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 notice a potential data loss, stop using the drive. If you keep using the drive, you will risk overwriting the files you wish to recover. This kind of data loss is a lot more difficult to overcome, so read through our article completely before you proceed.
Want to skip basics and jump straight to the recovery guide? Click here.
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. Before we try to recover files from formatted hard drives, let’s understand what formatting 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.The bottom line is that if your drive is corrupted, it might be possible to regain it’s functionality 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.
Can I Recover Data from Formatted Hard Drives?
The short answer is: Yes, you can. However, there are a few things that might make this process more or less tricky. Stick with us as we equip you with the information you need to make recovery formatted hard drives easily.
❓ What kind of hard drive are you using?
There are two common types of hard drives – HDDs and SSDs. This might feel like superfluous information, but there are key differences between the drives that make data recovery a little more nuanced.
- Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) store data physically (kind of like gramophones if you were around to see them!). When you write data onto them, they alter some parts of themselves magnetically. So even if you format data, it is still possible to recover it.👀
HDDs retain physical memories of your data, and hence it is possible to recover it more easily.
- Solid State Drives (SSDs) are a little more complicated. They use a command called TRIM that helps them decide which data blocks can be deleted, or rewritten on. The problem with this is that the SSD can access only the blocks holding the data. Whenever you delete data on it, TRIM wipes the data blocks completely. Therefore, when you format an SSD, it is much harder to recover data from it.❗️
SSDs lose all data when you format them, often to the point of making data recovery impossible. It is even more important to backup your data if you are using an SSD regularly.
❓ How Did You Format the Drive?
This might seem to be a stupid question at first glance – how does it even matter? Well, it does matter a lot. There are two types of formatting methods you could have used, but only one can be recovered easily.
- Quick format simply deletes the files from the drive. It then reconstructs the filesystem, while still retaining the data on the drive. If you quickly formatted your drive, you can still recover your data. But in no circumstance should you keep using the drive.❗️
If you keep using the formatted drive, you run the risk of overwriting your data. As we emphasized earlier, stop using the drive immediately until you read this article fully.
- Full format takes the previous method one step further. In older OS, this simply checked for bad sectors and fixed them. But nearly all newer OS updates delete data and overwrite it with zeroes. This completely removes all stored files permanently. Fully formatted drives cannot be recovered using recovery software.
How to Recover Data from Formatted Hard Drives
After reading our article so far, you probably know if you can recover data from your hard drive. Unlike other kinds of data loss, recovering data from formatted drives requires the use of data recovery software tools. Unfortunately, the internet is chock-a-block with conflicting information on the tools available, and it becomes impossible to select good software.
To make this a little easier for you, we decided to test out three of the most popular recovery tools for Windows. They are very well marketed and hence have gathered a lot of customer reviews. But are they as efficient as advertised?
We tested each tool using clones of the same hard drive, and the same computer. This is why we can objectively tell you what we think of them. We first quickly formatted all of the hard drives before using the recovery software. Read on to know how it 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.
Disk Drill can be quickly downloaded from their official website. The clean user interface guides you through the installation process and granting access privileges. The whole process took us about five minutes and the software was ready to go.
The quick scan method took Disk Drill about ten minutes. However, we found almost all of the files that we wanted. This was already a plus point. But as it still missed some files, we decided to run a deep scan to see if we could recover those.
The deep scan took longer, but getting a bit ahead, unlike Recuva, Disk Drill took only a couple of hours to scan our formatted drive. This time we found all of the files we wanted. The process of recovering them post this was easy, and we loved that we could filter the results in a lot of different ways.
Update: Version 5 of Disk Drill has merged these scanning methods into a single one. All you need to do is select the hard drive you want to scan, click “Search for lost data” and let Disk Drill do the job.
Finally, 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.
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 uses a freemium model, giving you the choice of recovering an unlimited amount of data for free. Any added functionality requires you to shell out some money, which then gives you access to customer support.
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.
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. You might need to format your drive if you cannot even access the data on it because of an incorrect file system.
Ensure you create a backup of your data before proceeding.
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.