Firstly, I must start this review with a confession: Even as an experienced IT professional, and despite the advice I frequently give out to friends and relatives, I don’t back up my data anywhere near as much as I should do. I have an Apple Time Capsule at home, but that has ended up being used more as a central data store for my home than anything and, whilst I know it is important for me to back up regularly, I just don’t seem to get around to it all that often.
Then, the inevitable happens, and a disk fails to boot or mount one day, sometimes even without warning. In these cases, sometimes Apple’s own Disk Utility can help, but more often than not if the problem is serious, it just won’t cut it. Disk Utility is great, but when there are major problems on a drive, it generally spits out some cryptic error message and does nothing to help you fix the problem.
I experienced exactly this problem with a media drive connected to one of my Macs at home some time ago, and so it was with great interest that I discovered Alsoft’s DiskWarrior. The drive had been misbehaving for some time, occasionally losing files that had been added the day before, but now the drive wouldn’t mount at all, and I was worried. There were some irreplacable photos and videos stored on this drive, and I wanted to try and recover them the best I could.
DiskWarrior to the rescue
I had done my reading, and tried all the usual tricks with Disk Utility, but that was getting me nowhere. Still, OS X refused to mount my drive. This is when I discovered Disk Warrior. There are a number of utilities to run diagnostics on the health of a volume and to scan files or folders for potential issues, but by far the most important one is that it allows you to rebuild the partition table of a damaged drive or volume. This kind of damage often occurs through “bad sectors” developing on your drive, which generally means its on its way out anyway, but the ability to recover from such failures can be invaluable. I once managed to make a very unhappy external drive limp along for about a month purely thorugh the use of Disk Warrior.
At $99, Disk Warrior is not a small investment for a utility you will (hopefully) use only very occasionally, but on the other hand, $99 is a good deal cheaper than most data recovery firms will charge to take a look at your borked hard drive. Obviously none of this is a substitute for regular backups, but it is nice to know that all need-not be lost if the worst does happen.
Once you have loaded up Disk Warrior, you will be presented with a very simple screen that asks you to select which drive you want to repair. The list will show you all your working volumes, and any broken ones that are attached (but probably not mounted). Click “Rebuild” and Disk Warrior goes and does its stuff. Before too long, it will come back with a list confirmation and a report for you. This report details files recovered, as well as files that were recovered but could not be placed in their original folders. This is useful for figuring out why your files are not where you expected them to be, and for reference if you decide to copy them back to their original locations. Once your done with that, Disk Warrior will write the new partition table to the volume and you should be back up and running – it will even automatically re-mount the volume for you.
Disk Warrior’s main is Cleverfiles’ Disk Drill. The Pro version of Disk Drill costs slightly less than Disk Warrior, and arguably has more features, allowing the user to recover files deleted or lost through repartitioning (and it certainly has a nicer user interface). However, Disk Drill does not seem to allow for the repair of a damaged partition table. It will recover files from a damaged partition by doing a raw scan, but Disk Warrior has the advantage here in that it will actually put the drive back in to action, at least temporarily, to allow you to transfer files to another drive. Any files it locates but cannot figure out where they belong, it puts into a “lost and found” folder in the root of the volume. Both do, however, feature bootable DVDs that will allow repair or recovery operations to be performed on the primary boot volume of your Mac (should you ever, God forbid, be in a situation to need to).
It is worth noting that there are other utilities around which may be able to help in these circumstances. TestDisk, by CGSecurity, for example, claims to be able to recover lost partitions and make non-booting drives bootable again. Its also free. On the other hand, most recommendations I have seen point right to Disk Warrior, and not having a failing drive available to test it on, I can’t give a direct comparison. It’s certainly looks worth a look, though.
I should probably round off this review with another confession, which may be entirely warrantless by this point: I am an unabashed fan of DiskWarrior. The fact that it saved a large amount of irreplacable data for me made it a “must own” app in my mind. The fact that it can now create a boot disc with which it is possible to repair your Mac’s boot partition just makes this an even more essential piece of software in my mind.
There are some Mac users who have a habbit of saying things like “Mac’s don’t fail – They are so reliable”. Whilst this can often be the case, allow me to assure you from past experience, it is not always the case. Hard drives degrade and fail over time, regardless of the platform you choose to conduct your every-day computing on, and those in our beloved Apple machines are no different. For these eventualities, Disk Warrior is one of those utilities that you should always have installed on your Mac, even if you barely ever look at it. Lets also be honest here, Disk Warrior doesn’t come cheap. At $99.95 it is one of the most expensive utilities you will ever see for your Mac, but the safety it provides can’t have a monetary value placed upon it. Yes, Disk Warrior’s UI could do with sprucing up a little (To the best of my knowledge it hasn’t really been updated, well, ever), but on the other hand, when you’re desperately trying to recover a volume, is the apps UI really at the forefront of your mind?
So, to conclude, Disk Warrior is a rather expensive utility that you will hopefully not have a great deal of need to run, and its UI is looking rather dated now. To read that as a standalone statement would lead you to believe that I’m not a fan of Alsoft’s work here, but in truth I will probably never use another Mac where I don’t have access to this essential little piece of software. TestDisk also looks worthy of further investigation, but as I said earlier in this review, I would need to be able to run a direct comparison before recommending it. What I do know is that Disk Warrior has saved my skin (and, perhaps more importantly, my files) more than once, and so Alsoft has my heartfelt thanks for this.
Do you have experience using Disk Warrior? Do you use another data/disk recovery solution? Let us know in the comments!