A Review of CleverFile’s DiskDrill Data Recovery Software

This review is about DiskDrill 1.4.137. Today, DiskDrill 1.4.149 is available and provides is a new feature called Guaranteed Recovery. I don’t discuss this feature, because I don’t know what it is exactly, although it seems to be some backup system for deleted files, and because the new version became available after I wrote the original version of this review.

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First Impression

When I started DiskDrill, a dialog asked me if I want to protect my data from accidental loss. The dialog doesn’t give any information about why I might or might not want to do this. I decided not to do this at first, because it is not clear whether a disk image (file vault; recovery vault called by DiskDrill) is written to my hard disk if I confirm. Doing so would overwrite all my previously deleted files, rendering DiskDrill useless. Unfortunately, there is no way to turn on Recovery Vault later on, unless you restart DiskDrill. File vault needs 6KB for each file. This means if I wanted to protect my system folder with 120,000 files, I’d need 720MB.

After dismissing the previous dialog, DiskDrill still asks me for my admin password. This bothers me, because I don’t know what DiskDrill needs it for. Again, I fear the loss of precious data. It would be easy to add a few notes to the starting dialog: “if you confirm, DiskDrill will write a large file to your hard disk, for which it will need your admin password” or thereabout.

CleverFiles told me later that the password is needed to get access to scan the drive. It would be useful to see a message “Do you want to give DiskDrill permission to scan your drive (This is necessary to perform correctly)?” with options to allow or deny, after which the password dialog may appear. This would give the user a better, more secure feeling while using DiskDrill.

The DiskDrill interface is quite neat and once you get to know the software, it is easy to use. It takes a while to get familiar with DiskDrill, because it looks different from any other programme I use. The software doesn’t follow Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines.

Within a minute, I had figured out how to start recovering accidentally deleted files (probably the main reason why people might want to use this software regularly). Disk drill calls this feature Deep Scan. It took DiskDrill approximately 20 minutes to find all deleted files in a disk space of 25GB. I believe this is a good score —in the days of Norton, I’d need hours to find all files in a few gigabytes disk space.

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Recovery

DiskDrill found thousands of files and file fragments. It also recognised the file extensions, but it didn’t give me one single clue as to the contents of the file. Norton Recovery Utility would show me some of the data and would try to assign the right file name to each data fragment. DiskDrill doesn’t.

I was also quite surprised that DiskDrill’s Deep Scan only finds files with recognised, predetermined file extensions. It is impossible to add my own file extensions. For example, I deleted a file with the .livecode file extension and expected to find this file in the list of recoverable files. Because .livecode is not known to DiskDrill, it won’t find these files. Nor will Deep Scan find simple text files, Max OS X installer packages, and many, many more. For me, this renders DiskDrill pretty much useless, except in very specific cases when I know exactly what I’m looking for and if the file extension is supported.

Besides Deep Scan, there’s Quick Scan. Quick Scan displays a hierarchical list of all files that have been recently deleted and haven’t been overwritten yet.  Although I have been deleting many files during the past two days, DiskDrill only found a few copies of the text document containing this review and a few preferences files and other system files. It didn’t find one single file that was deleted after I moved it to the trash. When I moved some files to the trash, emptied the trash and did a quick scan immediately thereafter, Disk Drill did find my deleted files, including files with extensions such as .livecode, .a and .mm.

Disk Drill recovered the deleted files correctly. It did so by re-building the file hierarchy starting from the destination folder. I designated my desktop folder as destination folder, which caused me to have a file in ~/desktop/test.app/more folders/test.livecode. When DiskDrill recovers a single file, it might be unnecessary to rebuild this hierarchy, but there is no option to turn off this feature.

Issues

There are a number of small issues. The S.M.A.R.T. panel in the preferences window contains a “Hide Menu Bar Icon”, which doesn’t do anything. Monitor my disks (via S.M.A.R.T.) is turned on by default and can’t be turned off, but doesn’t seem to work and doesn’t show any feedback. There are several places where the interface needs improvements. I very much don’t like the black lines around the main section of the preferences window. This is probably an issue with the development tools used by Clever Files.

Another important issue is DiskDrill’s built-in master password protection. Apple has a very good protection mechanism and advices all developers to use the built-in protection (optionally using Keychain) to keep unauthorised people from messing with your Mac. Clever Files apparently decided that Apple’s advice is not for them and created their own master-password feature, causing a security threat and even potentially locking the administrator out of his own system.

The “funny” thing is that the master password feature has a “Forgot Password” button, which sends the password to your e-mail address. If someone already got hold of your Mac, he will also have access to Mail.app on your Mac. This gives him access to your e-mail and hence to your Disk Drill password. Therefore the master password feature is useless. (I believe one should not be required to use web mail next to Mail.app only because of one particular software product).

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The Master-Password dialog has an option “Request password only on first launch”, which doesn’t work. DiskDrill seems ot ask for the master password on every launch.

Whenever you click on the Quick Scan icon while having done so before, you will get a dialog window saying “Previous scanning session available” with “No” or “Yes”. This made me think that I’m asked if I want to use the previously found data. Clicking on No just dismissed the dialog and nothing happened. Apparently, the question is whether I want to scan for deleted files again. This is only clear from the fine-print in the same dialog, but people who are panicking because they have lost important files tend to not read those fine-prints.

Verdict

Disk Drill is easy to use, contains quite a few useless features, and does what it was made for but only to a limited extent. If you are a regular user of common software such as Pages, MS Office, iTunes and Safari, Disk Drill will do what you expect. Software developers and other frequent users of task-specific software will want to spend their money on heavier tools.

You can find DiskDrill in Economy-x-Talk’s web store.

The Disk Drill homepage can be found at

Copyright © 2011 Economy-x-Talk
and Mark Schonewille,
Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
All rights reserved, world-wide.

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