One of the most common data loss scenarios for a Windows user happens when a PC hard drive is accidentally reformatted. This is a common mistake because when Windows is not recognizing a drive properly, a pop-up will notify you that the drive needs to be formatted before it can be used.

It can also happen if a drive is reformatted when upgrading to a new operating system. If you are a Windows user and have lost data as a result of accidental reformatting, this post will teach you about how Data Rescue PC can be used to recover formatted hard drives.

Things to Know Before Recovery

Modern hard drives use something called a file system to logically control and organize the way data is read and written to your storage device. It essentially acts as the directory for file and folder names that tells your computer where the contents of a file are located on your hard drive. When a hard drive is formatted, this file system is re-written, meaning the file names are no longer linked to the actual content of your files on your hard drive, and all areas on your hard drive are considered to be available free space.

The good news is that your files are not actually lost in this process. Using software such as Data Rescue PC, you can scan the entire drive to search for file patterns, and your files can be reconstructed if they have not yet been overwritten.

The first step in any data recovery scenario should be to minimize or eliminate the use of the computer or hard drive until you are able to use data recovery software. As you can recall from earlier, the locations of your old files on your hard drive are now considered to be available free space, so you will want to minimize the amount of new data being written to your device to prevent your lost files from being overwritten before recovery.

This means that if you have an accidentally re-formatted external hard drive, you will want to either disconnect the device entirely or ensure you do not save new files to the device. For an internal drive (that is not so easily disconnected), minimize your usage of the computer when possible, since activities as simple as web browsing or audio/video streaming can save temporary files to your computer.

Downloading, Installing, and Activating Data Rescue PC

Depending on what drive you have reformatted, there are a couple of ways the software can be used:

  • If you have accidentally formatted an external drive for Windows, you can simply download and install the Data Rescue software to your computer as a normal application, with no risk of overwriting any files on the external device.

  • If you have reformatted your internal drive and reinstalled Windows, you can still download and install the software as described above, however the small application download itself could potentially overwrite a very small number of your files.

  • If you want to completely eliminate the chance of overwriting data on a formatted internal drive, or you have not reinstalled Windows, you can use another Windows computer and our LiveUSB Creator Tool to download and install Data Rescue PC to a USB drive. Alternatively, you can purchase an optional pre-configured bootable USB directly from our website when purchasing the software.

Since there is a possibility that some of your files may be damaged or overwritten after a drive is accidentally reformatted, you will first want to try the demo version, as this has the same scan engine as the full version of the software, and has a built in preview feature that allows you to open and play any file listed in the scan results. This will help you determine if your files are damaged or corrupted, or if they can be successfully recovered using the full version of Data Rescue PC.

To download the demo of Data Rescue PC, visit our Downloads Page and select Data Rescue PC4 (requires Windows 7 or later, for earlier versions of Windows you can use Data Rescue PC 3).

Next, enter your email address and click the Download button. You will be sent an email to the provided address that contains a link to download the Data Rescue application, LiveUSB Creator, and your Demo Version Serial Number. You can copy this serial number so that it can be pasted directly into the software activation window.

After clicking on the download link in your email and running the downloaded file, you will be presented with the following screen:

Data Rescue PC Install

Press “Next” to continue with the installation. You will then be presented with the software License Agreement. Select “I Agree” to continue with installation.

The setup will ask where you would like to install the software, by default this will be in your Program Files folder.

Click “Browse…” if you would like to change your install location, and press Install. When the installation is finished, you will see the following screen with a checkbox option to launch the software. Keep this checked or, if you’d like to perform your recovery later, you can launch Data Rescue from its install directory you selected above:

Launch Downloaded Data Rescue PC

Click “Finish” to launch the software.

With the software open, you will again be presented with the software License Agreement. Press “I Agree” to continue to the Registration window shown below, where you can paste your Demo Serial Number (or Full Version Serial Number if you have already purchased the software):

Activate Data Rescue PC Recovery Software

Press the “Activate” button after entering your serial number to proceed to the software as described in the sections below.

Scanning a Formatted Drive Using Data Rescue PC

Upon launching Data Rescue PC and activating the software, the first screen will be the Wizard, which allows you to select a Source you would like to scan for recovery. You can also access the Wizard at any time by going to File -> Wizard or pressing CTRL + W. An example Wizard screen is shown below:

Source List of Available Drives

Select the Physical Hardware name of the accidentally formatted drive from the Source list. A Physical Name will be listed with (Drive #) after its size, whereas a Partition will show the drive letter in parentheses, and be slightly indented below the Physical Name. For recovering from a formatted device, you will need to select the Physical Name. In the above example, we will be scanning the highlighted General USB Flash Disk (Drive 1), a 16GB USB drive that contained a collection of pictures and document files before being accidentally formatted using Windows built in format utility.

Once you have selected your accidentally formatted drive, press the “Scan” button to continue to the following screen:

Data Rescue PC Scan Results

On this screen, you can confirm the Source you selected in the previous screen. This is also where you can Load Scan Results from a previous scan (saving scans in Data Rescue PC will be covered below).

After confirming your selection, press “Start” to begin scanning the reformatted hard drive. The actual scan can take some time to complete, even up to 5-8 hours per 1TB being scanned, as long as the drive being scanned is not damaged in any way.

Once the scan completes, Data Rescue PC will open the following prompt asking if you would like to save your scan to a file:

Save the Scan to a File

To ensure you do not need to run another scan, we always recommend saving the scan results in case you must recover at a later time.

Press “Yes” to open the Window below, which will allow you to select a location to save the Scan.bin file. In this example, the scan result list is being saved to the Desktop:

Choose Location to Save Hard Drive Scan Results

After selecting a location to save your Scan.bin file, press “Save” to continue to the scan results screen.

Previewing Scan Results For A Formatted Drive

Once you complete the scan of your device that was reformatted, you may or may not be presented with a Partition List. For a formatted device, select the last option “Found Files – Raw Sectors”. To change your partition, or confirm you have selected the correct one, you can press the “Select Partition” button at the top of the scan results, or go to Tools -> Select Partition.

If you are not prompted to choose a partition, simply continue following the directions below.

The Scan Results screen for the example USB drive is shown below. Your screen will look slightly different depending on the type of files that were previously stored on the device before it was accidentally formatted:

Data Rescue PC Found Files Folders

As you can see in the above image, the raw contents of files are grouped by file category. This is done because files lost when formatting a hard drive are no longer associated with their file or folder names (as described in the first section of this post).

The files will be given generic names, and grouped by File Extension in their respective folders. You will then have to preview or open the files for the file type you are looking for so that you can verify the contents of a file and identify it.

Below you can see the scan results screen further expanded to show the JPEG and PNG subfolders in the Pictures directory. As you’ll recall from the example, this USB contained pictures and documents before being accidentally formatted:

Data Recovery Software Recovered Files

From the results shown above, it looks like the software was able to identify file patterns for a number of PNG image files. To verify that these are the correct files, we can select an individual file and preview its contents.

To preview an individual file, highlight the file and go to Tools -> View File. You can also press ALT + V with the file selected, or right click the file and choose “View”.

Make sure you preview several of your files to identify them and make sure they were not damaged when the device was accidentally formatted.

Marking Files for Recovery with Data Rescue PC

To mark or unmark a file for Recovery, press the Space key with a file highlighted, or right click the file and press “Check”.

You can also mark entire folders from the directory list to check all contained files, as shown in the example below where all PNG files have been selected for recovery from the formatted device:

Select the Recovered Files You Want

With all the lost PNG files verified and marked, we are now ready to recover the files from the reformatted hard drive.

Recovering Formatted Files Using Data Rescue PC

At this point we have previewed scan results to make sure the files are intact, and marked the files we’d like to recover. If you have not reached this point or had trouble with any of the previous steps, feel free to review previous sections or contact our support team.

With the files marked that you’d like to recover, press the “Recover” button in the bottom right of the Data Rescue window. If you are using the Demo Version you will receive the following prompt:

Purchase Data Rescue PC to Recover Your Data

Clicking on the Upgrade button will take you to the Software Registration window, where you can enter your Full Version serial number. If you have not yet purchased the software, press “Purchase” to go to our Website, where the software can be purchased to recover the files you have identified and marked. You can also access the activation window by going to Help -> Software Registration.

Once the Full Version of Data Rescue PC is activated, you will be automatically taken to the Select Destination Folder Screen after pressing “Recover”:

Choose the Location to Send the Recovered Files To

From this window, you can select where you would like to recover the files to. In our example, we are saving the files to the desktop since we scanned an external USB drive.

You can select any location, as long as it is not on the same accidentally formatted drive that you have scanned for recovery. You could potentially overwrite files that still need to be recovered, so Data Rescue PC never allows you to write to a Source drive.

After selecting a destination location, press the Save button and you will be prompted with the total number of files and amount of data selected for recovery. Press “Recover” to confirm.

Once the recovery is complete, you will be prompted again with the total amount of data and number of files recovered. Press “OK” to confirm.

You have now successfully recovered your files from an accidentally formatted hard drive!

To access the files, simply navigate to the hard drive or folder you selected as your destination. From here you can open, rename, and reorganize files as needed. Once you have confirmed that you have recovered all data from the formatted drive, we recommend making a backup of the recovered data. You can then use the accidentally formatted drive again once the files have been safely recovered, allowing the old files to be overwritten naturally.