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Disk Drill protects your Mac disks, recovers files

Many of the disk utilities available for Mac OS X have been around for quite a few years, so it's surprising when a new entry shows up in this very important class of Mac app. The latest entry, Disk Drill from Cleverfiles, comes in four different flavors ranging from a free Basic edition that may be right for most Mac users up to Pro, Expert, and Enterprise versions.

All of the Disk Drill editions use a feature called Recovery Vault that knows where every file is on your Mac media. As a result, if you accidentally delete a file, empty the Trash Can when you didn't mean to, or even run into a hardware issue, chances are very good that Disk Drill will be able to find the file using Recovery Vault. All of the versions also provide S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology) to keep an eye on your disks and other media and warn you of impending failures. Disk Drill's many versions also provide a way to quickly back up failing drives to disk image (.dmg) files.

When you bump up to the US$89 Pro version, Disk Drill adds both Quick and Deep Scan and Recovery utilities. That's right, you can't recover files with the free Basic version. The Basic edition will scan and find those files for you, but you're not going to get them back unless you upgrade to the pro version. The Quick Scan and Recovery works with HFS/HFS+, NTFS, and FAT volumes to run a fast scan for accidentally deleted files. If there's no file system on a drive, or even if a drive has been reformatted, Deep Scan and Recovery can find and bring back almost any file. The Pro version comes with a higher support priority from Cleverfiles as well. Click the read more link to see the rest of this review.

Both the Basic and Pro versions are designed for use by a single user on all of his or her Macs. The $169 Expert edition allows a single user to use the application on any number of Macs, while the $299 Enterprise edition can be used by multiple support professionals on any Macs in an enterprise. The Expert and Enterprise editions also get top support priority from Cleverfiles.

If the pricing is turning you off, there are discounts available. Work for a non-profit organization? Take 20% off of the price. Already have a competing disk recovery application? If you purchased the app within the last 24 months and have proof of purchase, you get a 50% competitive upgrade discount.

Test Drive

OK, enough of the discussion of the features and pricing. How did Disk Drill work in reality? Thanks to Cleverfiles, I was able to test the Pro edition.

Starting up Disk Drill displays an initial startup screen that wants you to answer some questions like do you want to keep your files protected from accidental loss, do you want to protect your main partition right away, and do you want to monitor your disks for hardware issues. Once you've check the appropriate boxes, you have an option to view a 9-step tutorial that offers to turn you into a "data recovery guru."

When you finish looking at the tutorial, a welcome screen is displayed asking you if you wish to do one of the two main tasks of Disk Drill -- protect a drive using Recovery Vault or recover lost information. Regardless of which button you push, you're taken to the same window, which displays slightly different information. For "Protect", you see a listing of all of disks and partitions on your Mac. For my Mac, it showed the 1 TB primary drive with three partitions -- the standard Snow Leopard partition, one that I added for the Lion developer beta, and the Recovery HD partition that is associated with Lion. There's also a link for showing hidden items; when this was clicked, two more partitions appeared on the primary drive. One of them was the EFI System Partition, while the other was 128 MB of unallocated space.

A small icon or lack thereof on the partition's icon indicates the current protection status. Since I initially wanted Disk Drill to protect only the primary Snow Leopard partition, it had a small blue shield indicating that the partition was protected with Recovery Vault. The other Lion partition was not protected, but I was able to add protection by clicking a single button.

Recovering files is relatively easy as well. I duplicated a PDF file that was on my desktop, and then threw the original into the Trash Can and emptied the Trash Can. I selected the Macintosh HD partition, then asked Disk Drill to search only for Documents. I clicked on the Undelete from Recovery Vault button and was shown a list of 250 deleted files. Since I knew the file was on my Desktop, I opened only that folder and saw the deleted document listed. Placing a checkmark next to the file name, I was able to actually use QuickLook to view the file and make sure that it was the document I wanted to recover. Finally, I selected a folder to save the recovered file to, and then click the Recover button. The software warned me that saving the file on the same disk that it was deleted from could reduce the chances of recovery, so I moved the destination to an external disk. One click later, the file was back.

Disk Drill does a very good job of what it is expected to do; protect data loss and recover lost files. In terms of the S.M.A.R.T. status of a drive, checking is as simple as clicking on a small "i" information icon for the drive. A summary information screen shows all individual partitions, and then a click on a "Check all S.M.A.R.T. attributes" brings up a very detailed list. Want to know how many times your drive has been powered up? You can find that info in the detailed list.

A one trick pony

Perhaps my only complaint about Disk Drill is that it is kind of a one trick pony. It does protection and recovery. It does not do more sophisticated optimization functions. On the same iMac, I also run Drive Genius 3 from Prosoft Engineering, which I've found to be extremely useful over the years. For just $10 more than Disk Drill Pro ($99.95), Drive Genius does a lot more. It can be used to defragment a hard drive, something that can be useful on older machines that are showing signs of slowing down. In fact, Apple's Genius Bars use Drive Genius 3 to defrag hard drives as part of their ProCare Yearly Tuneup. It can reduce the amount of space used on a hard drive through a feature called DriveSlim that deletes duplicate files, unused localizations, universal binaries, and cached or temporary files.

Like Apple's own Disk Utility, Drive Genius 3 can also verify, repair, or rebuild directory information on your volumes. The Scan function in Drive Genius can scan your drive to deallocate any bad blocks that are found, and can be used to burn in new drives. The app also does background monitoring of potential problems through a service called DrivePulse. The list goes on and on, including performing integrity checks, initialization of drives, repartitioning on the fly, making quick duplicates of drives, do benchmarks, and even edit individual sectors on a drive.

My point in telling you all that Drive Genius can do is to give you a point of reference. For just $10 over the cost of Disk Drill, you're getting a tremendous amount of extra functionality. Based on the capabilities of Disk Drill Pro, I think a price tag closer to $40 would be much more realistic.


If you're thinking about buying a drive utility, think about what you might use it for. If you want something that you can use for free to protect your Mac, and then purchase the Pro version when you need to recover files, and you don't need or want a lot of other functionality, then by all means download Disk Drill Basic and use it. But if you see a need for recovering files from media, if you want to be able to repartition drives, or if you want to do an annual defrag of your drive, spend an additional $10 and purchase Drive Genius 3.


Software Mac OS X

Many of the disk utilities available for Mac OS X have been around for quite a few years, so it's surprising when a new entry shows up in...