Talking tech since 2003

With society being as computerized as it is, there’s no doubt that people like you and me find ourselves very dependent on our personal computers, files, and data. Between entertainment, information, finances, and memories, the average computer holds a great deal of the owner’s life. However, being as reliant as we are on our computers, there’s no question that when something goes wrong and our most important data and dearest memories are destroyed by unforeseen electronic failures, our lives can quickly turn chaotic.

So, what do you do when something goes wrong? What do you do when an accidental deletion, format, or other means of data loss strikes you? Well, here at BestTechie, we were recently asked to evaluate and review Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recovery; a software application that claimed to be able to recover data that was lost by means of deletion or drive re-formating.

After downloading and installing the software, I noticed three things; one thing that I was very impressed by, and two other aspects that were definite turnoffs. Firstly, I was impressed with the fact that the application did not require the end-user to purchase or register the software prior to initiating a scan for lost data. As a salesman, this move on the manufactures part showed, in my mind, their confidence in their product and it’s ability to do its job as described. On the other hand, I felt that the user-interface was similar to a young child putting on cologne for the first time; way too strong. This being, the interface for the application was overkill and looked too “cartoonish” to be taken seriously. Additionally, the poor English skills that were demonstrated in the tip-of-the day (“Data should not be saved on a drive/ media from which it is to be recovered.”) led me to question if a user would be able to receive reliable assistance (without any language barriers) if they were to indeed have an issue with the software, and also showed the potential of becoming confusing to a non technically-savvy end-user.

From this point, I created a theoretic scenario to test the software; a scenario where a pen-drive formated with the FAT32 file-system was accidentally re-formatted and the data was subsequently lost. After loading the pen-drive with dummy files, I did the unthinkable and re-formatted the drive using the built-in drive formatter in Windows.

Now, here’s where the fun began. Using “Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recovery”, I choose to begin scanning the recently formatted pen-drive for recoverable data. This process took about forty minutes, which wasn’t bad considering that the pen-drive had a capacity of four gigabytes. While ten minutes per gigabyte may seem like somewhat of a long time, one also has to consider that it was scanning a USB media, and that a scan of an internal hard-drive (one connected via IDE or SATA) would likely go by at a faster rate of speed.

Once the scan had completed, I was brought to a screen that showed several directories and a listing of files within those directories. Again, as I had yet to activate the software, I was impressed with this, because it has the potential to help assure the end-user that their data is recoverable before they decide to purchase the software and begin the actual recovery process. Using the software license key that Stellar Phoenix had been so generous to provide us with, I began the recovery process, and with the click of just a couple of buttons, I had successfully saved the recovered data as an archive file on my desktop.

However, once I opened the ZIP folder, I found myself to be greatly disappointed with the results of the recovery. Having said this, the scan had found files and folders from several re-formats back, but did not present any of the recovered data in an organizational structure that was even similar to what it was originally. Ironically, I was unable to find the files and folders that I had created early that morning as a method of testing the software.

One thing I did find though were IRC logs from several months back when I had been traveling and running mIRC off of said pen-drive. Anticipating a “blast from the past” I was greatly disappointed when I opened one of the logs, only to find that it was a useless string of text that did not seem to serve any purpose. After checking across multiple files, I was able to determine that all of the files were like this, and that while files were supposedly recovered, the contents of said files were useless.

One thing that is important to note is the fact that the “professional” version of the software product offered (among other minor features such as the ability to search files) the ability to clone drives and create disk images. While I did not test this aspect of the product, it is not something that I see potentially influencing customers, as products such as Symantec’s Norton Ghost and the free Clonezilla have the same objective, and are much more well-known and have positive images in the drive-cloning field.

All in all, “Stellar Phoenix Windows Data Recovery” is not a product that I would feel comfortable recommending to a friend or family member, because while it allows a user to see a list of recoverable files before purchasing the software, it does not allow the end-user to verify that the contents of the files are actually intact and usable. Instead, I would highly recommend the freely available Recuva, because even if it is unable to recover lost data, its being free means that there is no risk in trying it.

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