With a large fire alarm switch on the front box cover, Prosoft Engineering’s Data Rescue 3 makes a bold point: when your drive has problems, call in the rescue team. The software is intended for anyone who wants to do more than just repair a drive. You might have a great need to recover a deleted file, access files on a damaged drive to restore them, or examine files to see if they can be rescued. The program works with thumbdrives and external hard drives, and even flash cards from digital cameras.
It’s a bit ironic that Prosoft positions Data Rescue as a last resort, a dire call for emergency aid. In many ways, the tool is actually not the last step. In a true drive emergency, you’d likely enlist the help of a drive forensics company that will dismantle a drive and re-assemble the platter into the exact same drive components in order to rescue the data. That procedure can cost thousands and take months, so Data Rescue 3 is actually quite a bargain if it actually works for recovering your data.
To use Data Rescue 3, you will still need to set aside some time, however. It’s not exactly a quick lunch break tool. Most drive operations can take 30 minutes or more. A clone (which creates a copy of your drive on a second external disk as a back-up) can take three to four hours, and a deep drive level scan can take all night, depending on the severity of the problem and the size of the damaged files.
That said, you can run a quick diagnostic on a drive to determine whether you have corrupt files. This maintenance activity takes only a few minutes. In several tests, Data Rescue 3 did reveal problems on the primary drive for my 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook running 10.6. They were minor issues with corrupt files—easy to resolve using the program’s tools for restoring damaged files.
Deep level scans
I decided to test a very old 120GB USB drive that I knew had some serious file corruption issues as a tougher test. This drive has been through the ringer: a former life as a back-up for a Windows Home Server, a secondary drive for a video workstation, and a brief stint as a primary drive for an iBook.
Drive Rescue 3 has one annoying trait that revealed itself in spades during these diagnostic sessions: it really needs a good storage medium to perform its tests. So, to even test the drive, I needed to use a third 1GB thumbdrive so that Data Rescue could use that drive for caching the recovery files.
One note about the diagnostics: Drive Rescue uses some fancy drive animations that look like the bits are flowing to a healthy state from the platters—minor entertainment value! The newly improved interface is easy to use, looks great, and matches the utilitarian style you’d expect on a Mac.
Despite the time involved, the program worked remarkably well. To my surprise, it found files I had forgotten about years ago, repaired them back to health, and even allowed me to restore a few Microsoft Word documents to my network-attached server (after the fact) without a lot of fuss. Sure, the process took about four hours, but I was happy with the end-results. Note that, in some cases, such as a complex Word file, you might only be able to restore the actual text, not the original doc.
Data Rescue 3 improves on previous releases in one important way: it now supports hundreds and hundreds of file types for the best file recovery options around. They are listed here
The new feature called FileIQ now “learns” about file types, such as oddball RAW files from digital cameras, and in my tests did a good job of at least pulling some of the photographic data out of these files. (I used a professional camera from Phase One that uses the Leaf Aptus II back.) Data Rescue did not support this camera directly though (over FireWire) but read the MOS files I had on another drive.
The app also lets you burn a DVD of your hard drive and you can even use this drive to boot your Mac. This can help when you just need a back-up start-up drive and not carry around an external HDD.
One minor complaint about the new version: Prosoft claims better performance for this new release. I believe them, but the speed improvements really depend greatly on what you need to do. In my experience, deeper level scans still took a couple of hours. This time investment is worth it if you really need to restore important files. However, I’m sure even Prosoft would likely agree that the software is not a substitute for a good back-up program like Apple’s Time Machine.
And, in the event that you just can’t get the software to restore an important file, there is one last option. Prosoft actually offers the forensic services, which is about the time when you really should reach for the fire alarm and start panicking.
Macworld’s buying advice
Data Rescue 3 is a program that every Mac user should at least know about, if not own outright, for those times when you need to restore important files. It takes some time to use, but works as stated and can relieve you from the final step of hiring a forensics expert.
[John Brandon is a 20-year veteran Mac user who used to run an all-Mac graphics department.]