How Does a Factory Reset affect your Data Files?

This post is about computer hard drives that have been restored to factory default settings. If you are looking for answers about phones that have been reset to factory settings please go here:

Here’s an interesting question we received at Data Clinic over the weekend:

“I was transferring all my files to a new laptop as my old one was slow and buggy. I foolishly thought that the iTunes library home share feature had transferred my whole library but it only transferred purchases.
I realised this after I’d done a factory reset on my old laptop – is there any way to retrieve the music files and if so how much would it cost?”

First of all let’s define a Factory Reset

Simply put, a factory reset restores your computer to the condition it was in when it left the factory of manufacture. So, it’s just like bringing home a new computer. You’ll need to reload all the software applications and configure all the hardware that connects to it. Also, all your files, folders and settings will have disappeared.

Is it possible to get files back after a Factory Reset ?

The short answer is usually no and sometimes yes. It varies on a case by case basis. A factory reset does not usually delete data, instead it places your data into unallocated space on the hard drive which the system may then overwrite during the reset / reinstall process. Therefore, whether your old files are recoverable after a factory reset or not depends a lot on luck. Additionally, much depends on the type of file system you are using:

If you are using a Windows based machine then you are probably also using a Windows filesystem such as NTFS or FAT. Files and folders from hard drives that use a Windows based filesystem are far more likely to be recoverable than those from Mac computers or hard drives that use the Mac based journaled filesystem of HFS+..

Therefore, if you’ve factory reset your computer &/or hard drive, there’s a much better chance that your data will be recoverable if you are using a Windows system rather than a Mac.

Security Wipe

Options exist on many machines to perform a ‘security wipe’ during the factory reset. If this option has been enabled there is a 0% chance of recovering your files as your data will be deliberately overwritten by the system.

How Much Does Data Recovery Cost?

There’s usually nothing physically wrong on a hard drive that has been factory reset, though the cost of data recovery varies considerably. The first thing to differentiate between is whether there’s an actual fault with the hard drive or not:

  • When there is nothing wrong with the hard drive (such as with a factory reset), data loss is caused by problems with the data structures on the hard drive. Rectifying this damage is usually less involved as there is no need to repair the hard drive. Therefore the cost of this type of data recovery is between £195 – £350.

When there is damage to the hard drive it’s usually necessary to repair these faults before any attempt at data retrieval can begin. The type of faults on hard drives can vary considerably (see our page how hard drives fail), but repairing hard drive damage usually has to be done in a clean air environment known as a clean room. Recovering the files and data from damaged hard drives can typically cost upwards of £350. Sometimes spare parts have to be bought and fitted as well, to replace any damaged components inside the broken hard drive.

Local Data Recovery Offices

If you’ve factory reset your computer’s hard drive or mobile phone and you need to get the data back from it you can contact Data Clinic and we’ll take a look at your system to see if a recovery is possible. We’ve got local data recovery centres around the UK, or you can take advantage of our free collection service where we collect the device from your home or work address. Contact us for more details.