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 photos and files from your failed Mac hard drive.
Before you consider one of these apps, you might be able to get your Mac up and running so you can perform that backup you should have done. Read: How to recover data from a damaged Mac. And speaking of backups, you might like to read: The best backup software for Mac and How to use Time Machine to back up a Mac.
If you are unable to boot up your Mac in order to try any of our suggestions in the story above, your next port of call is a data recovery app. Luckily there are a few options here, some of which have trial versions that may be able to recover some files, and should, at least, be able to indicate that it will be possible to recover what you need before you pay a penny. 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 (of course that’s what they are banking on!)
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. If a hard drive is still spinning, and the head is still scanning, there is still hope. Some drives can take days to fully scan, and the higher capacity they are, the longer it will take. But if it’s your wedding photos, or perhaps your Bitcoin vault that is missing, you can afford to wait.
The following are well known Mac data recovery software options that you might like to consider.
If you are looking to recover a deleted file, EaseUS might be 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 is offered by most trials, and that's potentially enough to find what you are looking for, or at least at least enough for you to know it can see your lost data before you pay for a full licence.
The unlimited app costs $89.95 (approx £69) and should be able to recover files from a corrupt drive or a drive that’s been formatted. It may also be able to recover data from a deleted partition. Because it can create a bootable USB drive it should be able to recover data even when macOS is unable to boot up.
EaseUS can work with APFS, HFS+, HFS X, FAT (FAT16, FAT32), exFAT, and NTFS, and it isn’t limited to recovering data from hard drives, you can also use it recover data from an SSD, USB storage, memory cards.
Once EaseUS has located your data it displays the files with their full file names. You can check each file, viewing it in plain text, hex or in an image file viewer.
MiniTool Mac Data Recovery
MiniTools from MiniTool Solutions will only let you recover 1MB of data before paying for the app, but it does at least offer you a 30-days money back guarantee, so if it doesn’t do the job you should be able to recover your money (although maybe not your data).
Options include Lost Partition Recovery, which can scan not only your drive’s current partition but also uncover past partition elements that may have been formatted over.
There are also options for Undelete Recovery, Damaged Partition Recovery and Digital Media Recovery. The latter would be handy if you want to recover old photos from an SD card as well as data from storage devices and flash drives, while the partition recovery tool will help you recover data from a lost partition.
If you use Undelete Recovery, the app will scan the volume to locate what it can - you can the save whatever data is recovered into a folder. If the scan is taking a long time you can save and return to it later on, which might be useful if the volume is particularly large.
Along with Mac file support, it also offers support for Windows file architectures such as NTFS, FAT16, FAT32, which could be useful if you have Boot Camp.
There is a utility to create a boot volume that you can use if your Mac isn’t booting up - but this isn’t integrated into the main application.
Data Rescue 5
Users can try out Prosoft's free Deleted File Finder app and preview recoverable files before downloading the Data Rescue 5 app. There is also a Data Rescue 5 trial which you can download to scan your drive to find out what is recoverable before purchasing the full software.
The $99 Data Rescue 5 app is limited to five devices (but you can use it multiple times). Users can scan their drive, clone a failing drive onto a healthy drive, and create a recovery drive that you can use if you can’t boot into the operating system. Users should also be able to recover data from reformatted drives and even work with drives that can’t be mounted ordinarily.
You can set the program to ignore slow hard drive warnings and pull all possible data from the hard drive, no matter how long it takes - be aware that this could take weeks, depending on the size of the volume, but Data Rescue should be able to recover the data.
The software can scan SD cards, USB drives, SSDs, and so on. It scans for 150 recognized file types including various image file types, videos and archives. It can also scan virtual machines and should be able to recover data from a Boot Camp partition.
There’s an easy to follow recovery guide to make the process as simple as possible - you will even receive email notifications relating recovery process.
You can download the basic version of 508 Software (aka Cleverfiles) Disk Drill for free to find out what data is recoverable, including details about file names and modification date. You may also be able to preview the lost documents in order to confirm that they aren’t corrupted. But you will need to update to Disk Drill Pro to perform deep scans, export the data, catalogue rebuild, and search lost partitions.
The free version can also back up failing volumes to a disk image backup as a DMG on an external drive.
If you've already installed Disk Drill, and have the Recovery Vault and other Recovery features enabled, if data loss strikes, the recovery will be quick and painless. So installing the free version in preparation for the worse might save pain later on.
Disk Drill isn’t limited to recovering data from your Mac, it can recover data from any storage device attached to your Mac, including USB flash drives and memory cards, and is also able to recover data from iOS devices (speaking of which, we have an article about the best data recovery apps for iPhone and iPad here).
You can finesse what you are searching for in Disk Drill's Preferences to speed up the scanning process. For example, you can enable searching for Word documents, and disable searching for any other file type.
Disk Drill is also able to rebuild the catalogue of an HFS+ partition.