Does Initializing a Disk Erase Data from It? All You Need to Know

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does initializing a disk erase dataMicrosoft explains that initializing a disk will erase data. It tells you that if you have important data on your disk, you shouldn’t initialize it because you’ll lose all the files.

Since you’ll lose all the files by the time you’ve completed the initialization process, you should recover any important data before initializing.

In this guide, we explain what initialization is, how you can initialize a disk, explain why initialization deletes data, and how you can recover data from uninitialized disks.

What is Initializing a Disk

Initialization is the process that applies partition tables to your disk so it can start (or “initialize”).

An operating system relies on the partition table, which is a data organization scheme used by the operating system to understand how your hard disk is divided into drives and which partition contains the active operating system.

Understandably, you can’t use a disk unless it has a partition table. You’ll need to apply either MBR (for older drives) or GPT (you’ll use this one in most cases) to your hard drive to use it, and that’s where initialization helps.

Typically, you’ll only need to initialize new disks that haven’t been used before. However, you might also need to initialize a disk that already has data on it if the partition table has become corrupt.

How to Initialize a Disk

There are two ways to initialize a disk on Windows. You can initialize a disk from the Disk Management console (which is the simpler method) or you can use the PowerShell cmdlet for initializing a disk.

Initialize a Disk from the Disk Management Console

Let’s discuss the easier method first. The Disk Management console has a disk initialization wizard that walks you through each step of the process.

Here is how you can initialize a disk from Disk Management:

  1. Search for disk management in the Start Menu and launch and select the Best match.
  2. Check if the disk you want to initialize is online. If it’s offline, right-click and select Online.
  3. Once it’s online, right-click again and select Initialize Disk.initializing disk from disk management console
  4. Select the correct disk and a partition style (it’s best to use what’s selected by default) and then click OK.selecting disk style
  5. Next, right-click on the drive and select New Simple Volume.creating a new simple volume
  6. Click Next and then select the size of the volume. Once you’ve entered the size, click Next again.specifying volume size
  7. Select a drive letter and click Next.assigning drive letter
  8. Select a filesystem (NTFS for Windows) and click Next.selecting a filesystem
  9. Click Finish.

You’ll see the status of your disk change to Initializing for a moment before it returns to Online again. Once that happens, you’ll have initialized your disk. Alternatively, the initialization process may fail.

Initialize a Disk Using PowerShell

You can also get through the process a little quicker if you’re comfortable using PowerShell.

All you need to do is:

  1. Search for PowerShell in the Start Menu and run it as an administrator.launching powershell
  2. Execute the following cmdlet:
    PS F:\>Initialize-Disk -Number 1

    (Replace F: with the relevant disk letter and the number 1 with the relevant disk number – both of them can be found in Disk Management)

    executing cmdlet in powershell

This cmdlet initializes the disk using default values. If you want to learn about more parameters to apply to this cmdlet, you’ll find it on Microsoft’s website.

You’ll still need to create a new volume after initializing. You can do that using Disk Management as explained in the previous section or execute a few additional commands as explained below in PowerShell.

Start by executing the following commands:

diskpart
list disk

You’ll see a list of disks connected to your PC. Note the number of the disk on which you want to create the volume and then run the following commands:

select disk 1

(replace 1 with the relevant disk number)

create partition primary size=50000

(replace 50000 with the relevant size – the size here is expressed in megabytes so 50000 equals roughly 48GB)

assign letter=F

(replace F with a drive letter you want to assign)

exit

Does Initializing a Disk Erase Data

Yes, initialization does erase data.

Initializing only involves several steps. The first is applying a partition style (MBR or GPT) to the disk. When you apply a partition style, the data on your drive remains unaffected. However, you’ll also need to format the disk to make it usable. This is where the data is erased in the disk initialization process.

Essentially, it’s not the initialization of disk, but formatting the disk that erases the data. For this reason, you should always aim to recover data from a disk before you initialize it.

How to Recover Data from a Hard Drive

If you’ve already completed the initialization process and lost your data, or failed to initialize a non-operational disk, you can still recover your data.

You need Disk Drill, a robust data recovery tool, to recover data from an uninitialized disk. Disk Drill can help you recover data in various situations. For instance, you can recover data from a hard drive that doesn’t show up because it requires initialization.

Using Disk Drill is a simple, four-step process.

Step 1. Download and Install Disk Drill

Download Disk Drill and install it on your PC. You can recover up to 500MB of data for free on Windows.

installing disk drill

Step 2. Scan the Disk

Select the disk you want to scan from Disk Drill’s home screen and click the Search for lost data button. Doing this will start the scan.

starting a scan

Step 3. Select the Files to Recover

Once the scan is complete, you’ll see a list of files that can be recovered. You can filter the results by filetype from the left sidebar if you’re looking for specific files like documents or photos.

Click on the Recover button after selecting the files you want to recover.

selecting files to recover

Step 4. Recover the Files

When you click the Recover button, you’ll see a pop-up asking you where you want to save the recovered files. Select a location different from the source disk (the uninitialized disk in this case) to avoid overwriting any data.

Click OK once you’ve selected a location.

selecting recovery location

You should then see the recovered files in your chosen location.

Arjun is an Tech ninja, codes HTML and CSS, and has received an honorary mention as the family’s go-to tech help during get-togethers. He has been writing guides for about six years and he’s currently a contributor on major Tech websites like MakeUseOf, HelpDeskGeek and 7 Data Recovery.
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Senior Data Recovery Engineer. Master's degree in Physics, Information Technology for Science Experiments.