Recover Formatted External Hard Drive in a 5 Simple Steps

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N. Lankevitch for pandorarecovery
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recover formatted external hard drive via disk drill

I mistakenly formatted my whole external hard drive. Is it possible to recover it?

A split-second after touching the Enter button you realize that you have accidentally formatted an external hard drive which contained many important folders and files. Panic may be your initial reaction as you assess the damage of the lost data. But as long as you immediately stop using the device, it is very likely that you can recover deleted files from a formatted external hard drive. This article shows you how to perform this magic in five simple steps.

How to Recover Files From External Hard Drive After Formatting

In this guide we will learn how to recover formatted external hard drive in a few simple steps. Good luck!

Step 1: Learn the Basics

The first thing you need to know if you inadvertently reformat an external hard drive is that the data has not been erased from the device. Formatting simply removes the logical links that allow Windows 10 or any other operating system to access the stored information. Until the storage space is overwritten by new data, the original contents of the drive can be recovered.
The best chance to undo the effects of an accidental format is to preserve the data that was stored on the device. Stop using it immediately to obtain the best results when attempting data recovery from a formatted external hard disk. Disconnect the drive from your computer until you are ready to restore the data from the HDD. Proceed to the next step to start recovering from your data loss.

Step 2: Download & Install Disk Drill

Disk Drill for Windows provides an intuitive and user-friendly data recovery application that runs on all versions of the operating system. Go to the PandoraRecovery website and download the software to your computer. Make sure not to use the drive that needs recovery for this task, as it may overwrite some of the data you want to restore.
Install the program by clicking on the downloaded file. You will be prompted for your administrator’s password to allow the tool to make system changes. Without this level of system access, Disk Drill cannot properly scan and recover your lost data. The app will not make any unauthorized changes to your system, so no need to worry about providing your credentials.

Step 3: Connect the Formatted External Hard Drive to a Computer

Once you have finished installing Disk Drill, you need to attach the external hard drive that is suffering from data loss to the computer. Take care when inserting the connector so it is not damaged and the device can be recognized by your operating system. Depending on the about of data that will be recovered, you may need to attach a second external drive to provide adequate storage capacity. You cannot recover the formatted files to the original drive without risking data corruption or overwriting the data as it is being recovered.

Step 4: Scan Your External Hard Drive

After connecting the external drive, launch Disk Drill and locate the formatted disk in the app’s main window. Select the drive and click the Search for lost data to start the scanning process. You can select the type of scan that you want to perform or let Disk Drill run through all of them in the optimal order. A quick scan may not recover all of the files but can be tried first to save time. If necessary, run the scan again as a deep scan which scavenges the drive for file fragments that can be reconstructed in over 400 file formats. Files recovered with a deep scan may have different file names which can easily be corrected by the user.

Step 5: Recover Your Lost Data

When the scan is complete you will be able to preview the files that Disk Drill can recover from the formatted external hard drive. The program displays windows that contain the various types of data that can be recovered, such as documents or images. Select the files that you want to recover and click the Recover button to begin the process. You will be prompted to choose a recovery location that should NOT be on the drive undergoing the recovery. We will mention this fact again as to ignore it puts your efforts at risk of data corruption and files being overwritten.
Once you have selected a safe storage location for the recovered files, click OK and let Disk Drill restore your valuable data. I’m sure you can breathe a little easier now.

Wrapping Up

Disk Drill data recovery software is the best way to recover files from a formatted external hard drive. Here’s the simplified version of the recovery steps you should follow.

To recover a formatted external hard drive:

  1. Download and install Disk Drill.
  2. Connect your external hard drive and launch the application.
  3. Select the drive from the disk list.
  4. Click the Search for lost data button to scan the drive.
  5. Preview and select the files to be recovered.
  6. Click the Recover button to perform the restore.
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Why Format a Hard Drive?

There are several reasons why you would want to format a hard drive. The trick is to make sure it’s the right one before going ahead with the procedure. Choosing the wrong disk or partition will have you firing up Disk Drill to save your data.

Some valid reasons for performing a hard drive format are:

  • Recovering from a hard disk crash. Your operating system may require a format before allowing the drive to be accessed or used.
  • Discovering firmware faults that are impacting the drive performance or leading to file corruption may require a format to resolve.
  • Removing malware or viruses may require you to format a drive. Simply removing the rogue file may not be enough to remove the threat.

How to Increase the Chances of a Successful Recovery

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of immediately ceasing to use the external drive as soon as it is formatted. This goes the same for any type of data deletion or unexplained loss of information. Continued use of the device exposes it to permanent data loss as the files are overwritten and are no longer available to be recovered by a recovery app. If you value the data on the affected drive, disconnect it from your computer until you are ready to perform the recovery.

Did You Know?

The fact that formatting does not erase your data may alert you to the potential dangers of information remaining on the drive if you sell it or give it to someone else. In those cases, you need to wipe the hard drive to remove traces of its previous data. A quick way to accomplish this is to perform a fresh reinstall of the operating system on the drive. This prevents the next owner from discovering your old files and folders.


Jeff Cochin is a data management and recovery professional, who has been with Pandorarecovery for nine years and has always been an essential part of the team. Jeff also works as a technical writer at Macgasm, being a first hand in testing, trying and writing about big and small tech software.
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Over 15 years strong experience in various fields and platform includes Disaster Recovery, Windows XP/7. System analysis, design, application (Inter/Intranet) development and testing. Provided technical supports on desktop and laptops on Win-XP and Macintosh for about 2000 employees.