Simple Guide to Recovering Formatted External Hard Drive on a Mac or PC

An external hard drive often acts as the perfect hub for data backups. When it's getting full, you need to free more space for saving new files. It can be quite time-consuming to clean up massive files and folders manually. Instead, we are used to taking the quick cut — reformat it.

While it does save lots of time and energy, but sometimes the eager of releasing more storage space overrides the awareness of double-checking everything to make sure critical data have been transferred.

That's how disaster strikes — you formatted an external hard drive, only to find that you've some valuable data yet to be backed up. Does that mean you lose the data forever? Not really.

In this article, we'll walk you through and show you how to recover data from a formatted external hard drive. The only assisting device is a computer, Windows or Mac OS X, doesn't matter.

Why recovering formatted hard drive is possible?

When you quick formatted a drive (an internal computer hard drive or an external HDD), the data contained in the files are not erased immediately. All it does is zero out the index of the items you've saved on the disk. However, the real data remain intact until they are fully written over. Eventually, that will happen with additional data writing activities you generate on the hard drive.

The good news is if you use an HDD, it can take a decent amount of time, e.g. days even months for your lost data to be overwritten, because its volume tends to be big these days. However, if you use an SSD, it's another story due to the way SSDs manage files. The moment you remove something from the drive, new data may immediately occupy the space your lost files originally take. Once overwritten, there's no way to retrieve the data.

First things first — stop using your external drive

You see, the more data you write to your drive, the higher the chances are that your precious files would be written over. That means do not attempt to store any new files on it. Also, if you can, unplug it from your computer and put it in a safe place to avoid any physical damage. Next, you can use a recovery software to try retrieving the data. Below are two tutorials: one on a Mac; the other on a PC.

How to recover formatted external drive on a Mac?

Preparation: take your external drive out, plug it into your Mac via a USB cable. Make sure your Mac can detect the drive normally. If it can't, check if the connection port has dust and clean it first.

Step 1: Download Stellar Mac Data Recovery program and follow the instruction to install it on your Mac machine. Open the software and you'll see the main screen like this (see image below). Click "Start new Scan" to continue.

Step 2: Now select a scanning method. To recover formatted drive, choose "Raw Recovery" and hit "Start Scan" to continue.

Step 3: Next, select the volume on the left pane. The program will then start searching any recoverable data from that drive.

Step 4: Now it's time to show patience. Depending on the size of your external hard drive, it may take minutes or even hours to finish the scan. Be sure your Mac is not set to auto sleep.

Step 5: Preview found files while the scan is complete. Check and select those you'd like to pull back and recover them.

Pro tips: to avoid data overwritten situation, do not directly save recovered files back to your formatted drive. Instead, save them to your Mac hard drive first, then transfer them back to your external drive later if you want.

How to recover formatted external drive on a Windows PC?

Preparation: similar to that on Mac (see above), connect your device to a PC first before you start.

Step 1: Download Easy Drive Data Recovery and install the program on your Windows computer. Open the software; you'll see the main interface like below.

Step 2: Select the disk you want to scan for files. Highlight it and click "Next" to continue. Now it will conduct a quick scan of your hard drive to search for recoverable items.

Step 3: Preview the found items and check your formatted files are there. If you can't find many items, enable Deep Scan mode and conduct a scan once again.

Step 4: Save and recover those you want. That's it. Note: don’t save retrieved files back to the source drive in case partial data overwritten.

Your last resort: data recovery services?

If the above technique doesn't work to rescue your data, you can send your external hard drive to a data recovery company for services. We suggest you do this only when the data are extremely valuable to you because such data recovery services are not cheap, probably you'll need to spend much more than the price you paid for getting the hard drive device.

There is an extensive list of companies or services in the market; we highly recommend you do your due intelligence before you go with a specific one.

Chris Hwang

Chris is a certified computer technician since 2008. He writes everything related to computer issues and loves helping people solve problems. Currently, he's extending his interests into cloud computing.

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