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Best programs to recover files deleted from a usb flash drive

Submitted on 05/02/2018

Usb flash drives and sd memory cards are capacious, cheap and convenient devices to store information. A usb flash drive can store data of special importance: confidential information, logins and passwords to wallets and bank accounts.

Following a simple mistake (or inadvertence) important information can easily be lost from a usb flash drive. Mostly information is lost due to corrupted file structures. For some cases the deleted files are really unrecoverable, but sometimes it's possible to recover deleted files from usb drive. In this is what we're going to do ourselves.

This review presents programs that can recover files from corrupted flash drive. Each application has pros and cons which we are going to list.


How the programs were tested

A 7.29 GB-sized usb flash drive with FAT32 file system was used for testing purposes. Following files were copied to it:

  • a movie - avi - 1470 MB
  • a music album - flac - 287 MB
  • a folder with photos - jpg - 263 MB

We have wiped files from the flash drive as it would look in reality (in case of accidentally formatted usb, etc.). To do this we:

  1. have deleted files from the usb flash drive, by-passing the recycle bin (Shift + Del)
  2. have executed quick formatting
  3. have stored a 1.1 GB-sized file over deleted files.

Let's see what are the results of the above mentioned programs.

Programs Overview

The good thing about recovering applications is that they skip usb flash drive service information and access to memory directly. In general if not all than at least some of the suitable for further work data can be retrieved from the device memory.

The number of programs to recover files on a usb flash drive is countless. Many of them are of general purpose: they work with hard drives, system partitions and are suitable for recovering files of specific formats

I suggest becoming familiar with the programs operating on mobile storage devices – usb flash drives and sd memory cards.


Unformat is one of the most effective programs for recovering deleted files. It was developed by LSoft Technologies Inc. company, which, by the way, has released such products as Active UNDELETE and Active File Recovery.

Unformat - USB flash drive recovery tool for Windows

Program features:

  • Support for USB connected devices: HDD disks and flash drives
  • Recovery of formatted drives (after Quick or Full format)
  • Support for other devices: PC HARD DRIVES, SSD
  • Support for all types of memory cards
  • Support for file systems compatible with Windows/Linux/Mac OS
  • Creation of a disk image (allowing to repeatedly experiment with a usb flash drive without overwriting the files on a physical data storage device)

Download Unformat

How to restore a usb flash drive using Unformat

The program is simple, there is a step-by-step wizard. Shortly, to recover files from usb flash drive with the help of Unformat you have to:

  1. Select the usb flash drive in the list of the physical devices (tab "Physical Devices")
  2. Click the "Next" button, wait for the scanning to finish
  3. Select the data to recover and click the "Recover to..." button

Scanning of deleted partitions on the usb flash drive took about 20 min. Further scanning of the partition after selecting it from the list – about the same time. Saving files also takes several minutes.


The program Unformat determines the deleted partitions, the type of file system, the quality of the results, the first and the last sector of the partition. All the process information can be tracked through the journal.

Files sorted according to their types, are accessible in the "files detected by signatures" section. However, the file types may not coincide with the extensions and they have to be manually changed.

As the result, the Unformat program found all the pictures in jpg format. After formatting and rewriting all the data including exif information was stored. But the file names were deleted. Video and audio files could not be found in Unformat.



The program CardRecovery fits the review, as the list of supported devices includes usb flash drives and portable drives. It will help to recover files which have been accidentally removed or formatted, when usb flash drive file system was corrupted or memory card was damaged.

CardRecovery - USB flash recovery software

In fact, this product hasn't been updated for a long time, the latest version (6.10) was released a few years ago. However, CardRecovery works without any problems on Windows 10.

Unfortunately, the recovery of other information from a usb flash drive (files, documents) is unavailable. For this reason, utility CardRecovery is likely to be useful to photo and video cameras owners who have lost memory card or usb flash drive data.

The price of the program is low, single-user license is only $39.95 USD.

Recovering deleted files from pen drive using CardRecovery

To restore deleted files from flash drive we have to:

  1. Run the program CardRecovery
  2. Chosen usb flash drive as a storage device from the list of "Removable Devices".
  3. Indicated the file types for the scanning of the usb flash drive (In CardRecovery the selection of extensions is limited by media file types: photo, audio and video).

The results of the scanning are displayed as “file name - properties”. Exif-information can easily be retrieved from photos. One of the steps (Step 3), you can see the preview. From this perspective, CardRecovery is pretty much the most convenient program.

A preview is not available for videos: it can be seen only after purchasing the full version.

CardRecovery recovered all the images on the usb flash drive as Unformat did it. Many media files were damaged during the process, leaving no chances of recovery (apparently, this information has been stored on the usb flash drive for a long time and has been overwritten many times).

PhotoRec recovers photos from a usb flash drive

Cgsecurity PhotoRec is a free utility to recover files from pendrive; it supports over 250 file signatures, including the most common photo and video formats. Installs on Windows, Mac OS, Linux. For DOS a console utility TestDisk can be used, which is an analogue of PhotoRec without GUI.


PhotoRec scans any data storage device which has been formatted with the FAT file system, HFS, NTFS, or exFAT. Initially, the program was created for digital photo and video cameras owners, but now you can scan any data storage devices: usb flash drives, phone sd cards, HDD drives, and even RAID arrays.

Among the pros of PhotoRec are worthy of note:

  • Creation of custom file signatures (might help if the search among the other formats did not help),
  • Selection of the type of scanning (carve the partition, whole disk or unallocated space only),
  • Copes with weak configurations (PhotoRec runs in Low memory mode).

Download PhotoRec

File recovery using PhotoRec

PhotoRec stores the result in the specified folder as recovered.

The scanning took about 10 min.: fast enough taking into account that the results are the same as the results of Unformat. The program has recovered not only photos, but also videos, and not only what has been deleted from the usb flash drive after formatting, but even the files written and deleted before the test. It seems, that this place on the usb flash drive has not been overwritten, so 1 GB-sized videos were recovered almost without any damage.

Among the cons of PhotoRec is the absence of saving option. All files are stored in a specified folder together and the preview is not available. There is also no information on from where the files have been deleted.

Recuva: pen drive deleted data recovery

Recuva is a multipurpose program which can be used to restore files from accidentally formatted usb drive, sd card, HDD and SSD.  The toolkit is free and you don't have to buy a license to get round the limits, as with other data recover programs.


If the usb flash drive is in very poor condition, you can create an image of it and enable search by signature. Files color-coding is displayed depending on the extent of damage. For media files preview is available.

Recuva - download

File recovery using Recuva

After connecting a USB flash drive, we run the Recuva Wizard, selected file types and a media storage (usb flash drive). Also we activated the "Deep Scan" option so it won't skip damaged and overwritten files.


The recovery process took about 20 min. If a usb stick is more than 64GB, be prepared for the scanning to take even more time. Anyway, Recuva works faster than the programs like Unformat.

Recuva Wizard has a preview, which is especially useful when working with photos if you need only specific files

In general, it is possible to recover files from flash drive in several clicks, but in exchange you will not be able to choose a file search section and will not have a signatures sorting option.

File Scavenger - effective usb drive data recovery software for Windows

The list of problems File Scavenger solves is impressive:

  • It recovers files deleted from a usb flash drive
  • It recovers data after an accidental usb flash drive formatting
  • It fixes a corrupted usb flash drive
  • It deals with a usb flash drive not recognized by Disk Management
  • It deals with a usb flash drive which has been "reset" to factory settings

Files can be recovered on hard disks, memory cards, RAID arrays etc. Recovers data on most file systems (including NTFS, FAT 32/16/12, exFAT, ReFS) and virtual disks (VMFS, VMDK, VHD and VHDX).

The program runs without installation (you can select the corresponding option when you start File Scavenger).

File Scavenger is updated regularly and on the developer's website the latest version for Windows 10 and Server 2012 with 64- and 32- bit editions is available.

Note that in demo mode, File Scavenger allows you only  to test the functionality; you can't save the recovered files or unformat usb drive without license purchasing. File Scavenger Standard Edition costs $ 57.00 and  Professional Edition costs $ 195.

File recovery in File Scavenger

To restore files from a usb flash drive you have to:

  1. Choose a usb flash drive from the list of devices
  2. Set quick or long scan mode
  3. Click the "Scan" button
  4. After scanning a table with the data found on the usb flash drive will be displayed on the screen.

The status (the chance of recovery), modified data, size and other information that is useful for recovering data from a usb flash drive is shown.

Also File Scavenger shows the folder from which the files have been deleted. For some files that have been identified as available for recovering by Recuva File Scavenger shows no information.

There are no scan settings, the interface is not user-friendly, though it is simple. Files can be displayed as a File tree, plus a preview is available. You can select all files or only specified types (files are sorted according to their signature) through the "Save to" tab.

Download File Scavenger program

The verdict. Which unformat tool is better for USB flash drive?

  1. CardRecovery application may be advised to digital photo cameras owners that have lost memory cards and usb flash drives files.
  2. Unformat is a program with the most recovery settings, but the rate of scanning is the slowest.
  3. Recuva is a free program which functionality is no worse than of the programs requiring payment and, perhaps, is the best for working with a usb flash drive.
  4. Photorec, which, however, has less saving and scanning settings is as good as Recuva.
  5. File Scavenger is also a good product to recover files from usb drive, but the interface is slightly outdated and the lack of scan settings is dissatisfying.

The results have shown that the usb recovery software we tested dealt with the task in roughly the same way. The probability of recovery largely depends on what actions were carried out with the usb flash drive after the deletion of the data.

So the main difference are the license cost and the ease of interface.

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