Disk Drill Pro 2 review: Last line of defense for Mac data recovery
By J.R. Bookwalter
At a glance
Although faster, more durable solid-state disk storage (SSD) eliminated spinning platters and therefore reduces the chance of losing precious files due to mechanical failure, there are plenty of other ways drive-related catastrophe can rear its ugly head. Frequent backups are one highly recommended method of protection, but that alone isn’t enough to prevent complete data loss.
As the old saying goes, the best offense is a good defense. In the case of your Mac, that strategy involves keeping good data recovery software on hand for when a file or—God forbid—an entire disk partition eventually winds up disappearing without a trace. (And remember, it’s not a question of “if,” but “when.”)
Unless an afflicted drive craps out entirely—in which case your only hope will be paying for costly recovery services like DriveSavers—all you need is the right software tool for the job and you’ll be back in business in no time.
To serve and recover
Disk Drill Pro 2 is one such Mac utility for scanning, recovering, restoring, and protecting OS X files and volume partitions. Also available in free Basic and commercial Enterprise editions, the software provides comprehensive data recovery from any type of disk media, including USB flash drives and memory cards.
While the Basic edition provides continuous protection with core features such as Recovery Vault and Guaranteed Recovery along with the ability to back up failing volumes to a disk image backup (DMG) stored on an external drive, the Pro version adds a few more robust options. A single-user license works on up to three Macs, with lifetime upgrades available for an additional $29.
In addition to the Quick Scan that skims through deleted files within seconds on even the largest volumes, Disk Drill Pro also offers Deep Scan, a process that takes significantly longer but has far better odds of rooting out lost media. I tested the latter option on my 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display’s 500GB internal SSD which clocked in around eight minutes, and did indeed turn up a respectable number of additional photos, documents, and other files that Quick Scan could not.
Once a scan has completed, users preview a file’s contents using the Quick Look or view in hexadecimal format to assure it’s complete prior to recovery. Returning one or more files and folders from the grave is as easy as making a selection and clicking the green Recover button in the upper right corner. The Pro version can also mount found items as a new disk, but this feature requires the aging (and occasionally buggy) Fuse for OS X to be installed.
Disk Drill Pro 2 can also be used to rebuild the catalog of Mac HFS+ partitions, a task traditionally reserved for utility software like DiskWarrior. Unlike that venerable application, Disk Drill Pro can only perform a catalog rebuild on partitions that refuse to mount correctly; otherwise this option won’t appear at all in the dropdown menu.
Disk Drill’s first major upgrade isn’t actually new: Version 2.0 made its debut nearly two years ago, and developer CleverFiles has been steadily releasing regular updates ever since, including several that tuned up the application ahead of last year’s OS X El Capitan. Unfortunately, the user interface has remained largely untouched during this time.
With Disk Drill 3 on the horizon (currently in beta testing), I’m hoping the engineers take this opportunity to give the software a fresh coast of UI paint. As it currently stands, Disk Drill is a dated, often confusing morass of options and menus, and it’s not always entirely clear which buttons and options do what.
Part of this stems from how Disk Drill displays volume information typically hidden from users. For example, my Drobo 5D and Drobo mini both show additional EFI and Unallocated partitions, although there’s an option in the lower left corner of the Disk Drill window to filter such volumes from view; this also applies to the Recovery HD, which now standard on all Macs since OS X Lion.
Aesthetics aside, Disk Drill should be considered an essential component of any Mac owner’s utility belt. In addition to HFS+, the software can also recover disks formatted with other file systems including Windows NTFS or FAT and Linux, and built-in Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology (better known as SMART) will keep tabs on your internal drive even when the application isn’t running.
Disk Drill 2 is your first and last line of defense for dealing with misbehaving volumes on the Mac, and the Pro version easily pays for itself the first time trouble comes along. Aside from a UI that feels out of step with OS X El Capitan, my only caveat would be to hold off for the forthcoming version 3.0 so your investment will last as long as possible, especially when the Basic version offers sufficient peace of mind today without breaking the bank.