Recently I made the mistake of trashing a file on an external NTFS-formatted hard drive. This was a file I had no backup for, had no way to replace, and which I needed right away. I quickly began casting around for a free data recovery tool for NTFS.

Luckily, I came across FreeUndelete 2.0, a

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free-as-in-beer undelete tool that allows the recovery of files deleted from NTFS volumes. As with other file systems, when something is deleted from an NTFS volume, it's not erased; the space the data occupies is merely marked as usable. If you don't do anything else to that particular volume, there are tools to recover what's been deleted.

When run, FreeUndelete provides a list of all available volumes in the system. Select the one in need of data recovery, then click Scan to build a list of all the files that can be recovered from that volume. The program also tries to determine what condition the data is in for each deleted file, so you can tell right away if a particular file can be recovered safely or not.

The program can recover individual files as well as folders (and subfolders), so if you have a whole folder full of files to be restored, it's best to restore the folder all at once and sort through the results later. If, however, you mark multiple items for recovery, the program bombards you with one recovery confirmation dialog after another, which gets really annoying. But if you recover a whole folder of files at once, you only get one confirmation for the whole hierarchy.

FreeUndelete isn't perfect. The fact that it's a Windows application makes it hard to use for "forensic"-level recovery. If you lose a file on your system drive and you're using this tool, you'd need to boot to another copy of Windows on a separate drive to make sure you don't end up overwriting anything, as even casual minute-to-minute operations on a PC can overwrite freshly deleted data. But for external drives or non-boot, non-OS drives, it comes in handy.

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter, which is devoted to hints, tips, tricks, news and goodies for Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows XP users and administrators. He has more than 10 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and SearchSQLServer.com.

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