Digital Crave

D’oh! How to recover computer files you deleted

Digital Crave

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Stop me if this sounds familiar: You deleted some computer files you realized you needed -- after the fact. And on a really bad day you also cleaned out the Recycling Bin (Windows) or Trash (Mac). Insert face-palm move here.

Don't worry, it's happened to the best of us. The good news is it's possible to recover the files you've accidentally deleted. Well, in most cases, you'll be ok.

Whenever you empty the Recycle Bin or Trash, the files aren't really deleted just yet. They still reside on your computer's hard drive, but you've got a limited window -- say, a few days or weeks -- in which to recover them or else your operating system will write over this reserved space with new data.

And be sure not to do anything major with your hard drive, such as use the disk defrag tool, until you've recovered these deleted files. On a related note, the more hard drive space you have left unused, the higher the likelihood your files are still accessible.

So, what to do?

To "undelete" these files, you'll need to download third-party software, as these computer programs are not built into Windows or Mac OS.

"Data recovery software," as they're sometimes referred to, more or less work the same: they allow you to preview deleted files so you can choose which ones to recover.

Popular solutions for Windows include Recuva (my favorite), Uneraser, Undelete Plus, EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard, WinUndelete and Restoration. Mac users might consider Data Rescue 3. These digital downloads work on desktops, laptops, netbooks and ultrabooks. Some programs, like Recuva, can also recover files deleted from your digital camera card, USB thumbdrive, iPod or MP3 player.

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Many of these programs are free, so be sure to start with those, while others are free to view your deleted files and then you must pay a few bucks to recover them. Sneaky, eh?

The trick is to see which one works for you. As previously mentioned, many of these software offerings handle the process in a similar way but performance (and price) could vary between them. On a related note, keep an eye on Download.com, as C|Net's popular file repository often gets new Windows and Mac tools to help undelete accidentally deleted files.

Going forward, just to be on the safe side, remember to frequently back-up your important files -- just in case something happens like an accidental delete. You could use an external hard drive if you have a lot of files or else consider one of the many free cloud services, such as SkyDrive, Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, SugarSync and Box; most of these offer between 2GB and 7GB of free storage, per account. Personally, I use a combination of the two and have back-ups of the hard drives, too. Don't keep all of your back-up solutions in the same room or else they can all be ruined in case of fire, flood or theft -- instead, consider a safety deposit box, fireproof box, fireproof hard drive or trusted family member's home.

Check out more tech trends and news at Digital Crave

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