An ESD USB is a great way to install a fresh copy of Windows on your machine, though creating one effectively erases all the data on your flash drive (or any other USB device you are using). But what happens if you forgot to back up some important files? And what if you want to return your USB storage device back to its original state after installing the operating system?

In this guide, we’ll go through the different ways you can undo ESD USB, and we’ll discuss how to recover lost files from before it was created.

What is ESD-USB?

ESD is short for “Electronic Software Delivery,” and an ESD USB is a type of storage device format utilized when creating a bootable installation of Windows on your USB drive, which you can use to set up the operating system on your computer or as a recovery USB to facilitate OS repairs. The ESD can be created on any USB storage device using an ISO file of the OS installer or through the downloadable media creation tool for Windows 10 or Windows 11.

When making an ESD USB for modern Windows systems, a 32 GB partition is often created on the drive which is where the OS files are kept and all the contents of the device are erased in the process. So you should back up any important files if you want to format the USB without losing data.

How to Recover Files From an ESD-USB

In case you were unable to back up your important files before the ESD USB was made or were simply unaware that they were essential at the time, you’ll be glad to know that there’s still a chance that you can unformat your USB. And by “unformat”, we mean restore your lost data. The best way to go about it is through the help of powerful data recovery software, like Disk Drill.

Disk Drill is one of the best USB recovery software around, given how effective it is at retrieving files from a wide variety of data loss scenarios, including ESD USB formatting and accidentally deleted files. It also sports a catchy user interface that’s easy to use even if you’re a newbie to the process. You won’t have to immediately commit to payment either, as Disk Drill includes a free version with all of its features that you can use to recover up to 500 MB of data.

Keep in mind, however, that creating a bootable USB often means overwriting old data, so the amount of data you can recover depends primarily on what was overwritten in the process.

To recover files from ESD USB, simply follow the steps below:

  1. First, download Disk Drill from the Cleverfiles website.
    disk drill download
  2. Run the downloaded installer and follow the instructions that appear until successfully installed.
    disk drill install
  3. Ensure the ESD USB is connected to your computer and launch Disk Drill. From there, select the ESD USB from the list of available storage devices and click Search for lost data.
    search for lost data
  4. After that, the program will now start scanning the drive for any lost data that can potentially be retrieved. The bigger the storage capacity of your USB, the longer this is likely to take. As you wait, you can click the Review found files button on the upper-right corner of the screen to browse any files that the scan has picked up so far. Otherwise, you can just wait until the scan is finished and then click the same button to proceed.
    scanning
  5. In the results section, navigate through the found files until you find the ones you want to recover. You can make the search easier on yourself by using the category options on the left side of the screen, and there’s also a search bar in the top-right corner in case you’re aware of the file name or type. Finally, select the files by ticking the checkbox right beside the file name and click Recover once you’re ready to continue.
    select files
  6. Upon clicking, a small window will appear where you’ll need to decide on the storage location for the recovered files. Make sure that this is on a different device than the ESD USB that you’re trying to recover from. Click Next once done.
    select destination
  7. At this point, Disk Drill will try to recover the selected files from your ESD USB. You’ll receive a completion message once this process is done. If you’d like to be taken straight to the rescued files, you can click the Show recovered data in Explorer button.
    recovery complete

How to Get ESD-USB Drive Back to Normal

While it certainly is handy to have an ESD USB around for whenever you might need to reinstall Windows 10/11 or fix some OS-related bugs, a lot of people would rather return their ESD USB back to normal so they can use it for other things. And by “normal”, we mean reverting the device’s file system to NTFS or FAT32 and returning it to full capacity. There are multiple ways to achieve this.

Method 1. Format Your Drive Using Disk Management

The first way to change back an ESD USB to normal is to format it by using the built-in Windows Disk Management tool.

Here are the steps on how to do this:

  1. To get started, bring up the Windows Run command window by pressing the Windows + R keys on your keyboard. From there, type in “diskmgmt.msc,” and press Enter.
    run disk manager
  2. Next, right-click your ESD USB and select the Format option. A pop-up will appear, warning you that all data will be erased in the process. Then, click Yes.
    format disk management
  3. Click the dropdown next to File System and select the option you’d like for your USB drives. The selection includes NTFS, FAT32, FAT, and exFAT. You can also decide on the label for your device, allocation unit size, and whether or not you want to perform a “Quick” format or a full one. It’s worth noting that files erased by a “Full” format can no longer be recovered. Click OK to finalize the formatting process, and your USB should then be back to normal.
    format options

Method 2. Format Your Device Using CMD (Diskpart)

The second method utilizes another Windows tool called Command Prompt or CMD. It includes a feature called Diskpart that can be used to format your ESD USB and change its file system to one of your choosing.

To format your device using CMD (Diskpart), simply follow the steps below:

  1. First, bring up the Windows Run command window by pressing the Windows + R keys on your keyboard. From there, type in “diskpart” and press Ctrl + Enter to run the tool with administrator privileges.
    run dispart
  2. Next, type “list disk” and press Enter.
    list disk
  3. Upon clicking, you will now see a list of all the storage disks currently connected to your machine. Locate your ESB USB among the list. You should be able to tell by the storage capacity. Now type “select disk,” followed by the number assigned to your ESB USB drive. For example, select disk 3. Hit Enter to proceed.
    select disk
  4. Next, type “clean,” then press the Enter key.
    clean disk
  5. Then, type “create partition primary” and hit Enter.
    create partition
  6. Type “Format fs=” followed by the type of file format you want your USB to have. For example, format fs=NTFS. Then, press Enter to continue.
    format disk
  7. Finally, type “assign=” then the drive letter you want your USB to have. For example, assign=h. With this, your USB will appear as drive H: on your computer. Press Enter to execute this last command and finalize the process.
    assign drive

Method 3. Create a New Volume/Partition

Since ESD USB creation only takes up 32 GB or less of the flash drive’s storage capacity, meaning the rest of the space is left unallocated, you can create another volume on the device that you can set to the file system of your choosing.

To create a new partition on a storage device, simply follow the steps below:

  1. To get started, bring up the Windows Run command window by pressing the Windows + R keys on your keyboard. From there, type in “diskmgmt.msc” and press Enter.
    run disk manager
  2. Next, find your ESD drive among the devices listed and click on it. On the bottom portion of the window, right-click the part of the USB that’s labeled “Unallocated” and select New Simple Volume.
    new volume
  3. Upon clicking, a wizard will appear that will guide you through the process. On the 4th screen, you’ll have the opportunity to select the file system that you’d like for the new volume. Also, make sure to have the “Perform a quick format” option ticked. Continue until the volume creation is complete.
    format settings

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Conclusion

ESD USBs may be incredibly useful tools, but accidentally creating one or doing so without knowing that the device would be formatted can lead to some alarming data loss. On the plus side, it’s possible to get the files backed up using the right data recovery software. And if you’re looking to return the ESD USB back to normal, there are many ways to go about that as well.