Specifics of File Recovery After a Quick Format

Sometimes users, and even experienced technicians, ask us why they can't recover all files from an NTFS disk after it has been quick formatted. More particularly, quite a large number of files may be lost when a quick format is performed under the new and popular Windows 7.

Let's start with some background information. The NTFS file system stores information about files written on the disk in a special system file, $MFT, where one file record occupies 1KB. When Windows quick formats a disk as an NTFS volume, it creates an empty $MFT file of a minimum default size: 32KB for Windows XP*, 64KB for Windows Vista, and 256KB for Windows 7. If more files are to be written to the disk and the existing $MFT file is not large enough, the system increases its size, and, as a regular file, may fragment it. Actually, $MFT files are quite fragmented on real disks and consist of 3-10 pieces residing in various places on a disk.

When performing a quick format, Windows creates an empty $MFT file on a fixed address, filling it with empty $MFT records. As the previous $MFT file resided at the same fixed place, the quick format effectively kills records about the files stored at that place. Taking into accountthat the first 27 file records are for system files (equaling 27KB) and are not too important for data recovery, a quick format operation kills the information about the following number of previously stored user files: 5 for XP* (32KB minus 27KB), 37 for Vista (64KB minus 27KB), 229 for Windows 7 (256KB minus 27KB).

The situation is worsened by the fact that when a fresh disk formatted under XP* or Vista is connected to a Windows 7 system, Windows 7 automatically extends the $MFT file to its default 256KB and kills information about the first 229 previously stored user files without ANY notification to the user.

To conclude, we offer the following tables, which show the number of files whose records are lost due to a quick format operation under various Windows systems.

Recovery is performed under Windows XP

Quick Formatted by: Fragmentation of the previous $MFT file Previously formatted by:
Windows XP Windows Vista Windows 7
Windows XP Not fragmented 5 5 5
Fragmented
Windows Vista Not fragmented 37 37 37
Fragmented 5-37
Windows 7 Not fragmented 229 229 229
Fragmented 5-229 37-229

Recovery is performed under Windows Vista

Quick Formatted by: Fragmentation of the previous $MFT file Previously formatted by:
Windows XP Windows Vista Windows 7
Windows XP Not fragmented 37 37 37
Fragmented 5-37
Windows Vista Not fragmented 37 37 37
Fragmented 5-37
Windows 7 Not fragmented 229 229 229
Fragmented 5-229 37-229

Recovery is performed under Windows 7

Quick Formatted by: Fragmentation of the previous $MFT file Previously formatted by:
Windows XP Windows Vista Windows 7
Windows XP Not fragmented 229 229 229
Fragmented 5-229 37-229
Windows Vista Not fragmented 229 229 229
Fragmented 5-229 37-229
Windows 7 Not fragmented 229 229 229
Fragmented 5-229 37-229

However, R-Studio offers a solution for finding even those files lost in a quick format procedure, regardless of the Windows OS involved. Our program is able to find those files by scanning a disk for file signatures (Extra Search for Known File Types). File signatures for most common files are already included in R-Studio, and no user action is required. Any specific, uncommon, or new file signatures that aren't automatically included can be added to R-Studio manually by its user. Files found by its signatures are shown in the Extra Found Files folder. Do not forget to checkmark this option in the Scan settings when you are looking for lost files on a quick formatted NTFS disk.

* Any references to Windows XP are applicable as well to all prior Windows operating systems that support NTFS.

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