- Simple, straightforward design
- Overall great ease of use
- Recovery of over 200 file types
- Effective deep scans for internal drives
- Recovery from optical drives, lost partitions, and disc images
- Lifetime licenses available
- Increased CPU usage during scans and recovery
- Buggy windows display for multi-monitor users
- Unlimited support only available for one year
If a piece of software could rectify the fear we’ve all felt after realizing an important file was deleted, then there’s no other way of looking at them: data recovery programs are real lifesavers. But these programs are worth absolutely nothing if users aren’t even able to use them due to overcomplication. Thankfully, Stellar Windows Data Recovery isn’t a complicated solution at all; its minimal design hides one of the most intuitive and straightforward data recovery tools on the market. Developed by the same India-based company behind Stellar Mac Data Recovery, this program is a multifaceted tool capable of restoring more than 200 file types, creating disc images, and finding lost disc partitions. Stellar’s solution also comes with the option to perform deep scans on the PC’s internal drives, with which everything can be effectively recovered with relative ease. And if that’s not enough, almost all Stellar products can be purchased with a lifetime license and are available for a 30-day risk-free trial to help you be certain that you are picking the best solution for your needs.
Although Stellar’s minimal design may seem bland, it’s actually one of the greatest strengths of this data recovery software. Because of this, the program is pretty straightforward to use from the very beginning, especially considering how it always starts up on the two most important screens, namely the option to select what kind of file types the software should look into and where. One frustration with Stellar is how it always positions itself to the dead center of the screen. While this might not seem immediately significant, but it could become a rather annoying issue for users with multiple screens who will always have to drag the software’s window into the right place due to it popping up in awkward places.
As for additional settings, there isn’t much in this regard beyond toggling a preview of files, managing the recoverable file types, resuming incomplete scans – which can also be done from the main window – and exporting the license to another Stellar program. However, there is a built-in help guide detailing everything about the software and its functionality, which also handily remains available during scans with the presence of a button in the main window.
Stellar’s simple-to-use nature is best manifested by how easily scans can be set up. For starters, users can either select all 223 file types to be searched or choose one or more of the six recovery categories, which includes Microsoft Office documents, emails, photos, audio files, videos, or folders. With the file types decided it’s possible to command the program to examine specific areas, such as the documents folder, the desktop, any specified folder, or a complete internal drive. Stellar can search into external drives, too – HDDs, flash drives, CDs, DVDs, and memory cards – but note that these drives need to be connected to the computer before the program is launched.
Scanning itself takes mere minutes thanks to the fact that Stellar uses the quick scan feature by default, which works perfectly for files that were deleted or modified long ago. If this method has no luck or you need to recover something right after its deletion – such as with our test folder – then there is the deep scan option. This method can recover everything, though they are restricted to internal drives only, naturally takes much longer to complete, and can have adverse effects on the PC’s overall performance. What standard and deep scans both have in common, however, is how they can be interrupted and resumed at a later date, provided the scan is saved somewhere other than the examined drive.
Performing data recovery is just as easy as scanning as all it requires is to select the files to be recovered and their new location, which cannot be on the same drive that has been examined. In order to locate the necessary files easily, Stellar organizes them into a file tree, but there is also the option to filter files by type or only show those that have been deleted. Additionally, the program also sports a handy search bar to help locate certain files even faster, as well as a toggleable preview option that, quite interestingly, is even capable of previewing text and audio files in addition to images and videos.
However, there are some serious shortcomings when it comes to data recovery. Although the demo version allows users to recover 1GB of data without paying, unlimited recovery cannot be performed without a valid software license. Not only that, but the program takes a lot longer than is acceptable to recover audio and video files. As part of our tests – which involved approximately 1GB of data comprising images, PDFs, Office files, music, and videos – recovery took 47 minutes, regardless of whether we chose to use compression or not. Stellar cannot reconstruct original folders either, but at least this is compensated for by putting recovered files into new folders based on their file type and extension and by detecting when files were already recovered and saved previously.
Since the primary focus of Stellar is to recover data from physical drives there aren’t too many additional features outside of this expectation. In fact, there are only two options beside regular recovery, the first being the recovery of lost partitions with which a physical drive can be searched for partitions that have already been deleted but contained data worth restoring. The other option is the ability to create an image of an existing drive and recover data from that. Seeing as the program can recover data directly from drives this feature may seem unnecessary, but since it’s the mirror image that is examined and not the actual drive, the scanning and recovery process can be sped up significantly.
It’s worth adding that there is a third option, a bootable disc, which comes in handy if the computer fails to boot by itself. However, this option was only available to users who purchased the boxed version of Stellar, and since Stellar now only exists in downloadable format the only way to get this special boot CD is by requesting it from the company via email and paying an additional $20.
Although there is a free Windows version of Stellar that can recover all file types from hard drives as well as perform deep scans, there are benefits to opting for at least the Home edition. This version adds one year of unlimited technical support and automatic software updates for a lifetime license fee of $59.99 – or $79.99 should it be purchased as part of a software bundle containing Stellar’s backup and password recovery tools.
As for the Professional version – which provides disk image and optical drive recovery alongside more data saving options – an annual license is $79.99 per year, but it’s better to opt for the $99 lifetime license. Last but not least, there are the Premium and Technician packages, the former costing $99 per year or $149 for a lifetime license and comes with advanced file repairing features. The latter contains RAID features and can be used on three devices consecutively for $299 per year.
Thankfully, all paid programs can be trialed free with a 30-day money-back guarantee, and can be purchased for reduced prices from time to time thanks to the company’s temporary promotions. And if that’s not enough, Stellar provides a direct data recovery service with personal pick-up and drop-off – although this service operates with bespoke fees.
Stellar’s customer support is a bit of a mixed bag due to some rather interesting decisions. Firstly, live support is available 24 hours a day during workdays and is available for free as part of paying customers’ first year. Non-subscribing users and those after that first year can still contact support, but this isn’t via a toll-free number and therefore will incur a charge. For this reason, it’s best to contact the company’s staff via live chat, email inquiry or a message to Stellar’s social media channels, where customers can get thorough and courteous answers to their questions within a short period of time.
In addition to the live support options there is also a detailed knowledge base that, strangely, also contains the FAQ, too. What’s more strange, however, is that there both a blog and a page called “Articles”, which could easily confuse customers since the blog contains more casual topics, whereas the articles section contains guides on using the software. Speaking of which, Stellar also provides video tutorials for its most popular products, too, which can be viewed on the company’s YouTube channel or on a dedicated page.
For such a minimally designed tool, Stellar’s data recovery software is a pretty versatile solution, capable of dealing with lost files on static and removable drives with relative ease. Granted, it’s far from perfect as users may need to use the slower but more precise deep scans more often than not and in many cases the recovery time takes longer than expected. However, these issues are easily overshadowed by just how straightforward the software is to use yet without excluding a set of advanced features that caters to in-depth recovery needs. And although the pricing structure makes no sense – since purchasing a lifetime license is definitely more worthwhile than opting for an annual subscription – and the free technical support doesn’t last for more than a year, Stellar Windows Data Recovery is still a considerable choice for those wanting to get their most precious files back.