If you’ve accidentally formatted your hard drive, SD card or USB stick it’s never a nice feeling and you might even think that your data is gone for good. However, there’s no need to panic as your data may still be recoverable.
In this post, we’ll show you exactly how to recover data from a formatted device using DIY methods. If you’ve deleted data then why not check out our previous article on that topic, or if your device is physically damaged then we’d always recommend speaking with a professional data recovery company to avoid damaging your device (and your data) further.
What happens when you format a device?
The term ‘formatting’, from a data storage technology perspective, refers to the practice of creating a file system on a device so data can be stored and read by other devices. We won’t get into too much technical detail here about how file systems work, but the main point to grasp is that any type of data storage media (like a hard drive, SD card or USB stick) is formatted with type of file system so your data can be recognised.
When you format a storage device you are essentially telling it to create a space where which files and folders can be saved (a new file system). In the process of doing this, the device will discard any previous files and folder structures and start over again. That’s fine if you’ve got a brand new storage device and you’re using it for the first time, but it’s not if you’ve already got data saved to it.
If you accidentally format your storage media it won’t completely erase existing data, but it will leave you in a situation where you can no longer view or access the files you had on there before. This is quite a common occurrence if you use SD cards in cameras or Android phones, but it’s also very easy to mistakenly format USB sticks and external hard drives that contain your personal data.
Attempting DIY data recovery
So if you accidentally format a device, what can you do? Like we mentioned in a previous post about how to recover deleted data, it’s very important to take some initial safety precautions when thinking about attempting any sort of DIY data recovery work.
Be sure to check out that post for full information on what to look out for, but as a basic rule of thumb it’s important to not save any more data to the device, as this can overwrite the files you’ve lost.
It’s worth noting that you can follow this process for any type of removable storage media, all you need is a Windows or Mac computer, your affected device and some reputable data recovery software, such as Ontrack EasyRecovery.
Make sure you’ve installed it on a different device to the one you’re trying to recover data from and you’ve connected your affected storage media as a removable device. If you’ve chosen Ontrack EasyRecovery, follow these simple steps to get your data back:
- Select the types of files you’d like to recover (e.g. photos, videos, or select all)
- Select the device you’ve accidentally formatted from the list and follow the recovery process
- If you can’t see your device, select ‘Can’t Find Drive’ and all of the hard drives connected to your system will be shown
- Choose your device and click ‘Search’ to find lost partitions
- Choose the partition you’d like to recover from and select ‘Scan’ to start the recovery process
When recovering your files, make sure that you recover them to a different location to the affected device. Once you’re certain you’ve recovered everything you need, you can go ahead and start using your device as normal again and save all of your data back to it.
Can’t find the data you need?
If you can’t find your device using the software, or your partition isn’t listed, try using the ‘Deep Scan’ option to conduct a more comprehensive search of your device.
If you’re still not getting any luck, it might be time to call in your local IT specialist or a professional data recovery company, as there could be a more serious problem with your device.
That concludes our walkthrough of how to recover data from a formatted device. If you’d like to download the free edition of Ontrack EasyRecovery (which lets you recover 1GB of data for free) you can do so via our website.
Have you used Ontrack EasyRecovery to recover your data? What did you think of the software? Let us know by tweeting @OntrackUKIE
Mikey has been with Ontrack for 6 years and is the Partner Program Manager, based out of the Epsom, UK office. He is a regular contributor to the Ontrack blog, usually writing about how different types of data storage technologies work. Outside of work you’ll find him either with a guitar in his hands or learning about rocket science.