Data Rescue 3 Review - When You Must Recover Your Mac's Data

Do-It-Yourself Mac Data Recovery Software

Data Rescue 3 Review - Arena interface
The default interface, called the Arena view, is a single window where all of the app's features are represented by clickable icons. Screenshot curtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Data Rescue 3 from Prosoft Engineering is one utility that all Mac users should have in their toolkit. It's also a piece of software I hope you never need. Not because it's difficult to use, but because if you're using this wonderful app, it means you've lost files or you have a drive that's failed, and you neglected to maintain a current backup.

No matter what your reason for using it, Data Rescue 3 may very well be your best shot at retrieving your important files, short of sending your drive out to a drive recovery service.

Data Rescue 3 Do-It-Yourself Recovery

Data Rescue 3's focus is on recovering data. You would use it if you accidentally deleted files, formatted a drive without first making a current backup, or have a drive that is failing or has failed, and no longer allows your Mac to access any data on the drive.

Data Rescue 3 doesn't do any type of drive repair. If you want to try to repair your drive, give Prosoft Engineering's companion app, Drive Genius, a try. There are also other third-party drive repair tools available.

This is an important distinction between Data Rescue 3 and drive utilities that attempt to recover data by repairing and modifying the drive. Data Rescue 3 uses non-invasive methods to recover data, leaving the drive in the same state it was in when you first attempted to recover data. This means that if worst come to worst, you can still send the drive out to a drive forensic specialist, who can take the drive apart, rebuild it, and then try to recover the data. Of course, the whole point of this app is to recover the data for you, so you don't have to spend big bucks on a recovery service.

Data Rescue 3 Features

Data Rescue 3 comes on bootable DVD, which you can use to start up your Mac. This is especially handy if the drive that's misbehaving is your startup drive. If you purchasing Data Rescue 3 as a download, you can burn the drive image to a DVD or USB flash drive.

Once you start the app, you will find multiple methods for evaluating and recovering the data from your drive.

Data Rescue 3 works with any storage device that's attached to your Mac, both internal and external, including the flash drives used in most cameras and USB thumb drives.

Feature Set

Quick Scan - If your drive's directory structure is intact, Quick Scan can find most of the files on the drive in just a few minutes. Quick Scan will even work for drives that fail to mount. Since it takes so little time, I recommend always starting with the Quick Scan feature.

Deep Scan - This scanning method uses advanced techniques to recover data, even when a drive has severe issues. The only drawback to the Deep Scan method is the time it takes; approximately 3 minutes per gigabyte of data. Drives with specific type of problems can take much longer.

Deleted File Scan - This handy feature can recover just about any recently deleted file, which can bail you out if you accidentally delete a file.

Clone - When your drive has severe problems, cloning the data to another drive will allow you to use Data Rescue on the clone, without worrying about the original drive failing completely while you work with it.

Analyze - Tests the drive's ability to read data across the entire platter. It doesn't attempt to recover any data, but it's useful for troubleshooting severe drive issues.

FileIQ - Allows Data Rescue to recognize new file types when you attempt to recover lost files. Data Rescue comes with a large list of known file types, but if you're trying to recover a new or obscure file type, you can have Data Rescue learn the file format from a good example.

User Interface and Testing

Data Rescue 3 uses a simple interface. The default interface, called the Arena view, is a single window where all of the app's features are represented by clickable icons. If you have used other products from Prosoft Engineering, such as Drive Genius, then you will be familiar with the way Drive Rescue is laid out.

The interface is easy to use and doesn't require a help system to navigate, but I was put off by the wiggliness. When you hover your mouse over an icon, it moves toward the center of the Arena window. If you drag your mouse across multiple icons, they keep moving about. Fortunately, you can change to Detail view, which gathers the functions into a list, a much better approach in my opinion.

Putting Data Rescue to the Test

Testing a drive data recovery application can be difficult; to get the real measure of such an app you need a drive that has failed in some manner, to see how well the app can recover files. The problem is that drives can fail in so many different ways that you would need different drives with different types of failures to adequately test all the features and capabilities of an app.

That being said, I set out to do the best testing I could. I started by using a known good drive, one I use every day with my Mac. I purposely deleted a few files, and then continued to use the drive in a normal fashion for a few days. I then used the Deleted File Scan feature to try to recover the files I had tossed away.

It worked quite well except for one slight drawback. The Deleted File Scan feature can turn up quite a few files. In many cases, a file's name has been lost and replaced with a generic one by the app. Data Rescue 3 does, however, organize all of the files it finds by type, making it easier to find, for example, a Word or JPG file, even if the name has changed. Data Rescue 3 also organizes "lost" files by the application it thinks created the file. Once you narrow your search down, you can use a preview function to check a file before deciding whether to recover it.

Overall, I was very pleased with the Deleted File Scan feature. If I needed to recover a file I accidentally deleted, this would be a relatively painless, if potentially time-consuming, way to do it.

I then tried to use the FileIQ feature to teach Data Rescue 3 a new file type. I use VectorWorks for CAD on my Mac, and thought a VectorWorks file would be a good test for the FileIQ feature. Well, it was a good test in one way. After showing the app two of my CAD files, it recognized the file type as VectorWorks. Apparently Data Rescue was already way ahead of me on this one. I then tried a few file types I thought would be a bit obscure; in every case, Data Rescue recognized the file type. I guess it would require a very new file type, such as a new RAW file format from a brand new camera, to stump Data Rescue. On the other hand, I learned that Data Rescue is very quick at detecting file types it already knows about.

The final test involved a defective hard drive I had lying around. This older 500 GB drive has issues that cause it to exhibit a number of problems, including failing to mount from time to time, taking a long time to read data or failing to read data, and occasionally just disappearing, unmounting itself and not showing up in any drive utility.

I started this test by placing the defective drive in an external USB case, and then attaching it to my Mac. Unfortunately, it mounted and showed up on the desktop. I was hoping it wouldn't, so that I could see how well Data Rescue works with drives that won't mount. We will have to leave that test for another day.

I then gave the Analyze feature a try, letting it run through the drive and see if it had any problems reading data from the platter surfaces. Analyze found exactly what I expected: severe read issues with some sections towards the end of the drive.

The next step was to try the Quick Scan feature to see if the drive had a working directory, which would make file recovery easier. Quick Scan was able to run through the drive and create a list of files it could recover with ease. That was good - and bad. It meant that the directory was intact and there wouldn't be much benefit in testing the Deep Scan feature.

Nevertheless, I tried Deep Scan just to see how long it would take to analyze a 500 GB drive. Once I started the Deep Scan, Data Rescue estimated the total time would be around 10 hours. In actuality, it took about 14 hours, probably due to the sections of the drive that had read problems.

I then attempted to recover a few gigabytes of file data; I didn't have any problems with the recovery.

Data Rescue 3 - Last Words and Recommendations

Data Rescue 3 impressed me with its easy-to-use interface and its ability to deliver the goods. It recovered data from a bad drive when no other method at my disposal worked. I was also glad that Prosoft Engineering chose to provide Data Rescue on a bootable DVD, which will be very handy for the many Mac users who only have a single drive built into their Macs. It would be nice to see the app distributed on a bootable USB flash drive as well, making it truly universal out of the box for Intel-based Macs. Creating a bootable drive isn’t that difficult, however.


Very easy to use, with an interface that guides you through the recovery process.

Able to learn new file types, which is essential for keeping the app current. If you had to wait for updates on file types, you could be out of luck when you absolutely need to recover a file.

High rate of data recovery success. In my testing, Data Rescue was able to recover every file and file type I threw at it. Granted, my testing was somewhat limited, but in reading what other users have said about this app, it seems to be a go-to utility when things aren't looking well.

Multiple scan types give you the options you need when you're trying to recover files. When a drive is in decent shape, you can use Quick Scan and be done in a short amount of time. When a drive has hardware issues, you may need Deep Scan to get to your data.


There aren't a lot of cons when you measure the app by the end result: getting your files back. In that aspect, it works very well indeed. But I have a few minor  nits to pick.

The Arena user interface is just eye candy. When I'm using an app like this one, I'm not in the mood for eye candy. Instead, I want ease of use and results. It would be nice if the default view was Detail rather than Arena.

Data Rescue requires a scratch drive to be available before you begin. It does its work not by repairing a drive, but by extracting the files and copying them to another drive, leaving the original files intact. Because of this, it's obvious that a second drive must be available to assist in the recovery process. However, Data Rescue insists the second drive be present before any scans are performed. I would prefer to be able to run the various scans, to see if I can even get to the data I need before I move a drive from somewhere else. I would rather not have to do it up front.

Data Rescue 3 met all my requirements for a must-have utility. I hope I never need to use it, but I feel much better having it around. Remember that drives fail when you least expect it. And while Data Rescue isn't an alternative to backing up your data, it's an important option to have, because even backups fail once in a while.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.