Hard Drive

How to Unformat a Hard Drive on a Windows Computer

5 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutesMany users find themselves looking for a way to unformat a hard drive, after discovering it contained important data, at the time of formatting. By unformat, we mean that they are looking for ways to retrieve their data. In this article, we’ll take a look at how you can recover the lost data from your HDD, effectively unformatting it.

What Is the Process of Formatting a Hard Drive

The process of formatting effectively removes all the data from your hard drive, and renews the file system. It can be done to prepare the hard disk drive for initial use, or simply as a way to wipe all data and get a fresh start. It is also an effective way to remove certain malware from your PC.

There are two major types of formatting processes:

  • Low-level Formatting: Simply put, low-level formatting is the formatting process used to prepare the HDD for its very first use. Thus, it’s typically performed by the manufacturer before they ship the drive. In some cases, users can perform low-level formatting, but it requires specialized tools and is time-consuming.
    During low-level formatting, tracks and cylinders are marked out on the HDD, that are further subdivided into sectors. A low-level format is irreversible, i.e. there’s no way to unformat a hard drive after low-level formatting. The only time there is no data whatsoever, on your hard disk drive, is after a low-level format.
  • High-level Formatting: This is the kind of formatting, users may be more familiar with. High-level formatting is performed by users, most commonly when installing a new OS. It creates a file system, system structure and volume label for use. After this, new data can be written to the hard disk drive.
    When you reformat a hard drive on Windows, it’s typically done using a high-level format. The data is wiped out and the file system is renewed. But, the data is not completely lost, it’s simply marked as non-existent, so that new data can be written to the drive.
    As long as you don’t write new data to the drive, you can unformat a drive that was underwent a high-level format, provided you act quickly and use a good data recovery program.

On Windows, users can format their drive using the File Manager, Disk Management, or the Diskpart command line utility. All these utilities only perform a high-level format.

Can You Unformat a Hard Drive?

Yes, it’s possible to unformat a hard drive, in certain scenarios. By unformat, we mean, that you can recover any data that was lost during formatting. In the table given below, we’ll take a look at possible formatting related scenarios and the data recovery chances in each of them:

Formatting ScenarioData Recovery Possibility and Solution
High-level full format using WindowsA full format, performed using Windows, is irreversible and contacting a data recovery service is your best bet. Data recovery cannot recover data from a drive that was formatted with the Quick Format option unchecked.
High-level Quick Format using WindowsYou can undo a Quick Format and restore your data using data recovery software. It’s recommended to not use the storage drive, lest you overwrite the previous data.
Low-level formatYour data is completely wiped out after a low-level format, and it’s impossible to get back your data in this case.

From the table above, it’s clear that a Quick Format is the easiest to reverse. This mainly applies to HDDs, since most SSDs come with a TRIM feature that wipes out data completely, as soon as it is deleted.

Besides internal HDDs, data recovery software is also effective when you want to unformat a removable hard drive.

Again, it’s imperative that you act ASAP, as delaying data recovery increases the chances of users and normal Windows operations, overwriting the data that was lost during formatting.

How to Unformat a Hard Drive on Windows

As explained in the previous sections, data recovery programs can be used to essentially unformat a hard drive on Windows. But, it’s important to choose a good data recovery program that will not further escalate data loss and offers high data recovery rates.

In this article, we’ll use Disk Drill, since it ticks all boxes of a good data recovery program. It’s easy to use, even for beginners, and has a spectacular track record of recovering data for users and businesses located around the globe. It even has a free trial that lets you recover up to 500 MB data for free on Windows.

Note: Download and install Disk Drill on a storage drive that is unaffected by data loss. Simply connect the drive to the affected Windows computer and follow the steps below to recover formatted files.

Let’s take a look at how to recover data from an accidentally formatted hard drive, using Disk Drill:

  1. Download Disk Drill and install it using the setup wizard. Ensure you have administrative privileges.
  2. Open Disk Drill, select the partition or drive you had formatted and want to recover data from.
  3. Click on the Search for lost data.Disk Drill home screen.
  4. Wait for Disk Drill to finish scanning your drive and then click on Review found items. You can also filter items directly, by clicking the relevant file type.Review found items screen.
  5. Now, using the checkbox next to each file, select the files you want to recover. Click on the Recover button.File recovery screen in Disk Drill.
  6. Choose a recovery destination for the files and click on OK. Choose a different storage drive or partition than the one that was formatted.Recovered files destination selection screen.
  7. After the recovery is complete, you can click the View recovered data in Explorer and Disk Drill will open a Windows Explorer window that contains the restored files.File recovery complete screen in Disk Drill.