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Lost & Found by Powerquest is a new, very reasonably priced data recovery utility that promises to recover deleted files after the Recycle Bin is emptied, after a disk or partition has been reformatted, if the FAT (File Allocation Table) is destroyed or the disk has been damaged. It will function with any Intel compatible x86 or higher processor, any drives connected to IDE, EIDE or SCSI controllers and either FAT 16 or FAT 32 file systems. It requires a 3.5" floppy drive and DOS 5.0 or later is recommended.
When I hear the name Powerquest, I think of the words like "innovative", "safe" and "reliable". As a registered and experienced user of Partition Magic version 2, I expected Lost & Found to be just as thorough and perfect in every way. In many ways it performed as expected, but there are some flaws that need to be addressed.
Lost & Found comes as 2 diskettes and runs directly from them. Though it is possible to run it from a hard disk, I prefer to run from diskettes whenever possible so I liked this feature. Unlike some other recovery programs, it does not need to be installed prior to disaster, nor does it need to run resident in memory.
The diskettes have to be write-enabled before using and will register the program for use on that machine only. This limitation generated complaints because some people get new computers fairly frequently and would not be able to use it if they upgraded to a new system. Powerquest has subsequently released a patch that removes this limitation, but since floppies are easily corrupted, I write-protected the originals, made copies, archived the originals, and then applied the patch to the copies.
The first diskette contains the Lost & Found program and the second diskette contains utilities that are supposed to assist with data recovery. One is called Refresh.exe and the other is Renew.exe. The former is to restore long file names (LFNs), the latter restores compressed recovery "savesets" from floppies or other disks in addition to LFNs. They both can run from windows.
One of the problems with reviewing software like this is that it can be difficult to simulate a disaster without actually having one and putting your system at risk. Fortunately, Powerquest offers some good suggestions of safe ways of testing their product by using floppy diskettes instead of your actual hard drive. I proceeded as per their suggestions by copying some critical data from my hard drive onto a fully formatted floppy diskette, maintained directory structures and continued until the disk was full. I also made an exact copy of the diskette for comparison purposes.
I actually read most of the 35 page manual (not including the index or table of contents), but found it to be less than adequate when compared to the manual that came with Partition Magic, which was over three times the size and read like a comprehensive text book on disk structure and partitioning for several file systems. The Lost & Found manual is more like a step by step procedure that doesnt clearly explain everything along the way. I think if Powerquest intends to market this to the average computer user, then the manual needs to be more user friendly and comprehensive. After all, data recovery is something that most computer users have paid others to do for them.
I need to explain my hard disk setup so the reader can understand what was happening. I have 2 physical hard drives. The first is a Maxtor 6.8 gigabyte disk divided into 7 drive partitions, labeled C through I, the first being a primary partition. The second is an older NEC 1.6 gigabyte disk divided into 2 equal drive partitions labeled J and K, with no primary partition. (This was intentionally done to avoid the crazy drive mapping that occurs when 2 partitioned physical drives are present.) This setup leaves a small amount of unusable free space at the beginning of the second hard disk.
I ran the first 2 tests simultaneously by deleting all the files from one of the directories on the diskette I made and then deleting another separate entire directory. I put the Lost & Found diskette #1 in the A drive and restarted the computer. The diskette is bootable because it contains the Caldera DR DOS operating system on it. I am willing to bet that this was done to ensure Y2K compliance.
At the A: prompt I typed LF and hit <enter> and got a warning about possible display problems as the program was loading. The program opened up full screen but was off centered to the right by about ½ inch. This was easily adjustable with my external monitor controls and could be returned later on to the center the same way. The interface was typical of a DOS menu driven program and has no mouse support.
I followed the screen prompts, selecting my floppy A: drive to be the source containing the erased data and the NEC drive as the destination for recovery. (Note that you cannot select the same drive for source and destination even though the media is removable.) After disk analysis was done and I elected to begin recovery, the program bombed out. It reported the NEC drive as having invalid partition and boot sectors and I got error messages. (Note that Lost & Found did see the NEC drive as a whole initially.) I started over several times, but executing disk analysis and attempting recovery was an endless loop.
I attempted to get technical support but the Powerquest website support feature was not working. By the time a help desk person got back to me (10 days), he did not have the answer and I could not delay the review any longer. I suspect the problem had to do with the lack of a primary partition on the second drive, but do not have time at this point to experiment further.
I repeated the same procedure but this time chose the first physical drive as the destination. I was allowed to pick any partition to recover the files to so I chose the last one on the hard disk labeled as drive "I". The recovery went smoothly and I was able to open all recovered files from Windows, though the long filenames were truncated to the 8.3 DOS format. I repeated the process after doing a quick format on the diskette and it also went smoothly. (Note that a full or unconditional format is not recoverable as the manual indicates.)
I proceeded with several more tests trying different recovery options so I could test the refresh utility. Unfortunately, it did not work at all when I chose the "single directory" option for recovery, and only restored one LFN in one directory when I chose the "maintain directories" option.
My final diskette test was not on the list from Powerquest, but I couldnt pass up trying it anyway. I decided to format and then damage the floppy (this was fun!). I moved the sliding door to expose the floppy disk surface and then scraped it in several places with a small magnet. Even though some damaged files could be recovered, they either did not open or caused error messages. However, all the good files could also be recovered and that is what the program offers; data recovery from damaged disks.
I thought it was important to test recovery from a hard drive as well, especially the NEC drive since it would not recover files to it earlier. As per Powerquests suggestion, I created a small partition (about 6 megabytes) at the end of the hard drive using Partition Magic. Then I booted into Windows95 and moved directories of files from the Maxtor drive into the new partition labeled "L". I rebooted, ran Fdisk from DOS and deleted the new partition "L". I verified it was gone and then rebooted with the Lost & Found bootable floppy. This time I wanted to recover to diskettes using the compressed data option. I had to manually search to the end of file list to find the files that had been in the deleted partition and mark them for recovery; but recovery did go smoothly and created a "saveset" on two floppy diskettes. I was then able to run the renew utility from Windows and restore the files to any drive on either hard disk.
While this program apparently has some flaws, I would definitely consider it an invaluable tool to have on hand. One of the caveats I noticed when recovering from the deleted partition was that Lost & Found had to scan the entire physical drive and list all files whether recoverable or not. It took about 10 minutes, but could take considerably longer on todays larger hard drives. Also, locating the erased files was tedious as there was no search or sort feature in Lost & Found.
I liked that I was able to select individual files from the recovery list which were color coded to indicate recoverability. I was amazed that I was seeing files on this drive that I thought were long gone dating back to 1996 and many were indeed recoverable! The one lesson I learned was that files are recoverable after deleting a partition and that previously deleted partitions are still visible. I was under the false impression that deleting a partition wiped the data clean, so this took me by surprise.
Although I would not recommend Lost & found to the novice computer user, it seems pretty safe and shouldnt hurt to give it a try. Its claim on the box to "Easily recover lost data on your PC in minutes!", is only true in some cases.
Overall, it gets a thumb's up for bringing reliable data recovery into a price range that almost anyone can afford. I am personally very satisfied with it and thoroughly enjoyed reviewing it despite the problems I had.
Suggested retail price is $69. User Group members may purchase Lost and Found at a special price of only $30 by ordering from the secure website at www.ugr.com/order/. Indicate the special price code of UGEVAL99 with your order.
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