The nightmare scenario where you have accidentally formatted a hard drive containing all of your valuable data is actually quite a common occurrence and is surprisingly easy to do by mistake (particularly if you have numerous drives attached to one PC).
Thankfully the accidental formatting of your hard drive does not necessarily mean a death sentence for all of your important files (photos, music, documents etc). How is this possible you might ask yourself? – well this becomes obvious once you understand what happens to your data if you accidentally press the “format” button:
Why Formatted Data Can Be Recovered
When data is saved to a hard drive it is stored in available or “free” sectors, these sectors are then marked as “used” and the information relating to these sectors are stored in header tables which tells the hard drive where that data can be found for future use. When a file is deleted (or the drive formatted) then the header tables are deleted and the sectors containing that data are marked as “available”. What is important is that the original data is still present however it can no longer be found without the associated header table information and can now be overwritten by new data (because sectors are now marked available).
Important – Because your valuable data is now sitting in “available” sectors it is absolutely vital that you do not install anything onto this hard drive (even data recovery software). For the best chance of recovering your data follow the steps below:
1) Remove Hard Drive. This will ensure that no new data is written over your lost data and enable you to attempt a software recovery from another machine.
2) Fit drive into an external hard drive enclosure so that you can access the drive from another PC or laptop (you can also use a USB-IDE or USB-SATA adaptor).
3) Install data recovery software on other machine. I would recommend using two separate programs to maximise your chances of recovery. I usually use Recuva (a free program from Comodo) and GetDataBack (a commercial product). In my experience Recuva is fantastic at recovering images and video whereas GetDataBack is superior at recovering documents and music which is why using both programs is preferable.
4) Scan drive and save the recovered data to a different drive. Consult the documentation for whichever program/programs you decide to use and make sure that you save any recovered files to a different drive from the one you are recovering data from (this is key to recover as much as your original data as possible).
Final Thoughts – With a bit of luck you should be able to recover most (if not all) of your data from your formatted drive. Success rates with USB drives may vary but generally PC and laptop hard drives can usually be recovered with some ease using the above method. If you are unsuccessful or can’t be 100% certain you have managed to retrieve all of your data then it would be advisable at this stage to consult a professional data recovery service.