How to Reformat an External Hard Drive without Losing Your Data

Do you save backups of your hard drive onto an external hard drive? Hopefully you do. It’s a smart way to keep your data safe. But what happens if that drive becomes corrupted, and you have to reformat it to make it accessible again? Can you reformat it without losing all of your data? It’s certainly possible, but can you do it?

The short answer is, yes. It is possible to reformat the drive and keep your files by formatting your drive and then using a data recovery tool to restore your information.

How to reformat a drive

Reformatting a drive on Windows is a pretty straightforward process. However, you need to make doubly sure that you complete a Quick format. A Quick format only deletes the organizational structure of the files on the drive, without removing the actual files. Think of it as throwing away a bunch of file folders but not their contents. You just stack the papers all in one pile. That’s what Quick File does. It removes the folders and leaves the files all in one stack.

1. First, connect the external drive to your computer using the USB port. Wait for Windows to recognize your drive.

2. Open File Explorer.

3. Click on “This PC.”

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4. Locate your external drive from the list of Devices and Drives.

5. Right-click on the drive.

6. Select “Format” from the list of options. Make sure the Quick Format box is clicked! If it is not ticked, you will lose all of your data. Leave all the other settings the same.

reformat-external-quick-format

7. Click on the “Format” button, and wait until the process has completed.

Once you have completed this process, do not write any more data to your external drive. This new data will overwrite the files that were left behind during the reformatting process. If you save something new, it will not just overwrite one file either. It could potentially corrupt hundreds of your old data.

Recover your data

After you have reformatted your drive, move directly to using a third-party data recovery software. While these programs may not be able to restore 100% of your files, using them will certainly save more than you would have without trying this process. There are a variety of data recovery software options for you to choose from, but here are a few of the most popular.

1. Recuva

reformat-external-recuva

Recuva is popular because of its ability to restore files from hard drives, DVD or CDs, memory cards, and external drives. Recuva works by searching for unreferenced data, and it’s known for restoring lost directory structure and renaming two files with the same name during data recovery.

Recuva is free to download with no data limits. There is also a pro version that adds automatic updates and support for virtual hard drives.

2. Stellar

reformat-external-stellar

Because of its efficient user interface, Stellar Data Recovery is excellent for beginners and non-technical users. It even has a simple wizard where you just tell the program what to look for and where to search for deleted files. This program features a “Try Before You Buy” feature that removes the risk of it not being what you need. The program sells for $99.

3. Ontrack Easy Recovery

reformat-external-ontrack

Ontrack EasyRecovery is a powerhouse among data recovery software. It’s best known for its power to recover more files than its competitors, but the user interface is less intuitive than other programs. It has a $79 annual license with no limits on the number of times you can use it.

4. EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard

reformat-external-easeus

A nice features of EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard is the familiar user interface, which is structured like Windows Explorer. Those who are not as tech-savvy may find the interface more comfortable to use than other software. EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard is free, but it will only recover a total of 500 MB of data before you need to upgrade to the Pro version for $69.99 (Unless you want to share about the product on social media. Then you can use up to 2GB.)

How to avoid this whole problem

If you don’t want to worry about losing all your data on the chance your external hard drive becomes corrupted, you should keep multiple backups of the data in different places. For example, keep a backup on your local devices, and store backup copies with a cloud storage provider as well. The more backups, the less you need to worry.

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2 comments

  1. Why should anybody quick format and restores the data?
    Either you want to erase the data, so Quick Format is enough, or you want to change the file system or verify the disk so you need full format.

  2. In the first section you say “Quick File” when I think you mean “Quick Format”.

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