DeepSpar Disk Imager - Review

by Mike Montgomery, MjM Data Recovery Ltd, UK.

Having been in the data recovery industry part and full time for over 20 years I have never come across anything as good as the DeepSpar Disk Imager. There are countless software tools designed specifically for imaging hard disk drive, however the majority of these use standard BIOS IO routines to read the data. This can and very often does create problems. When a read request is sent to the drive, the BIOS converts the command into standard ATA commands and sends the request, if it does not get what is expected it resends the same request. For normal operation, this is fine, however, for data recovery purposes this is not fine at all. Constant attempts to read bad media can often damage hard drives, sometimes the drive will hang and you will need to restart the computer and continue from where you left off, with lots of blank areas to fill before your image is complete. At other times the damage can be more severe and you need to do cleanroom work changing heads, etc.

DeepSpar gets rid of those problems, it accesses the drive directly using its own hardware and software routines to send ATA read commands so any media errors can be identified immediately, blocks containing bad sectors are skipped and the imaging process continues from the next block of data until the first pass is finished. Once complete, it then goes backwards through the drive so that any drive caching is disabled. (note: drive caching can cause problems for example: if there is a bad sector within the read ahead block it can cause the drive to hang or timeout). During the second pass, DeepSpar Imager attempts to read the sectors one at a time from areas where the initial bad blocks were found during the first pass. It does this by keeping a record or 'map' of the sectors for the source drive stored in an HPA on the target (or destination) drive so it knows exactly how much data has been imaged. Finally, during pass 3, it attempts to read the remaining bad sectors whilst ignoring ECC errors. Using the DeepSpar Imager's advanced technology, drives are imaged more safely and reliably than ever before - so drives will not not suffer head failure due to over-reading as quickly as they can do using other imaging software.

Whilst imaging speed is not at the top of the list of importance it still does bear some significance, so how fast is the DeepSpar Imager? Well, I thought our current set up was fast until I tried DeepSpar's imager. The first drive I tried was a 40 GB Toshiba with 9 bad sectors, it finished imaging in 24 minutes - our software took over an hour! Another 80 GB Samsung Laptop drive took around 40 minutes and a 200 GB Seagate less than hour - I did the Seagate as a test to confirm speed results given during correspondence I had with one of DeepSpar's developers. These are blindingly fast speeds for imaging, even during the second and third pass you will not believe how fast DeepSpar Imager is!! Also, you can stop the process at any point, and examine the image to see if the critical data is already recovered. Because DeepSpar runs in 'passes' you may find that after the first quick pass that the data you're looking for is already recovered. So however you look at DeepSpar in comparison to other 'professional' imaging software it is:

1. Safer and more reliable
2. Fast
3. Offers instant diagnosis of normal operation and error conditions
4. Flexible but advanced control over imaging parameters
5. Onscreen display of a host of information including real-time status, time remaining, current pass, hex display, File system information, etc.
6. Approachable technical support that listen.

The result is the best image of the data that is possible with the existing HDD components. If you need to change the heads, you can set the imager to only scan the areas of the drive that had not been previously read without changing anything in the software. This gives excellent control that is not available in any other imaging software.

Also whilst imaging, the imager performs real-time evaluation of the data showing which blocks have been read, a hex display of the data and also shows the diagnostic status of the drive. It also identifies the file system components and displays a count of known file types, e.g. EXE, JPG, etc. This can help to determine whether good data is being recovered and means that you can stop the process if you identify that the information is not as expected.

The description above uses the default configuration settings of the imager, it does not stop there, it is possible to apply user configurations that use conditional testing, you can test on error register e.g. AMNF, IDNF, UNC, Abort, Timeout and other errors that may be generated during imaging. If the condition is met, then you tell the imager what to do, e.g. Skip [n] sectors, Power cycle, Power off, or Send Soft or Hard Reset commands, Stop Process and other control messages. These controls are designed specifically for data recovery and goes way beyond any known imaging software. Configurations can be saved, so if there are regular problems that appear with specific drive (e.g. 'scratchy' Hitachi/IBM with bad sectors) then you can save your configurations and apply them easily.

A point worth mentioning again, is that DeepSpar Imager knows exactly how far it is through the imaging process, so if half-way through a job you need to change the heads, you can continue from where you left off as it uses it's map stored on the destination drive.

Summary: If you are a professional data recovery company and do not want to get left behind in this increasingly competitive market, then get the DeepSpar Disk Imager - it is the best tool I have ever seen for fast and reliable hard disk imaging.

I can see future developments in this tool and I know that DeepSpar are listening to their users objectively and this will become the leading imaging tool for Phase II of the 3D Data Recovery Methodology.

Mike Montgomery
MjM Data Recovery Ltd, UK