How to Recover Formatted External Hard Drive

An external hard drive is often a hub for your data backups. When it’s getting full, you need to free more space to store 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 the drive.

While it does save lots of time and energy, sometimes the rush of releasing more storage space overrides the duty of double-checking everything to make sure important data have been backed up or transferred.

That’s the moment when data disaster strikes — you formatted an external hard drive, only to find that you still have some valuable data stored on the drive…what a bummer!

Does that mean you lose the data forever? Not really.

In this article, we’ll show you how to recover data from a formatted external hard drive, step by step. The only thing you need is a computer (PC or Mac) that’s connected to the Internet.

Why Recovering Formatted External Hard Drive Is Possible?

When you format a disk drive, the “real 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, telling the file system that the space those files used to occupy is now available to re-use.

But 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 part is that if you use an HDD (hard disk drive), 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 (especially these days while 500GB is a base volume for many hard drives).

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 Stop Using Your External Drive


Because the more data you write to your drive, the higher the chances are that your precious files would be written over. That means you should try not to generate any new files on it.

If you can, unplug the drive from your computer and put it in a safe place to avoid any physical damage.

Next, use third-party recovery software to retrieve the data. Read on for more!

How to Recover Data from a Formatted External Drive on PC (Windows 10)

We recommend using EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard because it’s one of the best Windows data recovery software we reviewed and we found this program especially great at recovering data from a reformatted disk.

The program is not freeware though it does offer a trial version that allows you to scan and preview found files, eventually, you’ll need to pay $69.95 to save your files.

Preparation: connect your external drive to a PC first before you start.

Step 1: Get EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard and install the program on your computer. Open the software; you’ll see the main interface like below.

Step 2: Select the disk your external drive represents. Highlight it and click Next to continue. Now it will conduct a quick scan of that drive to search for recoverable items.

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

Step 4: Save and recover the files you want. That’s it.

Note: don’t save retrieved files back to the source drive in case of partial data gets overwritten.

How to Recover Data from a Formatted External Drive on Mac

We recommend Stellar Mac Data Recovery Professional because it’s one of the best Mac data recovery software we tested. The app offers a free trial but it’s not freeware, you can try it to scan your drive and preview files, but it costs $79.99 to buy a license that allows you to save the found files.

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

Step 1: Get Stellar Mac Data Recovery and follow instructions to install the application on your Mac computer. Open the software and you’ll see the main screen like this. Select the file types you want to recover and click Next to continue.

Step 2: Select the volume when your external drive shows up. The program will then start searching for any recoverable data from that drive.

Step 3: Wait until the scan is complete. 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 4: Preview found files while the scan process finishes. Check and select those you’d like to pull back and recover.

Pro tips: to avoid data overwriting, 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.

Final Words

I hope you have retrieved all your lost data due to reformatting the external drive. If the above software doesn’t work to rescue your data, you can send your external hard drive to a recovery company for data rescue services, if the data are extremely valuable to you.

Commercial data recovery services are not cheap, most likely you’ll need to spend much more money than the price you paid for buying the external hard drive.

There is an extensive list of companies or services in the market; we highly suggest you do your due intelligence before shipping out your device.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Katrina

    Is the software purchasable? Or free?

    • Avatar photo
      AnySoftwareTools Team

      Not free, but they both offer free trials.

  • Michael D Hartranft

    I have a 1TB WD external hard drive. I purchased it about a month ago and I down loaded thousands of pictures onto it…I tried to retrieve a picture today and it keeps saying I need to format my drive…I look on disk manager on my computer and it shows there is date on the drive but it keeps telling me I have to format my drive. I do not want to do that because I do not want to lose my picutres…Can you help me please.

    • Avatar photo

      Looks like you are using a PC. Have you tried connecting your WD drive to a Mac? If you don’t have a Mac, try it on another PC.

      If same (or similar) error still shows up, your external drive is probably corrupted. You’ll have to re-format it to make it work properly. But since you have many precious data stored on it, it’s best to use a recovery software to retrieve some or all the data before you proceed.