It's a nightmare scenario. Your Mac has been playing up for weeks but you've been ignoring it, or just haven't been able to figure out how to fix it, and then it refuses to start up. Why didn't you make that backup? Is there any way you can get back your lost data from your Mac? Luckily there are apps that can recover your lost photos and damaged files from your failed Mac's hard drive.
There are a few techniques you can try first though, as you'll see in our How to recover data from a damaged Mac article, plus we'd also recommend adopting a regular backup routine going forward, so you'll avoid these kind of situations again. For more tips on this, take a look at The best backup software for Mac and How to use Time Machine to back up a Mac.
If all of these prove to no avail, then here are five apps that can rescue your files from a deleted, corrupted or crashed drive. Unfortunately, this sort of software is pretty much always going to have a price associated with it before you can recover what you need - but if you've lost hundreds of treasured photos or the first 1,000 pages of your novel, then no price is too high, probably.
What Mac data recovery apps can do
All data recovery apps work in a similar way. If the directory indicating where files were originally stored is salvageable, the rest is easy. But if that isn't the case, the software will scan the data for familiar patterns that would denote a file type. Once it finds a file type, there's a good chance that there will be data in that file.
But expect it to be a time-consuming process to piece the bits of files back together. With patience, most files that haven't been overwritten should, in theory, be saveable. Some drives can take days to fully scan, and the higher capacity they are, the longer the process. But if it's your wedding photos, or perhaps your Bitcoin vault that's missing, you can afford to wait.
Here's our pick of the best data recovery apps for Mac.
EaseUS Data Recovery for Mac
If you are looking to recover a deleted file, EaseUS Data Recovery for Mac is a good option since it has a free version that is limited to 2GB. That might not sound like a lot, but it's more than what's offered by most trials, and potentially enough to find what you are looking for or at least know it can see your lost data before you pay for a full licence.
The unlimited app costs $89.95/£95.99 for one month. This might sound expensive, but data recovery software isn't the kind of thing you use regularly, so it should be enough time to get your Mac back on its feet, or at least rescue the data. If you want longer, then you can buy a 1-year licence for $119.95/£131.99, all of which come with a 30-day money back guarantee.
EaseUS covers a lot of files types and disk formats, and also allows you a good chance of recovering files from a disk if you've accidentally reformatted it or deleted a partition before removing your files. The ability to create a bootable USB drive also means there's a good chance you can find data even when macOS is unable to boot up on your Mac's internal drive. It also now supports Macs with the T2 security chips, which is a big bonus if you have a newer device, plus EaseUS states the app is also compatible with M1 silicon too.
The app works with APFS, HFS+, HFS X, FAT (FAT16, FAT32), exFAT, and NTFS, and it isn’t limited to recovering data from internal drives, as you can also use it to recover data from an external hard drive, SSD, USB storage, memory card, plus it supports both Time Machine and iTunes backups.
A clear, simple interface is also a welcome feature, with the three step process of scanning, selecting files, then recovering them, all handled without the need for any technical knowledge. If you don't have a spare drive or Mac laying around, then EaseUS Data Recovery for Mac will allow you send the recovered files directly to a cloud storage service such as Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive.
Stellar Data Recovery for Mac
This app from Stellar Info Software is another popular option, with a free trial on offer so you can test out its capabilites before committing to a purchase. There are limitations though, mainly that the app will only allow you to recover up to 1GB of files. So, if your needs are greater then there are a few tiers to choose from: Standard gives you unlimited files recovery for £35/$49.99, while moving to Professional (£59.99/$79.99) brings the ability to recover files from lost volumes, create recovery drives and even rescue files from CDs or DVDs.
These are 1-year subscriptions, limited to use on a single Mac, but there is a 30-day money back guarantee, so if it doesn’t do the job you should be able to recover your money (although maybe not your data).
The app supports APFS, HFS+, FAT32, NTFS and ExFAT formats, with it recently being updated to now work with macOS Big Sur, albeit only if you have an Intel processor. We expect M1 support will appear in due course.
As you'd expect with this sort of tool, Stellar Data Recovery for Mac can find and restore files that you've deleted from the trash bin, data lost through accidental reformatting of disks, and works happily with internal storage or external drives such as USB sticks, SSDs, flash media, SD cards and the like. You can also create bootable USB drives to help recover data from a Mac that has had a serious crash.
One interesting feature that's available on the Premium tier (£79.99/$99.99) is the ability to repair videos and pictures that have been corrupted. That could be a lifesaver if those files are the ones most precious to you.
Recoverit by Wondershare is another stalwart in data recovery. Like pretty much all the others in this roundup, there is a free trial version that allows you to test what files it will be able to recover, then you can step up to the paid versions to recover the data as the free trial is limited to 100MB.
The process for this is pretty simple. Scan your system with the software to see what's available to recover in the form of small thumbnails - if you see a preview of a file you can be certain you will be able able to recover it. Hence the name!
It works with over 1,000 file types and systems, including NTFS, FAT, HFS+, APFS, which should pretty much cover everything from almost any kind of drive or storage media.
There are three packages available, each with different features:
Essential includes all that we've mentioned above and costs $79.99 (around £60) for a 1-year license on a single Mac.
Move up to Standard ($99.99/£72) and you'll have the ability to create bootable drives so you can access drives on your Mac that have crashed or fail to load up.
Finally, there's Professional ($139.99/£100) which works on two Macs and adds the Advanced Video Recovery feature that can help fix corrupted or fragmented video files, making them playable and in many cases as good as new. Obviously, if you've lost those first baby-steps that you captured on your phone years ago, then this could be very precious indeed.
Recoverit is compatible with macOS Big Sur and below, but not yet available for M1 powered Macs.
Wondershare claims that Recoverit has a 95% recovery rate for files, which is pretty damn high. So, if your Mac or external storage devices have recently stopped working, it could be well worth downloading this app.
Disk Drill 4 Pro
Again, there's a free trial version of this app available that will help you ascertain which files it will be able to retrieve. Sadly, unlike several of its rivals, Disk Drill Pro 4 doesn't allow even 1MB of files to be downloaded unless you move to the Pro tier that costs £78.85/$89. But, there is a silver lining, as the price is one-off rather than the 1-year subscription model used by other apps.
Also, at the time of writing, buying the Pro version for Mac included the Windows version too. Not bad at all. Plus, each of the licenses can work simultaneously across three devices as long as they are the same user. So, Disk Drill 4 Pro is actually very good value for money if you have multiple machines.
The feature-set is also decent, with Disk Drill 4 Pro offering the standard recovery options of accidentally deleted files, reformatted disks, and the ability to pull data from failing drives. You can also create a bootable USB disk to get a stuck Mac working once more, or at least pull the files before its drive finally gives up the ghost.
Disk Drill Pro 4 support internal Mac drives as well as a range of external storage, including iPhones, iPads and Kindles, so it acts as a Swiss-army knife of data recovery. In this regard, there are also several other tools that the developers Cleverfiles bundle with the app. These include cleanup software and duplicate finders to clear out the crud on your disk and save you some space, and there's a handy Backup app you can use to ensure you don't lost any files in the future if disaster should strike once more.
With over 100 million downloads, Disk Drill Pro 4 is part of a long lineage that shouldn't be scuppered any time soon.
Data Rescue 6
Users can try out Prosoft's free Data Rescue Demo to see which files the app can recover from your Mac drive or any number of external storage media. You can then preview any data it discovers, and upgrade to the full Data Rescue 6 package to retrieve them. This is quite a considerable investment though, as the Professional license cost £348.48/$399.96 for a 1-year subscription. You can opt for a Standard license, which charges per file, but at £14/$19 each you'd probably be much better off with the free recovery offered by EaseUS and Stellar unless your file is massive.
So, why is Data Recovery 6 so expensive compared to its rivals? Well, it does have a few note-worthy features. For instance, you can use the app to create a full clone of your hard drive if you think it might be failing. This pulls all the data across onto a new drive, which could help you avoid disaster if the original one suddenly crashes.
You can quickly create bootable recovery drives if your drive has already failed and the Mac won't boot up, and from there you'll be able to scan the drive and recover items. As you'd expect, there's also the ability to find accidentally deleted data as well as restoring files from partitions that have been reformatted.
There's also the FileIQ feature that allows you to add examples of file formats that the program doesn't know, and which will then be added to its capabilites.
At the time of writing, the app is compatible with macOS Catalina and below, and supports Intel Macs only.
Data Rescue 6 is obviously aimed more at the pro end of the market and as such would be overkill for a normal user. Add to this the fact that developers state that there is no refund policy, and we'd say unless you're an IT professional, you'd be far better off with the consumer-level products already mentioned in this list.