How To Recover Data From A Formatted Hard Drive

March 27, 2018

Computer Data Recovery Brookfield WI

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.

25 Comments

  • Bram vandenbroeck March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    i got data off a bad IDE 2,5 inch 80Gb Toshiba hard drive, the drive ball bairings got sticky so the drive wasn't happy when it spinned up, it couldn't achieve its 4200rpm and it was making awfull squeeky sounds, so i turned the drive upside down, and i took a hair dryer and set it to very hot, i blew the hot air with a home made tube on the center of the spindel motor and once it got hot enough, the drive actually was accessible! I could get the precious data of of it and i made a persons day 🙂

  • Lisa Love March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Seagate and Toshiba make lousy drives. Finally I got a Verbatim 1TB with a Sony HDD inside 2 years later good as new

  • T M March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    I wonder if there's a how to basic about data recovery

  • Me Here March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    The condensation that you showed was from your environment which is not climate controlled, as well as, your breath. Handling a drives PCB (electronics) is your bare hands is also a do NOT do in the industry.

  • Zakk Gardner March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    If your goal here is to keep hard drives out of the freezer you may want to change the title of this video.

  • Zoony FireballXL55 March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Hi I know it is a long time since you did this but when you took the drive out of the bag was it still cold?. If so then moisture would freeze on the platters from the air as you open it.

    The reason I say this I had a drive from a apple cinema that would not boot and I could not get much if any data off it.

    I put it in a freezer inside bags but connected to a USB to SATA interface. 24H later I left it in the freezer and powered it up and got 92Gb off it and the user was over the moon.

    I don't know if it was the board or the mechanics that was faulty but it did work.

    But I have never been able to repeat it properly again.

  • William Langfield March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Why not just use FREEZE spray (or even a can of compressed air – used close by that stuff cools stuff fast too) the PCB instead of throwing the whole HDD in a freezer.
    I kinda wasn't paying to this guys ravings anyway, just thought from what part of it I actually heard while doing more important things.
    BTW: This is the first I've heard of HDDs being frozen in an attempt to 'repair' them! -B!LL!

  • duthies March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Don't get me wrong, I think you're bang on the money discouraging people from doing this, but your reasoning is wrong.

    "After 5 hours, it's pretty obvious you can see, theres already crystallisation on the platter itself"

    This crystallisation is not the result of being in the freezer for 5 hours. This crystallisation is the result of condensation settling then freezing on the drive surface.

    I'm not saying that there was no moisture in the drive whatsoever, but everything that we see in this video settled on that drive after you broke the seal.

    You can see in your video how fast the condensation is settling and freezing, it happens before our eyes – between the first time you show us the platter at 9.52 to only a minute later the platter went from mostly reflective to nearly completely opaque.
    The only reason we see the edges slightly misty when you first open the drive is because you were letting moisture in from 9.16 to 9.52 after breaking the seal.

  • Theodore Zuckerman March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    You put the drive in a frost-producing freezer. Putting it in a frost-free freezer would seem to cause less ice-crystals to form.

  • shaymo mitchell March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    If you put a HDD in the freezer you should not be allowed with in 100 ft of a PC or laptop

  • 33 Christyle March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Metal to the microwave???? are you crazy? Why do you lie to people?

  • xeno neomorph March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    can you not put the ocb in the freezer

  • ACS Data Recovery March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    It's been over 3 years now and we are still waiting for someone to post a video of an actual failed hard drive being recovered using the freezer method. I don't mean a drive that just reads slow…I mean a clicking drive that is completely undetectable. If it works so well…show us. This video is not meant as a scare tactic or a way to boost our business…it's to show people why they shouldn't attempt this if they have irreplaceable data. In case you missed it, we have another freezer video using even better safety precautions. It ended up killing a perfectly functional drive. Link here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYY-Ixq_g-0

  • tenmillionvolts March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Had an 11 year old Fujitsu 2.5" drive with errors all over it. Freezing worked again. Windows files were too badly gone even with Windows repair but got all of client's data. This time I dribbled freeze spray on the bearing casing during a force clone as it didn't respond as well to a full freeze. Looks like it was definitely bearing play in this instance.
    Remember: only try these techniques if you want to dabble with recovery when data is not critical. Take it straight to an expert if in doubt.

  • Branden March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Why is Danny McBride telling me to freeze my hard drive?

  • sgdeluxedoc March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Wish I'd known that earlier.. Perhaps I could have just done a platter swap, but now mine is likely trashed. I had never heard of that "old wives' tale", incidentally.. It's only that mine was running so hot that I thought that was making the error rate much worse. Helped for a few minutes only… I have a virtual drive with my XP Serial on it, and no backup of either the nunber or the data, which was many hundreds of hours of fine tuning a visual pinball installation. I'm just not going to go through another half a year of that again.. S, in immortal words of Ricky Ricardo..
    ..Don' go freez the hardd driver.. Lucie.. or it'll 'splode' 😉

  • Dcconnect1 March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Not saying that I would ever attempt this, but I thought the silica gel would take care of moisture inside.

  • Hired Gun March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    easy fix for frosting , use a single bag, throw a couple silica dessicant bags in with it

  • torchos March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    WD drives suck! period. Failure rate on them is far above almost any other major drive manufacturer. He who has made a backup laughs last.  Buy two drives identical from same batch of drives from manufacturer (check on drive boxes to ensure). This ensures you have identical hardware should 1 drive fail. In the video you state at top of video that freezing sometime does help so a bit of a contradiction.

  • Sebazboy music production March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    i put mine in plastic bag ant put back in pc quk this hard drive runs idle 57 degrees so and i format it and put back no bad sectors

  • Foolish Dizzlepop March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    This is actually not true. When you open it, the outside air touches the code drive, therefore creating a layer of frost. It doesn't kill your drive.

  • TSpider Keeper March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Some people must ot know what backup data means.If they did hate to say this but truth be.They would not need to pay for professional data recovery.All it takes it backing files up on a usb flash drive thats very important to you.Or could back up an entire hd with acronis or similar.To save in this situation.

  • tenmillionvolts March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    The freezer trick has worked many times for me. NOTE: as ACS have mentioned in the video, it shouldn't be attempted if you have data that absolutely must be recovered. Just take it to a recovery company such as them immediately. The data I'm recovering for clients is simply not worth the large cost of professional recovery so I have nothing to lose.

    I have had drives that are undetectable, click of death, read error reports etc. Most have been recoverable by freezing. I had a WD blue drive last week that was really bad so I had a bag of ice on it while force cloning. Went from totally undetectable to a continuous but slow transfer. Recovered all data. The condensation on the platters does not seem to stop the heads from reading and even the pcb doesn't seem to mind frost and moisture but as I said, don't try it unless you have nothing to lose 🙂 I have recovered around 12 drives of various types and brands by freezing.

    Ps, have tried using freeze spray on pcb with limited success. It seems that freezing the whole drive is best. I'm thinking bearing wear may be the culprit as concentrating the ice on the frame and bearing seems to give best results normally. Any thoughts??

  • Fatih taşdemir March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    i this did 15-20 minutes waited am i. however still disc boot failure. either keyboard running won't

  • whitestriderable March 27, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    If you have important data on you hd I think that you don't try some diy remedies…If, like me, you have some data you'd like to recover, but nothing very important (mp3s, videos…), I'm sure you could even try all the dummiest things!!

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