Even accidental hard drive formatting is reversible, and we’ve curated the best solutions to help you recover your formatted hard drive in no time. But first…
The moment you realize that formatting has resulted in the loss of essential data on your hard drive, cease using it immediately. Continuing to use the drive could lead to overwriting the files you wish to retrieve, making the recovery process significantly more challenging. To better understand how to proceed, thoroughly read through our article.
Want to skip the basics and jump straight to the recovery guide? Click here.
Can I Recover Data from a Formatted Hard Drive?
The short answer is: Yes, you can. However, there are a few factors that may make this process more or less challenging. Stick with us as we equip you with the information you need to recover data from formatted hard drives easily.
❓ What kind of hard drive are you using?
There are two common types of hard drives – HDDs and SSDs. This may seem like superfluous information, but there are key differences between these drives that make data recovery a bit more nuanced.
- Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) store data physically (somewhat similar to gramophones if you’re familiar with those!). When you write data onto them, they alter some parts of their surfaces magnetically. As a result, even if you format the data, it is still possible to recover it.👀
HDDs preserve physical traces of your data, making it possible to recover the information more easily.
- Solid State Drives (SSDs) are a bit more complicated. They use a command called TRIM that helps them determine which data blocks can be deleted or overwritten. The issue with this is that the SSD can access only the blocks containing the data. Whenever you delete data on it, TRIM completely wipes the data blocks. Therefore, when you format an SSD, recovering data from it becomes significantly more challenging.⚠️
SSDs often lose all data when you format them, frequently making data recovery impossible. It’s even more important to back up your data if you regularly use an SSD.
❓ How Did You Format the Drive?
At first glance, this might seem like a trivial question – does it even matter? Well, it actually matters quite a bit. There are two types of formatting methods you could have used, but only one can be easily recovered from.
- Quick format simply removes the files from the drive and reconstructs the filesystem while retaining the data on the drive. If you performed a quick format on your drive, you can still recover your data. However, under no circumstances should you continue using the drive.⚠️
If you continue using the formatted drive, you run the risk of overwriting your data. As we emphasized earlier, stop using the drive immediately and read this article in its entirety before proceeding.
- Full format goes one step further than the previous method. In older operating systems, this process simply checked for bad sectors and fixed them. However, nearly all newer OS updates not only delete data but also overwrite it with zeroes. This action permanently removes all stored files. Data from fully formatted drives cannot be recovered using recovery software.
How to Recover a Formatted Hard Drive
Having read our article up to this point, you likely know whether or not you can recover data from your hard drive. Unlike other types of data loss, recovering data from formatted drives necessitates the use of data recovery software tools. Unfortunately, the internet is filled with conflicting information on the available tools, making it difficult to choose reliable software.
To make this process a bit easier for you, we decided to test three of the most popular recovery tools for Windows. These tools are heavily marketed and have consequently garnered numerous customer reviews. But are they as efficient as they claim to be? Let’s find out.
We tested each tool using clones of the same hard drive and the same computer. This approach allows us to objectively share our findings. We first quickly formatted all of the hard drives before using the recovery software. Read on to learn how it all worked out!
Option A: Disk Drill Data Recovery
Disk Drill is an emerging player and is steadily gaining significant traction in the data recovery market. Several users have praised its friendly interface and reliability. It can recover several kinds of drives and file types and is constantly being updated. To us, this means that the creators are always making sure that their performance does not dip, and that they take reviews and feedback seriously. We have extensively tested it in several other cases too.
Disk Drill runs on a freemium model, letting you restore up to 500 MB of data for free. It also has an integrated backup tool to ensure that you don’t run into recovery problems very often.
Download Disk Drill from the Cleverfiles’ official website. The clean user interface guides you through the installation process. The whole process took us about five minutes and the software was ready to go.
Caution! – Ensure that you install Disk Drill on a separate drive. If you download it on the formatted hard drive, it can lead to overwriting and permanent data loss.
Once you begin scanning your drive, Disk Drill’s advanced algorithm searches the formatted drive for traces of recoverable data. The entire scan may take some time, depending on the hard drive size. Disk Drill then allocates all existing files into specific categories – Pictures, Video, Audio, Documents, Archives, and other files. When we clicked Review Found Files, the data was divided into three categories – Deleted or Lost, Existing, and Reconstructed.
- 📁 Deleted or Lost: This category lists the files you lost during the hard drive format.
- ⚒️ Reconstructed: This category has files that Disk Drill found based on their structures. Disk Drill employs signature scans to find such files.
- 💾 Existing: Since you’re dealing with a formatted hard drive, chances are this category might be empty. However, this category is useful if you want to access files that you cannot normally access through File Explorer.
You can also type specific file extensions in the search bar to further filter your search results. After you’ve selected files for recovery, it’s simple enough to recover the files.
Disk Drill will ask you to specify the folder to select a target destination before completing recovery.
In our case, we were also able to open and use all the files we recovered. Disk Drill performed as advertised, which is rare for most software.
We did not run into any issues with Disk Drill. The user interface was clean and intuitive, and even the most basic users of our team found it easy to navigate. It worked as expected, and many customization options helped us zero in on missing files.
Did you know? We also put Disk Drill through rigorous testing to evaluate its safety and reliability for your PC, ensuring that it won’t cause any issues or harm your system during the data recovery process.
Option B: Recuva Data Recovery
Piriform, the team that made CCleaner, the tool that cleans up registry files, is also the mind behind Recuva. It is touted to be a simple but powerful tool for data recovery.
Recuva is a reliable recovery solution that allows you to recover files from a formatted hard drive for free. It is a fast, lightweight software solution that you can use to retrieve pictures, music, documents, videos, emails, and other important data. But any added functionality requires you to shell out some money, which then gives you access to customer support. Still, even its paid, professional version is quite budget-friendly.
The downloadable setup for Recuva is just over 7MB, making it quite light. There is also a portable version that you can keep handy on a different device or move around with you.
Installation is incredibly straightforward for basic users. Advanced users have some customization options, but these are not needed. We noticed that there hadn’t been an update for Recuva in a long time, which could mean that it is working as the creators intended!
We ran two scans on our test drive. The standard scan method was rapid and was completed in under ten minutes. This was great, as it took up only about 500MB of RAM, and we were able to keep using our PC. However, this did not return all of our files, and many that we were looking for were missing.
We then ran a deep scan, hoping that it would redeem the software. This time, Recuva did work, and we found the files we had formatted. Although it took over 24 hours, we could still use our PC.
Strangely though, we had errors when we tried to open the files that we recovered. Recuva managed to locate our files, but they had metadata issues. This was extremely disappointing, as we could now see our files, but any further actions could overwrite the data completely.
Solving the above issue became a bigger problem because of the lack of customer support. We had to turn to user forums to find out what was happening. But even with a lot of troubleshooting and trying out several different configurations, we were still unable to retrieve our data.
Option C: EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard
This recovery tool, as it says on the cover, works like a wizard. It guides you through the process of data recovery, taking the stress of selecting options off your shoulders. It works with several file formats but also handles different kinds of drives like Disk Drill. Check out our experience using this tool.
We used the free trial version of the software to run our tests. The installation was simple. All we had to do was download and run the file. This took less than a minute to set up.
The quick scan from EaseUS was incredibly fast, taking less than a minute to complete. This was awesome at first glance, but we noticed that several files were missing. We would rather have the software take a little longer but return more complete results.
We then ran the advanced scan, which took about four hours to complete. This was again surprisingly fast, making us momentarily happy. But as with the quick scan, the advanced scan missed several lost files. However, we were still pleased with the filter options to narrow down to the desired file. It was just disappointing that we could not find some files.
Overall, EaseUS was user-friendly. It did a good job of hand-holding us through the recovery process. We were also able to at least partially recover our lost data. The files we recovered were also fully functional. The problem with EaseUS is perhaps with its algorithms that take shorter durations to look for data. This is a double-edged sword, as it makes part of the lost data immediately accessible, while it is unable to recover all of the data.
Of the three most popular software, we found that Recuva did not actually work for us. It found all of our files after some trial and error, but we were unable to actually get them to work. EaseUS did work as advertised, but there were large gaps in its scanning methods that did not get us all of our files back. Disk Drill worked most efficiently, and we recovered all of our lost data, but it took a lot longer for the process to complete.
We strongly suggest avoiding Recuva because of our experience with it. If you are in a hurry and don’t mind not having all of your files back, EaseUS is not a bad choice. However, if you can wait and want every last bit of your data back, Disk Drill is the most efficient and reliable of the three.
Is It Possible to Recover a Formatted Hard Drive from Backup?
Maintaining backups insure you against unpredictable data mishaps. You can use the Windows File History & Backup and Restore options to recover formatted data.
File History creates incremental backups of your files by storing multiple file versions with timestamps. As a result, you can easily restore previous versions of your files. Backup and Restore is another backup tool that performs destructive backups, meaning your previous backups get overwritten by recent versions.
However, these methods would be beneficial only if you previously performed a backup using these features. Keep in mind, both these methods would only work if the drive with the backups remained untouched.
To recover data from a formatted hard drive with File History:
- Search for Restore files with File History, then open the control panel.
- Ensure that the File History option is turned on. Now, choose an external device as the destination to restore backups and click Run Now.
- Select the Restore personal files option.
- Choose folders, individual files, or multiple files that you would like to retrieve, and click on the green Restore icon. Your files will then be recovered to their original location.
To recover data from a formatted hard drive with Backup and Restore:
- In the Search box, type backup.
- Select Backup and Restore, then click the Restore my files button.
- Locate the files you want to recover and select the location where you’d want the files to be restored. Ensure that you don’t use the formatted hard disk for this.
- Click the Restore button to get back your files from the backup.
What is Hard Drive Formatting? Do I Even Need to Format my Hard Drive?
The process of formatting has earned itself a bad rep. From a layperson’s perspective, it sounds like an incredibly scary thing that leads to complete data loss and endless trouble. Perhaps surprisingly, though, formatting your drives can be recommended in certain cases. Let’s explore what formatting actually does.
Let’s clear one thing from the get-go: Formatting your drives is not as permanent as it looks, and you can recover data if you accidentally formatted your hard drive.
Formatting erases the data currently on your hard drive so that new files can be written onto it. This process ensures that it has a file system compatible with your device, and therefore readies it for storing new data.
You might need to format your hard drive if:
- You changed file systems recently: Different devices, especially those with different operating systems, have specific file systems. This makes it nearly impossible to use drives between devices. If you switch between OS, you might need to format your hard drive before it can be used with the new OS.
- You are selling/getting rid of your hard drive: We often store sensitive information on our drives. If we are giving these drives to third parties, we run the risk of unknowingly sharing our data with them. In such cases, simply deleting files from the drive is a security concern. Formatting the drive ensures a fresh start for the new user and a stress-free transfer for you.
- Your drive has become corrupted and you are unable to use it: Some common causes of drive corruption are:
- Fluctuating power supply
- Mechanical failure
- File corruption
- Firmware problems
The bottom line is that if your drive is corrupted, it might be possible to regain functionality on it by formatting it. In some cases, you won’t be able to even access your data since your operating system will require you to format the drive after you’ve connected it.
Remember that formatting the drive will cause you to lose all important data on it, and it is impossible to literally unformat a disk. Despite the fact that data from formatted disks can be recovered in certain cases, even in a perfect scenario, there is always a chance of losing some or all of it.
Hard Drive Formatting Classified
There are two basic kinds of drive formatting processes that have different uses.
When you badly corrupt the hard drive to a point where you cannot recover it, or you need to clear it of viruses, you might need to format the drive to make it usable again. This is quickly done using low-level formatting.
Low-level formatting overwrites the data on your drive with zeros but also reduces the lifespan of your drive. Only format your drive if absolutely necessary.
You can use this formatting method via:
- CMOS of motherboards
- Tools from the manufacturer of the hard drive
- Third-party software
This method is usually used to initialize drives or change their file system or sizes. High-level formatting removes the data on your drive and marks bad sectors to fix them. This is also called quick formatting in layman’s terms. Data formatted in such a way can still be recovered.
You can use high-level formatting through:
- The format options in Windows
- Command-line options
- Third-party tools
Tips to Securely Format Hard Drives in Windows
Formatting your drive without data loss is tricky, but not impossible. In such cases, you need to extract your data before formatting with specialized software or make a byte-by-byte copy of your disk. After ensuring that your data is intact, you may proceed with formatting the disk.
Here are a couple of ways to get started:
- Connect the hard drive to the computer.
- Go to File Explorer, right-click on the drive and select Format.
- In the menu that pops up, be sure to select Quick Format.
- Do not write any more data to the drive, and use a recovery tool to get your data back.
Use Disk Management
- Right-click on My Computer and select Manage to launch Disk Management.
- Select the hard drive and format.
Data recovery from formatted hard drives is a little trickier than recovering them from any other disk. Once you have determined that you can recover your data, the rest of the process is straightforward. At this point, you know the tools you need to recover your data, so go, get it back!
Joshua is a content curator for Handy Recovery. His expertise involves taking intricate IT concepts and breaking them down into super easy to understand chunks. He’s been wielding the writing sword for quite some time now - 3 years to be precise. Digital marketing, data recovery, and anything “techy” are Joshua’s niches.
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.