The Best Data Recovery Software for Mac to Find Lost Data & Files

Data recovery can be useful in all kinds of situations, whether your SSD just happened to die or you went on vacation and came back with a corrupted SD card. Instead of giving up and tossing out the device, you can try recovering your files on your own using an app.

It may not always work, but when it does, it’ll turn out to be a huge relief. If you’re on a Mac, these are the main apps you should turn to when you need to recover files that have been lost or deleted.

If you’re interested, you can also learn more about how data recovery works.

1. Time Machine (free)

Starting with OS X 10.5 (Leopard), all Mac computers have come equipped with a utility app called Time Machine. The basic idea is that Time Machine keeps incremental backups of your files in case you need to restore them at a later time. It’s not the be-all and end-all though, and there’s lots you can do to properly back up your Mac.

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In this case, Time Machine can’t actually be used as a data recovery tool unless it was already enabled and active prior to your files being lost. That’s why you should set up Time Machine now before it’s too late.

There are three methods of recovery:

  • Revert all files to a previous Time Machine backup.
  • Reinstall OS X and migrate all of your files from a previous Time Machine backup to the fresh installation.
  • Browse a Time Machine backup in Finder and manually search for the file(s) you need.

For step-by-step details on how to do this, check out our guide to restoring data from Time Machine. If this ends up being too primitive or basic for you, then you may want to try these backup solutions that aren’t Time Machine.

2. TestDisk & PhotoRec (free)

If you didn’t have the foresight to set up Time Machine, there is one other free option that you can try: TestDisk and PhotoRec, which are two open-source recovery tools from the same developer.

TeskDisk is designed to help with partition recovery and drives that can’t be booted for some reason, usually due to software-related faults. PhotoRec is for actual file recovery, including images, videos, documents, and more.

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Both tools can be hit or miss, but it won’t cost you a cent to find out if they’ll work for you. If you manage find the files you need, great! If not, you’ll have to move onto one of the paid options below. It never hurts to try TestDisk & PhotoRec first, and you can start with our walkthrough of using PhotoRec.

We consider this to be one of the most important programs to keep handy, especially for photographers on a budget.

3. EaseUS Data Recovery (free, $89)

EaseUS Data Recovery comes in three single-user versions: Free, Full, and Full + Bootable Media. The Bootable Media version lets you recover data even when the operating system is unable to boot up for whatever reason.

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What can it do? All versions can recover deleted, formatted, or otherwise inaccessible data. All file types are supported and all drive types are supported, including hard drives, USB drives, and SD cards.

What are the free limitations? You can only recover up to 2 GB of files. Afterwards, you’ll need to upgrade to one of the full versions.

4. Data Rescue 4 (free, $99)

Data Rescue 4 is consistently recommended as one of the best data recovery tools for Mac users, at least in terms of its success rate in finding files. And yes, different tools may find different files!

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What can it do? Recover all file types from any kind of hard drive, whether crashed, corrupted, formatted, or non-mounting. Other features include: cloning hard drives, creating secondary boot drives, and using that boot drive to recover from non-booting Macs.

What are the free limitations? The free demo can scan a drive to see which files are recoverable, but you cannot actually restore those files until you purchase a license.

5. Stellar Phoenix Recovery (free, $99)

Though it’s priced at the same level, Stellar Phoenix Recovery is slightly inferior to Data Rescue 4. Not to say that Stellar Phoenix is bad in any way — they can both detect most lost files. Stellar Phoenix just happens to miss a few more here and there.

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What can it do? Recover all file types from any hard drive in a Mac computer, even if the file system is encrypted. It can also pull data from Time Machine backups. But best of all, it can undelete files with original file names in tact (many tools including PhotoRec can’t do this).

What are the free limitations? The free demo can scan a drive to see which files are recoverable, but you cannot actually restore those files until you purchase a license.

6. Disk Drill (free, $89)

Here’s another oft-recommended app, and it’s good but not quite good enough to be the top dog. It’s great at recovering images and documents but struggles somewhat with music and videos. Otherwise, it’s fantastic.

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What can it do? Recover all file types from internal and external drives, including USB drives and SD cards. It can also recover files from iPod devices. Data Protection might be its best feature, which guarantees recoverability of all future files from the time the feature is enabled.

What are the free limitations? The free demo can scan a drive to see which files are recoverable, but you cannot actually restore those files until you purchase a license. Data Protection is available to free users, though!

7. Data Recovery Guru (free, $89)

Data Recovery Guru claims to be the easiest-to-use recovery tool on Mac, and I’m inclined to agree with that. It’s extremely straightforward, but the downside is that it has a terrible success rate for music and video files. Everything else is fine.

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What can it do? Recover all kinds of files from any device that can appear as a drive on Mac, including digital cameras, mobile phones, USB drives, etc. There aren’t any other special features. It’s a one-job tool.

What are the free limitations? The free demo can scan a drive to see which files are recoverable, but you cannot actually restore those files until you purchase a license.

What Do You Need to Recover?

In summary, we recommend turning on Time Machine and using that to keep backups of your most important files. If something goes wrong, PhotoRec is a good first tool to use because it’s 100% free. If that doesn’t work, consider one of the paid solutions.

Of the premium options, Data Rescue 4 has the best reliability and highest success rate. Bolster it with Disk Drill’s Data Protection feature and you should be well-protected for whatever future mishaps come your way. Feel free to use another app at your discretion.

Have you ever used a data recovery tool before? Which one worked best? What kinds of files do you tend to need recovering for? Share your thoughts with us below!

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