage, you might not even need another utility like Disk Drill at all. And if you could fix your problem with Disk Warrior but only have Disk Drill, it may work for you but it would be a "recovery job" whereas Disk Warrior would be a much simpler and faster overall solution as a "fix catalog file" job.

     As far as lost or accidentally deleted files go, that's really what Time Machine is for, and although I forgo hourly backups, I do use Time Machine to backup to an external spinning platter disk manually.
    edited December 2016
  • Reply 4 of 12
    what you say about hard drives is true

    but you negligently imply that moving to SSDs will fix.  That is really a misleading foolish comment.

    Ever had a usb memory stick fail? It is COMMON.

    Of course it could have been the connector but it could have been the chips etc too.
    Plus the memory chips have a limited useful lifetime, esp in the reads and writes sense.

    NEVER plan a long term backup and rely solely on chip memory.
  • Reply 5 of 12

    My constant fear with backups is wondering what will happen if the backup drive fails.

    As for SSDs, I keep reading conflicting reports about the shelf life of these. Do they last longer than hard disks? What can theoretically happen to the SSDs after 4-5 years?

    Having said that, I've had a MacBook Air for close to 5 years and haven't had issues with its SSD.

    I plan on getting the new 15" MBP early next year. I'm going for the 2 TB SSD option.

  • Reply 6 of 12
    jdw said:
    The underlying flaw of this article is that it makes no comparisons whatsoever to any other utility, not even Apple Disk Utility. How then can we know what we really need?

    In my case, I've found nothing comes close to Disk Warrior. Even Tech Tool Pro, which supposedly will fix or replace damaged directories cannot fix damage to the catalog file (directory) in many cases, whereas Disk Warrior can replace the directory in every case I've ever had. And the fact is that if you can fix directory damage, you might not even need another utility like Disk Drill at all. And if you could fix your problem with Disk Warrior but only have Disk Drill, it may work for you but it would be a "recovery job" whereas Disk Warrior would be a much simpler and faster overall solution as a "fix catalog file" job.

     As far as lost or accidentally deleted files go, that's really what Time Machine is for, and although I forgo hourly backups, I do use Time Machine to backup to an external spinning platter disk manually.
    Completely agree about Disk Warrior. In fact, the Genius Bar experts at my nearby Apple Store often use it to diagnose and repair drive issues.
  • Reply 7 of 12
    macmikey3macmikey3 Posts: 2unconfirmed, member
    "Word is writing interminable temporary files so that it can recover the documents it destroys for you."  :D   Best line ever.

    Agree with others about article though. Mentioning SSD and then saying 'for another article/time' is kind of lame. A short why not would be appropriate.

    I try to do a basic recover on my clients machines but if first pass is error filled or anything serious pops up, it is recommended that the drive be sent to drivesavers. And yes, I am a reseller of their services, but I am not just endorsing them. They produce. This software, or any of them, cannot make any guarantees at all as to their success. And you might just screw the drive up even more making recovery harder. Although Disk Warrior is my all-time favorite for the first run.

    Back up, Back up, Back up (rule of 3, of course).
  • Reply 8 of 12
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 13,902moderator

    My constant fear with backups is wondering what will happen if the backup drive fails.

    As for SSDs, I keep reading conflicting reports about the shelf life of these. Do they last longer than hard disks? What can theoretically happen to the SSDs after 4-5 years?

    Having said that, I've had a MacBook Air for close to 5 years and haven't had issues with its SSD.

    I plan on getting the new 15" MBP early next year. I'm going for the 2 TB SSD option.

    The mentions of the SSD being different in the article would be due to them erasing data with TRIM making it hard for recovery apps to work, the Disk Drill site goes into details:

    https://www.cleverfiles.com/help/can-i-recover-data-if-trim-is-enabled-on-my-ssd-drive/

    SSDs are less prone to complete hardware failure as they aren't mechanical but the filesystem stability isn't necessarily better so bit errors and bad sectors can still happen.

    There's a recent study of SSDs over a 6 year period in Google's data centers here:

    https://www.usenix.org/system/files/conference/fast16/fast16-papers-schroeder.pdf
    http://www.zdnet.com/article/ssd-reliability-in-the-real-world-googles-experience/

    They found that bit errors were higher on SSD but hardware replacement rates lower. Some chips failed in the SSDs when the uncorrectable bit errors go above a certain threshold at a rate of ~5% over 4 years for MLC and ~2% for SLC. This doesn't mean permanent failure as SSDs can just stop using a bad chip and have lower capacity or it can use a spare chip if one is included. Their replacement rate seems to be around the same over 4 years vs HDD over 1 year so 4 times less likely to need drives replaced with SSD.

    This is in a server environment where SSDs run 24/7. In home use, the SSD gets a chance to cool down, can run recovery commands at idle. Failures can still happen within the first few years of use though. There are some tools that let you see the internal counts on errors like the following:

    https://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/24875/smart-utility#
    http://apple.stackexchange.com/questions/135565/how-do-i-get-detailed-smart-disk-information-on-os-x-mavericks-or-later

    These let you see how many SSD sectors have failed and have been remapped. iOS devices have shown how reliable solid-state storage can be. Original iPhones and iPads will still be working fine after 6-10 years. I expect that the majority of SSD drives will be able to handle 8-10 years of personal computing no problem by which time people will be replacing machines anyway. The failures will be annoying to deal with because in many cases now it needs a motherboard replacement but they should be rare.
    GeorgeBMacwonkothesanebestkeptsecret
  • Reply 9 of 12
    macguimacgui Posts: 263member
    To call the article flawed because of a lack of comparison to other tools is a bit unfair. Doing so with recovery tools would be an ambitious undertaking requiring a bunch of drives to test and compare results of different tools. Without that, it's no more than comparing a feature set accompanied by anecdotal evidence. 

    This tool apparently uses Apple's/Disk Utility's SMART testing for it's results. If that's correct, I'm already disappointed. DU's level of SMART testing typically means if a drive is looking bad, it's probably VERY bad and may be too late do save it or salvage data. It was better in earlier years but Apple raised the threshold for reporting damage. I'd opt for a SMARTer solution.

    My hands down favorite rescue tool has been DiskWarror, but even it's not perfect. Out of hundreds of uses, it's only failed on two drives, and might have caused those failures, but I can't be sure.

    DW5 is a mystery to me. Gone is the graphing capability, and where DW4 shows a high percentage of directory "items out of order" DW5 will show "Rebuilding is not necessary to improve efficiency."

    Efficiency is red-herring, to me. First, either method of DW's graphing doesn't reveal any directory damage, just the 'out of order' stuff. So if you're advised rebuilding isn't necessary, you may not find a problem with your disk. Second, short of fixing an actual problem, I've never found an improvement in efficiency. It sounds nice in theory and is probably accurate when used with benchmarking utilities, but I've never seen or felt an improvement in bare efficiency.

    And in many cases, as OSs changed, DW lost the ability to reduce out of order items to 0. Subsequent applications of DW would change the amounts, sometimes increasing the number of out of order items from the previous run. I think this is one of the biggest reasons for the revamping of DW's UI. They couldn't make the results match their example of a rebuilt directory. All that said, it's still the only 3rd party app I use. DU first, followed by DW, because sometimes an error stops DW in it's tracks.

    I used TechTool Pro for years before DW, and for a while, along with it, when it first appeared. At a MacWorld on year, TTP reps said it used exactly the same directory rebuilding methodology as DW. Don't know if that's true, but it didn't move 'anchored items' whatever those were when DW appeared to. And it was a little busy in the UI department so DW it was/is.

    As for backing up, I'm surprised at how many people don't, still. I know people who get a backup drive, and then move data to it, and delete it from their Mac! "Oh, it's backed up." If it doesn't exist in two places, it isn't backed up. They don't understand that. Also, the 3-2-1 rule is a good one, or a good start. Three backups, two different mediums, one off site. Only you know how critical your data is, and how damaging a loss would be. Big, 5400rpm HDDs are cheap. SSDs are not. I use a mix. All stuff goes to HDDs, and some stuff goes to SSDs as well. Pulling data from an SSD to a Mac's flash storage is wicked fast and still puts a smile on my face.

    Steve Gibson's Spinrite may be the real winner, if he ever gets around to making it for Mac. At this point, I'd almost get a PC just so I could put my two HDDs in it to revive them (assuming there's no mechanical problem).
  • Reply 10 of 12
    jdwjdw Posts: 463member
    macgui said:
    To call the article flawed because of a lack of comparison to other tools is a bit unfair. Doing so with recovery tools would be an ambitious undertaking requiring a bunch of drives to test and compare results of different tools. Without that, it's no more than comparing a feature set accompanied by anecdotal evidence. 
    You must be a lot younger than me then.  My first Mac was the 128k in 1984.  I began subscribing to MacUser magazine about 1985 and continued that subscription until they merged with Macworld magazine in the late 1990's.  I paid big bucks to get Macworld shipped to me when I moved to Japan, and I still subscribe to Macworld today, albeit the digital edition for my iPad.  What all that experience means is that I know first hand what makes a good review — COMPARISONS.  

    If comparisons are such a "major undertaking" then how did EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE, in years past do it?

    You folks ought to pick up an old BYTE magazine from the 80's.  It's thicker than many books are today!

    But having comprehensive reviews that contain comparisons with other apps is more than just nostalgia for me.  As an engineer, I prefer the extra detail and the significance that useful information has on my purchasing decision.  

    Lastly, have you read any of the editorials here on AppleInsider?  They are pretty long for these modern times we live in, and I honest consider AppleInsider to be a very capable and well staffed organization who could kick out comprehensive software reviews, with comparisons, if they had the will.  For truly, where there's a will, there's a way.

    Best wishes.
  • Reply 11 of 12
    jdw said:
    macgui said:
    To call the article flawed because of a lack of comparison to other tools is a bit unfair. Doing so with recovery tools would be an ambitious undertaking requiring a bunch of drives to test and compare results of different tools. Without that, it's no more than comparing a feature set accompanied by anecdotal evidence. 
    You must be a lot younger than me then.  My first Mac was the 128k in 1984.  I began subscribing to MacUser magazine about 1985 and continued that subscription until they merged with Macworld magazine in the late 1990's.  I paid big bucks to get Macworld shipped to me when I moved to Japan, and I still subscribe to Macworld today, albeit the digital edition for my iPad.  What all that experience means is that I know first hand what makes a good review — COMPARISONS.  

    If comparisons are such a "major undertaking" then how did EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE, in years past do it?

    You folks ought to pick up an old BYTE magazine from the 80's.  It's thicker than many books are today!

    But having comprehensive reviews that contain comparisons with other apps is more than just nostalgia for me.  As an engineer, I prefer the extra detail and the significance that useful information has on my purchasing decision.  

    Lastly, have you read any of the editorials here on AppleInsider?  They are pretty long for these modern times we live in, and I honest consider AppleInsider to be a very capable and well staffed organization who could kick out comprehensive software reviews, with comparisons, if they had the will.  For truly, where there's a will, there's a way.

    Best wishes.
    Heck, this ARTICLE is pretty long, as far as the modern times go. In any event, while we haven't circled back to this particular topic as of late we're trying to do a series of app examinations, and then a larger head to head piece.

    Also, regarding Byte from back in the day: In 1986, they had 105 employees and a ton of freelancers. That gives you a lot of options. We don't have that. You also may note one byline on most of the app examinations...
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