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Active@ File Recovery for Windows Review
Impressive data-recovery software, powerful and effective.
(3.5 out of 5)
- Powerful data recovery software with multiple methods for recovering lost files from any disk medium
- Friendly, understandable descriptions of recoverable file types
- Includes a disk-imaging tool
- Free demo version can recover files smaller than 64KB.
- Couldn’t display track names of recovered music files
- Some interface features hard to find.
Active@ File Recovery for Windows stands out as one of the most powerful and easy-to-use data recovery apps. It’s a close second to our Editors’ Choice, OnTrack Easy Recovery Professional (4 stars), and includes some effective and user-friendly features that OnTrack doesn’t match. It’s also the only program I’ve ever tested with an at-sign in its name, but that’s probably not a significant distinction.
Like the other data-recovery apps I tested, Active@ File Recovery offers quick and deep scans of your hard disk for lost or deleted files, but Active@ stands out for a product design that seems as well suited to nervous beginners as to experts. For example, Active@’s lists of recoverable files on my hard disk used headings like “Microsoft Office Documents” instead of OnTrack’s heading “zip-msword,” so non-experts are more likely to find the files they want.
On the other hand, OnTrack outclassed Active@ in user-friendliness when listing recoverable music files on a formatted USB stick: OnTrack listed the actual track names, while Active@ only listed arbitrary filenames, so I had to recover each file individually and open it in a music-playing app to see what song it contained.
When you start up Active@ File Recovery for Windows, it scans your system for disk drives, and then you have to decide for yourself what to do with the drives listed. In contrast, OnTrack starts with a wizard interface that provides the hand-holding you probably need when you’re panicked about lost files. With Active@, you select a drive, then choose Quick Scan or “SuperScan” (which means a deep scan) from the toolbar and let the app take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour to scan your drive.
In my tests, Active@ wasn’t as user-friendly as it should be when it finished this scan, because its list of deleted files didn’t show any of the files I wanted to recover. Instead, I had to switch to a tab labeled “Signature Files,” where it listed “found” files, including the files I wanted. I don’t think it’s helpful to put “deleted” and “found” files in different lists, and if I hadn’t explored the interface, I might never have found the files I wanted.
Once I opened the “Signature Files” list, things got easier. I right-clicked on a list of “docx” files in order to recover a lost Microsoft Word file, and I could click on a toolbar icon to display a barebones preview of the contents of each file. (One curious glitch: apparently at random, the app sometimes displayed an error message “Unable to create temporary storage for previewing,” but other times it previewed the file.) When I found the file I wanted, I chose Recover from the right-click menu and saved the file to another drive. A friendly option in the program then opened an Explorer window on the folder where I saved the recovered file.
You don’t need to pay for Active@ File Recovery until you’re confident that it can recover your files—because it successfully previewed them. The freely downloadable demo version can recover files up to 64KB in size, and you can buy an activation key for the full version if you need to recover larger files.
Like all the other apps in this survey (except the no-cost, 3-star Recuva), Active@ could create a cloned image of a drive so that I could try to recover files from the image instead of from the actual physical drive. This feature is especially useful when trying to recover files from a drive that’s physically failing, because you’ll still have the image even if the drive becomes unreadable. Unlike OnTrack and Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recovery (3 stars), Active@ doesn’t include a low-level disk viewer that displays the raw hex codes on your disk, but that’s not a feature that most users will miss.
I liked working with Active@ File Recovery for Windows, and it let me recover the same files I could recover with OnTrack Easy Recovery Professional—but it couldn’t match OnTrack’s ability to display the actual track names of the 500+ music files that both programs recovered from a formatted USB stick. You can’t go wrong with Active@’s app, but OnTrack edges it out in the competition for our Editors’ Choice.
By Edward Mendelson, PCMag