Data Recovery After Format

by Rod Dunne on December 11, 2010

in Articles, Data Recovery

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Data recovery after formatting a disk drive is a fairly standard operation to attempt. How successful the recovery is depends greatly upon the nature of the formatting (if it fully wipes the drive). Here, we’ll look at some of the hard-drive and USB data recovery software available to help salvage data, along with some background knowledge on what formatting/deletion actually does to the hard disks.

If you are at all nervous about attempting a data recovery, then leave this up to a computer doctor or data recovery experts to complete.

Recommended Software

Remo Undelete: Data recovery software capable of retrieving lost, deleted and formatted data. Supports FAT/NTFS and runs on all Windows OS; Free trial scan now available.

Remo Undelete | PC Maintenance Software | Click Here For A Free Scan


Before getting into how to complete a data recovery after format, it is worth knowing how recovery software actually salvages the files off of your desktop or laptop hard drives.

The Windows operating system (Windows 7, Vista or XP computer) stores files on the drives in what are called data clusters with each cluster’s size determined by the file allocation table (FAT). The FAT is an important file that keeps an index of all the clusters and the association between the file you see on your desktop and the numerous clusters used to store this single file.

When a drive is formatted, or files are deleted on a computer or the drive, the data clusters are not actually cleared out or wiped*. What happens is that an attribute for each file detailing its directory location is reset to reference the Recycle Bin – the clusters are left unaltered (this is why software can recover hard disk files using the clusters). The FAT file is updated to reflect the fact that the associated clusters are now free for use (for writing to).

*Wiped: Note that some formatting applications (evidence removers) work by writing random information to all the clusters in order to effectively wipe the data from the drive. Formatted data recovery, in this instance, is near impossible to achieve. See our post on how to wipe a computer.

Recovery software all recover lost data in the same way by checking the FAT for files marked for deletion and scanning the hard-drive and trying to establish which data clusters can be formed into files. The more professional products will be better at piecing together the data clusters. The same tools will work for recovering deleted data or finding files on a formatted drive – the scanning process is the same.

These tools will only work properly on healthy disk drives so if you need to make a hard drive crash recovery following flooding/fire/physical damage to the computer then you should use data recovery experts capable of mechanical recovery.

Recovery Software

The thing to note is that there are not specialized formatted data recovery tools – most Windows data recovery software can analyze a formatted drive and report back on any files that they find in the FAT/cluster. How successful the files recovery process can be depend on how many data clusters are left unchanged following formatting.

  • Free Tools
    If you wish to do a simple data recovery then choosing a data recovery freeware option may suffice. The TestDisk and PhotoRec tools (both by CG Security are rudimentary tools that operate by displaying a file browser of the formatted drive. The user interface is a little clunky but the actual data recovery process is quite effective.
  • Commercial Recovery Software
    Low cost data recovery
    products like Remo Undelete (all Windows platforms) has been in production for years, have an easy to use interface and are capable of restoring files off of most drives. Both products offer a free trial, so at the very least you can scan the drive to check for files without having to purchase a license (it is only required when you wish to restore/recover the files to another location).
    Commercial applications  are usually better than free-ware as they can recover formatted data even when the FAT is cleared of useful information and it is necessary to piece together the clusters into identifiable lost documents.

Remo Undelete | PC Maintenance Software | Click Here For A Free Scan

Related Posts:
Data Recovery USB – Simple Guide To Using Software To Recover Lost Files From USB/Flash Devices
A guide to system restore software.
Using cheap hard drive recovery software to repairs disk sector faults.
Using the Windows XP recovery disk to repair/reinstall the OS.

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