If you start to format the hard drive and then find out that it is the wrong drive, press "Cancel" immediately, and then go for the reset button (if your computer has it). If you do not have a reset button, keep in mind that a power button has a five second delay before the shutdown occurs. Wall socket plug may be a better option.

There is a significant technical difference between Quick and Complete format, but we'd rather discuss the timings for now.

If you are doing a quick format, most likely pressing "Cancel" and reset would be of no use because you do not have time for it, but you should try anyway.

In case of a complete format (with Windows Vista or Windows 7, which actually overwrite the data during the format)

  • on the FAT filesystem the file allocation table is lost very quickly and then folders are progressively lost. Loss of the allocation table makes subsequent unformat attempts difficult and causes the loss of all the fragmented files. Further loss of folder records makes the recovery next to impossible even though the file content may still be there.

  • on the NTFS filesystem, the MFT (Master File Table) is typically located starting at 3GB offset and takes up about 100MB. The typical disk write speed is about 30-60 MB/sec, 3GB are thus filled in about one minute, after which the MFT is lost, making the recovery next to impossible. Modern SSDs with write speeds about 300MB/sec cut the available time to like 10 seconds.


All in all, the conclusion is that you better double check what drive you are going to format.

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