Disk Drill: Easily Protect and Recover Your Hard Drive Data

I believe in preparing for the uneventful. Because if you’re not, technology can be unforgiving. Hardware failure or human carelessness can easily cause you to lose files that are important to you. Even while writing this article, I managed to rid myself of the screenshots I had just gathered!

That instant, when you realize you’ve lost something dear, is absolutely horrifying. And yet everyone – yes, every single one of you – makes these kind of mistakes.

You throw away an old folder without checking its contents, or prematurely decide you won’t be needing a certain file anymore. That’s why you should consider using an application like Disk Drill; to protect you against yourself and the fancies of technology.

Getting Started

When you delete a file, it’s not really gone. Mac OS X only marks those sectors on your hard drive as empty, but until another application or file makes house there, the preceding data won’t be touched.

By looking for coherent data structures in the ‘empty’ hard drive sectors, Disk Drill can recover (some) files that have already been deleted. Bear in mind that it’s not a failsafe technique, so there’s always a probability of not being able to recover specific data.

This probability of loss increases exponentially if you keep on using your computer like normal for a long period of time.

Disk Drill Performing a Deep Scan

Disk Drill Performing a Deep Scan

Because Mac OS X works in quite mysterious ways, it can never be wholly predicted where the next file will be written down and in which order this phantom data will expire.

Recovery Vault, Disk Drill’s second and flagship feature, keeps track of what files are deleted when, and which hard drive sectors they previously occupied. This makes an eventual recovery faster and more likely to succeed.

If you’re worried about other people misusing these logs, you can enter a master-password in the application preferences which will be needed for any future access to Recovery Vault.

Configuring a Master Password

Configuring a Master Password

The Recovery Vault database is stored on the partition it covers. This makes it very effective to use with external hardware, like USB storage, flash drives and even your cellphone.

It also enables you to recover internal hard drives using a different installation of Disk Drill, even if you’ve had a complete hardware meltdown. Recovery Vault can be used on HFS, HFS+ and FAT, but not on NTFS file systems, which are mounted as read-only by default.

Design & Interface

The Disk Drill interface consists of a preventive tab and a recovery tab. Both list all the available disks and partitions as shown below, whether it covers internal or external hardware.

Under Prevent data loss, you can enable Recovery Vault protection globally on your computer, or for each separate partition. The individual folders that are to be monitored or excluded can be specified in the advanced options.

Prevent Data Loss

Prevent Data Loss

If you switch to the Recover data tab, you’ll be met with a similar view. However, instead of securing your data, you can now scan your disks and partitions for deleted files using various scanning techniques.

Different Types of Scanning

Because Mac OS X formatted disks (HFS/HFS+) work differently than Windows formatted disks (FAT32/NTFS), the exact recovery procedure differs. Windows, for example, retains at least some details about the deleted files, where Mac OS X tends to throw everything into the abyss.

Quick Scan

Quick Scan makes good use of that information, but will only work on FAT32 and NTFS disks. It skims the disk, looking only for these figurative obituaries, and is able to quickly produce a list of deleted files.

Quick Scan is most accurate for files that were deleted very recently and will probably miss a score of other files that lack this shallow trace. For this reason, Disk Drill advises you to use Deep Scan instead, where possible.

Recover Data

Recover Data

Deep Scan

Deep Scan does almost the exact opposite from Quick Scan; it closely examines the disk and runs down every trail in search of deleted files.

This allows it to be used regardless of the file system, or even when the disk in question has been formatted and no viable structure remains.

Using Deep Scan, you’ll likely find every file that’s worth saving. On the flip side, Deep Scan can take a very long time to complete.

Undelete from Recovery Vault

This will only work for HFS, HFS+ and FAT disks that have Recovery Vault enabled. Disk Drill will check the disk for traces of files that were deleted when Recovery Vault was active.

Unlike Deep Scan, which can easily take more than an hour, Undelete works in a matter of seconds to minutes and is highly accurate.

Preview and Recovery

The results of a Deep Scan and Recovery Vault Undelete mainly differ in presentation. A Deep Scan might be able to decipher the content of your files bit by bit, it does not know anything about their past lives; no filenames or information about their previous location is retained.

Recovery Vault, on the other hand, keeps note of both these things. This can make a Deep Scan recovery trickier, because you don’t really know which file is the one you’re looking for.

List of Deleted Files Found

List of Deleted Files Found

If you didn’t already select a specific data-type before scanning your disk, you can narrow down the results based on type, file size and date of deletion.

Preview, shown at the bottom left, shows you the reconstructed file using Quick View without actually saving it on your desktop. If a file can be previewed, it can also be recovered. However, by previewing a file on your startup disk, there’s always a chance you’ll make other files unrecoverable, as you’ll be claiming empty space to host the temporary files.

Recovering Selected Files

Recovering Selected Files

Select the files and folders you want to save and click Recover. These files will be saved to the specified folder, by default on your Desktop.

Depending on the Recovery Chances, there might not be enough left of a file to warrant a full recovery. This means you may end up with several corrupt files. In the end, you play the hand you’re dealt.


Disk Drill is currently available as a ”free beta”. This means that the application and all technical support will be free, as long as it remains in beta.

These releases are not limited in time or functionality and will keep working at full capacity after the beta tag is removed, even if the ensuing stable release sports a price tag.


Butter-fingered as I am, I’ve seen my fair share of file recovery applications. They tend to bore you with facts and figures, and a lot of technical data that means absolutely nothing to you.

If you’re lucky, you eventually hit yourself over the head with the right file. Disk Drill shows a different way, befitting for a Mac. But for all its simplicity and casual feel, Disk Drill is still a remarkably powerful application.

With Undelete using Recovery Vault, Quick Scan and Deep Scan, Disk Drill has all file systems covered extensively. Recovery Vault, Disk Drill’s flagship feature, takes care of an important deficiency in Apple’s HFS and HFS+ file systems, hugely facilitating file recovery on Mac OS X in general.

However, Recovery Vault cannot be enabled for NTFS drives. Although it is true that NTFS drives can only be mounted in read-only mode by default, third-party drivers for this popular file system are hardly unheard of.

You can download the free beta of Disk Drill at the Cleverfiles website. If you give it a try, be sure to let us know what you think in the comments!


Disk Drill lets you easily recover deleted files, even after you’ve cleared the trash. It works with all popular file systems using varying scanning techniques. Recovery Vault monitors your disk so that you retain file properties and location, and it improves your chances of recovery.