Losing important data due to user error, hardware failure, or software bug is a painful experience, one that unfortunately happens to most Windows users sooner or later.Windows File Recovery Review

To help its users recover from data loss, Microsoft has been including various backup features in its operating system for years, such as File History in Windows 10, but they all come disabled by default, forcing many users to rely on third-party data recovery tools. Until now.

Windows leaker WalkingCat has recently discovered a data recovery tool created by Microsoft, called Windows File Recovery, available in Microsoft Store, and, as data recovery professionals, we’re excited to see how it compares with our own data recovery solution, Disk Drill.

Meet Windows File Recovery

Windows File Recovery UI

Windows File Recovery was quietly published to Microsoft Store a few days ago, and the initial reactions so far have been mixed (it currently has just 2.5 stars out of 5 on Microsoft Store).

The main point of controversy is the lack of a graphical user interface. That’s right, Windows File Recovery is a command-line tool. And unlike the most popular third-party command-line data recovery tool, TestDisk, it doesn’t even have interactive menus and options that users could easily go through using arrow keys on the keyboard (at least for now).

But despite its somewhat primitive appearance, Windows File Recovery works much like more sophisticated third-party data recovery tools, relying on the fact that deleted files are not immediately erased. Instead, the storage space occupied by them is simply marked as empty and made available for storing new data.

According to Microsoft’s support page, Windows File Recovery can be used to recover lost files that have been deleted from a local storage device and can’t be restored from the Recycle Bin, including internal drives, external drives, and USB devices. However, Microsoft explicitly states that the recovery of files on cloud storage or network file shares is not supported.

How to Install and Use Windows File Recovery 

Installing Windows File Recovery is easy since you can get it directly from Microsoft Store, but you need to have the Windows 10 May 2020 update (Windows 10 version 2004) installed otherwise the Install button in Microsoft Store won’t be clickable.

Windows File Recovery Download

Once you have Windows File Recovery installed on your computer, you can launch it just like you would any standard Windows application or open the Command Prompt as admin, type “winfr”, and hit Enter.

How to Recover Deleted Files on Windows

The most important thing you need to know to successfully recover deleted files using Windows File Recovery is that it supports three distinct recovery modes. Regardless of which mode you choose, the basic syntax is always the same:

winfr source-drive: destination-drive: [/switches] 
ParameterDescriptionSupported modes
Source-drive:Specifies the storage device where the files were lostAll
Destination-drive:Specifies the storage device and folder on which to put the recovered filesAll
/rSegment modeSegment
/n <filter>Filter searchSegment
/xSignature modeSignature
/y:<type(s)>Recover specific extension groupsSignature
/#Displays signature mode extension groups and file typesAll
/?Help textAll
/!Display advanced featuresAll

Default Mode

This mode is intended to recover recently deleted files on NTFS drives from storage devices that haven’t been formatted and don’t suffer any file system corruption.

  • To recover an Office document called FinancialReport from drive C: to drive E:
    winfr C: E: /n \Users\<username>\Documents\FinancialReport.docx
  • To recover all JPEG and PNG files from the Pictures folder on drive C: to drive E:
    winfr C: E: /n \Users\<username>\Pictures\*.JPEG /n \Users\<username>\Pictures\*.PNG
  • To recover the entire content of the Documents folder on drive C: to drive E:
    winfr C: E: /n \Users\<username>\Documents\

Segment Mode

Also intended for NTFS-formatted drives, Segment mode offers the ability to recover data that has been deleted a while ago from formatted or corrupted drives. It recovers data using file record segments.

  • To recover all PDF and DOCX files from drive C: to drive E: 
    winfr C: E: /r /n *.pdf /n *.docx
  • To recover all files with the string “vacation” in the filename:
    winfr C: E: /r /n *vacation*

Signature Mode

If you need to recover data from storage devices with FAT, exFAT, and ReFS file systems, then you have to use Signature mode, which recovers data using file headers. Just know that it’s the slowest mode of the three. 

  • To recover all JPEG and PNG files from drive C: to drive E: 
    winfr C: E: /x /y:JPEG,PNG
  • To recover all MP3 files from drive C: to the recovery folder on drive E:
    winfr C: E:\RecoveryTest /x /y:MP3
File types supported by Signature mode: 

Extension groupFile type
ASFwma, wmv, asf
JPEGjpg, jpeg, jpe, jif, jfif, jfi
MP3mp3
MPEGmpeg, mp4, mpg, m4a, m4v, m4b, m4r, mov, 3gp, qt
PDFpdf
PNGpng
ZIPzip, docx, xlsx, pptx, odt, ods, odp, odg, odi, odf, odc, odm, ott, otg, otp, ots, otc, oti, otf, oth

Windows File Recovery vs. Third-Party Software

With the theory covered, now it’s time to put Windows File Recovery to use and compare its usability and data recovery performance with a third-party data recovery solution, Disk Drill. We’ll be attempting to recover a FAT32-formatted USB flash drive that used to store multiple files, including images, videos, and documents. Let’s start with Windows File Recovery.

Windows File Recovery 

To recover files from a FAT32-formatted USB flash drive with Windows File Recovery, it’s necessary to use Signature Mode. Since we want to recover as many deleted files as possible, we won’t use any search filters:

winfr E: C: /x

Unfortunately, there’s no way to recover data from RAW or lost partitions, but RAW file recovery wasn’t needed in our case. Before the recovery begins, Windows File Recovery asks for confirmation:

Windows File Recovery Signature Mode

With our small 2 GB USB 2.0 flash drive, the scan took nearly 3 minutes, which is longer than we expected. The tool then listed all recovered files and gave us the option to display them.

Windows File Recovery Recovering Files

Windows File Recovery automatically created a recovery folder on drive C and sorted the recovered files according to their file type.

Windows File Recovery Save Results

Result: In total, Windows File Recovery was able to recover 20 files and 6 different file extensions. All recovered files were working, but their original file names were lost.

Disk Drill

Let’s now perform data recovery from the same USB flash drive using Disk Drill Data Recovery for Windows and compare the results. Since Disk Drill features a convenient graphical user interface and runs all recovery methods in the optimal order, all users need to do to start a scan is to select the storage device and click Search for lost data.

Unlike Windows File Recovery, Disk Drill can scan an entire device and not just specific partitions. This allows it to recover data even from lost or RAW partitions that can’t be mounted properly.

Windows File Recovery vs Disk Drill

Disk Drill then begins applying all of its recovery methods to find lost partitions and recover deleted files with their original names when possible.

File Recovery Process

The entire scan (which included all recovery methods supported by Disk Drill) took just a little over 2 minutes, and the results were amazing. Disk Drill was able to recover hundreds of files, and, in many cases, it even restored their original file names.

How to Recover Deleted Files on Windows 10

Before performing the actual recovery, Disk Drill lets users preview all recoverable files and select individual files for recovery. To finish the recovery process, all you need to do is click the Recover button and specify the recovery folder.

Windows 10 recovered lost data

Result: Disk Drill was able to recover 449 files, including original file names, significantly outperforming Windows File Recovery in terms of performance and usability alike.

Feature Comparison

The table below provides a concise comparison of features offered by Disk Drill and Windows File Recovery. It doesn’t take more than a brief glance at it to understand that Windows File Recovery still has a long way to go to become a truly competitive data recovery solution.

 Disk Drill for WindowsWindows File Recovery
OS supportWindows 7/8/8.1/10Windows 10 version 2004 or later
Architecture supportx86, x64x86, x64, ARM, and ARM64
File systemsFAT/FAT32/exFAT, NTFS, HFS & HFS+, APFS, EXT3/EXT4 and any RAW diskNTFS (Default, Segment, and Signature), FAT, exFAT, ReFS (Signature only)
File formats400+40
PreviewAll file preview handlers supported by Windows
File Selection
Graphical User Interface (GUI)
Mount scan results as folder
S.M.A.R.T. drive information
Backup devices
Filter scan results
Search in scan results
Automatic scan process
Lost partition recovery
RAW partition recovery

Conclusion 

After performing data recovery with Windows File Recovery and pitting it against Disk Drill, it’s easy to see why its reception from regular users and data recovery professionals has been lukewarm at best.

Windows File Recovery certainly isn’t a beginner-friendly tool that regular Windows users could use to quickly and easily recover deleted files. At the same time, it’s also not a professional-grade data recovery solution capable of delivering fantastic results. What Windows File Recovery really seems to be is an internal project made public during a very early stage of its development.

It’s possible that Microsoft will soon release a graphical user interface for it and add support for additional file types and file systems, but the strong competition and lack of positive reception could also convince Microsoft to abandon it and focus on other projects instead.

Jeff Cochin

Jeff Cochin is a data management and recovery expert. He also serves as a technical writer, testing and reviewing tech solutions in various fields.Jeff Cochin is a professional data management, warehousing and recove...

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Approved by
Brett Johnson

This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.