For this article, we decided to put three solutions that make it possible to recover a formatted SD card to the test. Which came on top? Which is the easiest to use? Read on to find the answers to those questions, as well as detailed step-by-step instructions to guide you along the way.
SD cards are convenient, versatile, and easy to use. Pop one in your camera, fill it with photos and videos and then move it to your computer where… Oops!
You’ve mixed them up again and formatted the wrong one. There, all the media inside is gone. Memories lost in the wind, hours of waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect take, lost forever. Thankfully, today we have specialized software that’s advanced enough to recover data from formatted SD cards and easy enough for everyone to use.
Many SD cards look almost identical, even if they come from various manufacturers. Avoid mixing them up by purchasing SD cards that differ visually. If you believe they still look too similar, you can differentiate them by using colored markers on their labels.
Understanding Formatting Types: Can Data Be Recovered From an SD Card After Formatting?
There are two steps and two possible paths when formatting an SD card. Depending on what you choose, it might be easy or almost impossible to recover data from a formatted SD card.
- ✅ If you delete the volume/partition where your files were stored, but don’t proceed with a format, you can get your files back. The volume will have been marked as “non-existent”, to be replaced in the future. However, the volume’s structure and contents still exist.
- ☑️ If you quick format the volume/partition, the story’s similar: your SD card might appear empty, but the data within will still linger there.
- ❌ If you performed a full format, your SD card’s past contents will have been overwritten by zeroes. After this point, it’s impossible to recover your data.
The “Magical” Command-Line (CMD) Solutions
If you search for a solution on how to recover data from formatted SD cards, you’ll run into some articles that claim the impossible. Most of them talk about two tools, CHKDSK, and the ATTRIB command.
Both CHKDSK and ATTRIB are parts of Windows and both are made by Microsoft. By checking out their official documentation (CHKDSK and ATTRIB), you’ll find that:
- CHKDSK specializes in checking storage devices for errors and fixing them but is not a fully-fledged file recovery solution, nor as user-friendly as the tools we see here.
- ATTRIB can change the attributes to mark files as compressible or hidden, but not restore them.
So, we’re sorry for bursting their bubble, but if what you need is to get your precious files back, those aren’t the first tools you should turn to. Even worse, if you use them in such a way that they perform any writes, you’re decreasing your chances of a successful formatted SD card recovery.
Our Testing Setup
For this article, we decided to test how three popular file recovery solutions fare when asked to recover files from a formatted SD card. We’ve decided to check three scenarios:
- Deleted volume without format: the SD card appears as either RAW or unallocated.
- Quick-formatted volume: the SD card is accessible and usable but appears empty.
- Full-formatted volume: same as above, but a full format process erased everything in the SD card. Or didn’t it?
There wouldn’t be a point in using multiple devices for our tests since the formatting process isn’t affected by an SD card’s brand. However, we wanted to be 100% sure.
Thus, we run our tests three times on two different SD cards from Lexar (8 GB) and SanDisk (16 GB), using two card readers from Lexar and Transcend. The OS was Windows 10 Home with the latest updates.
Each SD card contained the same set of files. We mixed thousands of different types of files, from documents (TXT, PDF, etc.) to videos (MP4, MOV, etc.). However, for the recovery process(es), we prioritized the media files with which most people use SD cards, photos, and videos.
How to Recover Data From a Formatted SD Card
For this article, we decided to test how three of the most popular and respected memory card recovery solutions would fare when trying to recover data from our formatted SD cards. The contenders are Disk Drill by CleverFiles, Data Recovery Wizard by EaseUS, and Power Data Recovery by MiniTool. Although we’ve seen all three apps before, we hadn’t pitted them against each other. We tested the free tier of all three apps, to check if you can get your precious lost files back (and how many of them) before having to open your wallet.
Option A: Recovering Formatted SD Card using Disk Drill
Our formatted SD card recovery journey began with one of the most popular apps in its field: Disk Drill Memory Card Recovery by CleverFiles. We already knew that it was a great app, but how would it compare against the other two contenders? Would it prove worthy of its popularity? Are others justified for placing it at their number one spot?
Disk Drill’s installation is painless – at least on Windows 10, where we tried it.
- Download Disk Drill from its official site.
- Run the installer when its download completes, and follow the steps of its wizard to install Disk Drill.
It’s an effortless affair, getting bonus points for not having us write anything more about it.
The recovery process doesn’t change for any of our tests or setups. It goes like this:
- Choose your SD card from Disk Drill’s Device/Disk list.
- Give Disk Drill some time to scan your SD card.
- Wait until the scan completes. If Disk Drill realizes it could save more files by taking an alternate route, it might suggest you choose to “Scan entire disk” to get better results. If it does, we suggest you do so.
- Click on Review found items and then choose the files you want to get back.
Disk Drill performed just like we expected – and many others claim: it located all the files we cared about. Its success story continued with our Quick Format tests, where it presented the same number of files. It failed, as expected, returning zero results when trying to recover our files from a fully formatted SD card.
In what looked like its shortcoming, Disk Drill’s free version informed us we could recover up to 500 MBs of files.
This allowed us to save some photos, but unfortunately, not all our video files.
Its results, esthetically pleasing interface, and ease of use, combined with its affordable price, made Disk Drill an enticing choice. However, we embarked on a quest to find something even better at a lower price. Spoiler alert: we couldn’t.
Alongside our extensive evaluation of Disk Drill’s functionality and data recovery performance, we have crafted a distinct article that scrutinizes the software’s safety aspects.
Option B: Restoring Lost Data From a Formatted SD Card With EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard
Another popular file recovery tool, for which you can read more here, Data Recovery Wizard by EaseUS was the second tool we put to the test. How would it compare to Disk Drill? Would it manage to detect more files or, through some magical tech, be able to recover files from a fully formatted SD card?
Installing EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard isn’t harder than bringing any other piece of software on board your computer.
- Download Data Recovery Wizard from its official site.
- Run its installer and follow the steps presented on-screen.
Like with Disk Drill, there’s nothing worth noting, a typical installation process like any other.
Recovering your files with EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard is theoretically as simple as with Disk Drill. However, we’re using “theoretically” because, in practice, and to be brutally honest, it isn’t.
- Run Data Recovery Wizard and choose your SD card from where you want to recover lost data.
- Data Recovery Wizard will start scanning your device for lost data.
- As soon as EaseUS’s tool starts discovering lost files, the main difference between it and Disk Drill becomes apparent: its previously straightforward interface, and the way it organizes and presents the files it locates, feel somewhat chaotic.
- To prove our point of questionable UI/UX choices, when we tried to preview photos we’d like to recover, the tool suggested we first recover them “to view full file”. Having to recover a file to preview it, to decide “if we want to recover it”, is the very definition of redundant.
- The “theoretically” also applies to “you can recover your files with Data Recovery Wizard”. Put a checkmark next to them and click on the Recover button. Soon, always theoretically, you’ll get them back.
- Practically, where Disk Drill felt restricted for allowing us to recover only 500 MBs of files, Data Recovery Wizard is worse: you can’t recover anything if you don’t pay upfront for a subscription.
Like Disk Drill, Data Recovery Wizard located the files we wanted to save. However, due to its trial’s limitations, we couldn’t get back a single one of them without paying for a license. As expected, it didn’t manage to magically produce results when trying to recover files from a fully-formatted SD card.
Option C: Getting Back Formatted SD Card Files With MiniTool Power Data Recovery
Many people swear by MiniTool Data Recovery Software Free for recovering data from formatted SD cards or any other type of storage device. We liked how it performed when we tested it but thought its interface could be improved with some tweaks (like a full redesign). However, since as far as results go MiniTool’s Power Data Recovery is considered solid, we decided to give it a go.
Installation processes tend to be painless nowadays. Thus, after Disk Drill and Data Recovery Wizard, we didn’t expect any problems with MiniTool Power Data Recovery’s installation. And yet, running its downloaded installer failed – twice.
For some reason, its installation consists of two files, with one acting as a loader and the second being the main installer. Strange as that might sound, the first file kept renaming the second file with a non-executable extension, and then… couldn’t find it! By manually renaming the installer and running it ourselves, the process was completed successfully. Hurrah.
Thus, we decided to skip presenting the steps of its installation here because:
- We couldn’t bring ourselves to suggest “now, rename the downloaded file for the installation to work”.
- We consider this a temporary problem that MiniTool will probably fix in the not-so-distant future.
Power Data Recovery’s interface looks even cleaner and more straightforward than the other two options. To recover data from a formatted SD card with it, the steps are:
- Choose the SD card from where you want to recover your files.
- Give it some time to scan the media for files.
- Check the results and place a checkmark next to the ones you want to recover. Then, click on Save to get them back.
MiniTool Power Data Recovery’s results were similar to the other two solutions in both the RAW/Unallocated and Quick Format tests. As expected, it also returned nothing from a fully-formatted SD card. However, its free version allowed us to recover around 1 GB of files, higher than both Disk Drill’s 500 MBs and Data Recovery Wizard’s Zero MBs.
Here’s a quick guide on recovering data after formatting an SD card:
- Download, install, and open Disk Drill.
- Connect the formatted SD card to your computer.
- Select your SD card and click on Search for Lost Data.
- Choose the files you want to recover and click Recover.
- Select a secure recovery destination and click Next.
The question usually refers to the popular misconception that you can “save your files” from a problematic SD card using the CHKDSK and ATTRIB command-line tools. You can’t. With those, you can only:
- Hide and unhide files.
- Mark files as system-related or compressible.
- Check a storage device for errors and try to fix them.
You can recover files from a formatted SD card, or one with a corrupted file system or lost partitions, by using specialized software.
Disk Drill also offers a Mac version, and so does EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard. Other popular options are PhotoRec, R-Studio for Mac, and Lazesoft Mac Data Recovery.
Unfortunately, the answer is negative. That is, except if you’re referring to specialized data recovery equipment used by professional data recovery labs.
So, What’s the Best Solution for Formatted SD Card Recovery?
After evaluating everything each option brings to the table, we believe Disk Drill’s popularity is justified.
The final verdict?
- MiniTool’s Power Data Recovery will allow you to save more files in its fully-free tier, but might not find as many files as the other options. It also doesn’t offer any extra functionality.
- EaseUS’s Data Recovery Wizard works strictly as a demo of the full product.
- Disk Drill’s free version might restrict the amount of data you can recover in its free version, but includes its S.M.A.R.T. and byte-to-byte backup functionality. Those can help you monitor your devices for impending failure, but also save a backup of your precious data before you even purchase its full version.
Disk Drill costs a bit more than the other two solutions, but its lowest price tier doesn’t refer to a monthly plan like theirs. MiniTool’s lifetime option is also a bit more affordable than Disk Drill’s, but the tool doesn’t come with any extra features. EaseUS doesn’t offer any lifetime options, as far as we know.
Thus, like many others, we, too, would go for Disk Drill.
Odysseas Kourafalos started playing with technology over thirty years ago, with a Commodore 128. Instead of gaming with it, he ended up trying to learn what made games - and tech, in general - tick. Since then, he's used thousands of applications, from music trackers to video editing suites, on multiple platforms, and lived to write about them.
Andrey Vasilyev is an Editorial Advisor for Handy Recovery. Andrey is a software engineer expert with extensive expertise in data recovery, computer forensics, and data litigation. Andrey brings over 12 years of experience in software development, database administration, and hardware repair to the team.