I chose the second option for installing Ubuntu because I thought it would only remove Windows (8.1). However, now I have an empty hard drive.

I had very important files on my hard drive. What should I do? My future as a vet has been formatted!

  • 1
    TestDisk is your friend
    – mcalex
    Jan 13, 2014 at 7:33
  • 4
    This is why you were so meticulous about keeping backups. Jan 13, 2014 at 7:48

4 Answers 4


If it were me, I would stop right now, don't touch it, and take it to a computer shop and let them recover it. There might be software out there that can do it, but I'm not sure of it and haven't used any.

When data on a drive is "deleted", it isn't actually deleted, it is simply marked as "deleted" and new data is overwritten on it. As long as you haven't started writing data over it, it might be recoverable.


Yes, definitely take it to a computer shop. They should have tools to recover sections of hard drives marked as deleted. However, this is a rather intricate process, and don't expect all of your data to remain intact. When installing Ubuntu it removed the part that indicated that it was NTFS.


Taking the computer to a computer shop is one solution. But you can try a few things yourself at home.

The most important part is that read operations don't affect anything, but write operations do. Think of it this way: a file on your hard disk is stored as a series of 0's and 1's. A hard disk contains a file table which maps a set of 0's and 1's to a file. When you delete a file, the allocated space in the file table is simply marked as deleted but the actual contents is not yet removed. If you perform a quick format, the same principle applies. If you perform write operations, the space from the entries marked as deleted can be used to write your new files to the disk and the old file becomes irrecoverable. If you performed a secure erase the data is also explicitly overwritten and file recovery is practically a no-go.

The easiest thing to do is to hook up the hard drive to another computer. Either by putting it into a USB closure or hooking it up internally. As long as the OS is on another drive you'll be fine.

On Windows, there's a freeware tool called Recuva which you can try. It is capable of recovering quite a lot of files. Simply scan the hard drive and wait for the files to appear. Then export them to another drive.

On Linux, the operation might become a bit more complex. There's an Ubuntu guide which contains a lot of useful information: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/DataRecovery


Take it to a professional, whilst you can use certain tools to recover it yourself, you do run the risk of destroying data.

I guess that I have been lucky that I did forensics and can recover data that way.

  • Note that not just any professional will be better than a novice following a guide: it's necessary to actually hire a forensics expert if you want someone with real skills in recovering data. I believe that usually costs thousands of dollars. Fortunately, even without hiring anyone, following basic precautions (like making sure the disk is not written to, at least before it is fully imaged) reduces the risk to very small. (The main value in a pro, then, is that there are techniques for recovering data that are hard or impossible for untrained people without special equipment to apply.) Jan 13, 2014 at 15:14
  • true, but if you are going to follow a guide make sure you are familiar before you start it as you don't want to risk it. There are a few good computer stores in the UK (at least by where I live) who can recover with professional tools and don't cost that much, as I say I have never had to hire anyone however I went to uni with three of them
    – Marriott81
    Jan 13, 2014 at 15:21

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