Data Recovery after a mistake using the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool
The Media Creation Tool allows you to create a Windows 10 installer onto a flash drive (or as a .ISO for DVD creation) so you can use it to install or reinstall Windows 10.
Unfortunately if the wrong drive is selected during the process of making a Windows 10 bootable USB drive it can result in data loss of a whole drive.
I will walk you through the steps of the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool, what causes data loss, and Windows 10 Media Creation Tool Data Recovery.
The Windows Media Creation Tool Installer
As part of the process you have to download the tool. Once you have downloaded the tool it is run. The current version is May 2021 update and the corresponding .exe is the MediaCreationTool21H1.
What you want to do?
The “What do you want to do selection” gives the choice of updating the PC or making installation media.
Selecting “upgrade this PC now”, upgrades lower version of Windows to Windows 10, and a lower version of Windows 10 to the newest. It does it in place with writing the upgrade files to the computers OS (operating system drive) not to a flash drive or external hard drive.
“Select the language, architecture, and edition” are by default to what your computer is but you can change the options by unchecking “Use the recommended options for this PC”.
Choosing the Drive and Writing Data
This is generally the starting point where things go wrong. Selecting “Choose which media to use” give you the options of writing data to a USB flash drive or downloading an .ISO file. When you chose the USB flash drive it continues on to a screen where you can select a drive. If you choose an .ISO, it will download an .ISO file to your computers OS (operating system drive).
This is followed by the “Select a USB flash drive” screen.
What Leads to Data Loss with the Windows Media Creation Tool?
The tool even though it specifics a USB flash drive, it is not limited to a USB flash drive. The Windows media creation tool will not show your C Drive, the drive that Windows is installed and running on. However it will show every other drive connected (internal, external USB hard drive and flash drive). In the example above if anything other than the “D drive” was selected I would loose data since those five drive are internal hard drives wither terabytes of data or more each.
The tool wipes all data on a drive. Often I get customers that do no understand the tool will wipe a whole drive and use an external hard drive or USB that has data but they think it will not be erased.
Other things someone in the house grabs the “wrong drive” thinking drive was empty or not needed when in fact it was.
Why does the Windows Media Creation Tool wipe a drive?
When you download and run the Windows Media Creation Tool, it’s not an installer but the program that actually makes a bootable Windows 10 installer. It does this by taking the drive you selected in the “Select a USB Drive screen” and wiping it, then placing the files required to make a bootable Windows 10 media drive.
Does the Media Creation Tool wipe the whole drive.
Yes. It wipes the whole drive.
The term wiping means to erase or clean the whole drive. After it wipes the drive it creates a 32GB or less partition name “ESD-USB”.
Is the data recoverable after running the Windows Media Creation Tool?
Yes. But not all of it. Understand that there will be data loss.When the drive is created it wipes the detestation that was picked, and creates a ESD partition. The media creator program writes approximately 4.28-7 GB of data to the drive. This overwritten data will erase roughly the first 4.28 to 7GB of data on the drive. Also files maybe partially overwritten or corrupt as well within that first 32GB of the drive as the is a the new ESD partition space.
The process of accidentally formatting, and overwriting the flash drive or hard drive with the Media Creation Tool also overwrites the filesystem metadata.
Here is an example. For December 2021 a 8GB flash drive picking only the 64bit version of Windows 10 (Version 21H2 OS Build 19044) will write approximately 4.28GB of data to a drive.
Why it is a big deal if I overwrite the Filesystem Metadata?
The filesystem metadata is what stores the order, folder structure, names and dates of files. On Windows drivers or NTFS formated drives. The file system uses the Master File Table (MFT) for maintaining and organizing files.The MFT contains the information about all folder structures, files and folders holding these files. It also includes the location of each file, all file names, the size of each file as well as the the creation date and last modification. Without the information the files are a Raw recovery.
Why are files be corrupt or overwritten with the first 32GB?
Some files will be overwritten if the drive is created. To create the Win 10 bootable drive the media creator program writes approximately 4.28-7 GB of data to the drive. That data is overwritten.
That data maybe partially overwritten or corrupt as well within that first 32GB of the drive is due to the drive requires an 8GB drive at a minimum but it also has a maximum of a 32GB drive. So if you use a 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB or even a 14TB drive, they will all only have a 32GB partition. Since the tool limits the size to the first 32GB any file that are partially overwritten will be bad (partially overwritten or corrupt).
Windows Media Creation Tool Wiped USB Drive
Most of the time it is a USB flash drive or an external USB hard drive that ends up getting wiped but it is completely possible to wipe and internal drive as well.
Data Recovery Options after running the Windows Media Creation Tool
Data Recovery is possible and it is actually a pretty common occurrence.
What to do if the Media Creation Tool wiped your drive?
- Stop using the drive, especially if it is an SSD as a TRIM command could make it unrecoverable.
- Do not removed or delete the ESD partition created by Microsoft’s tool.
- Do not attempt to format or partition the drive.
- Do not remove the Windows installation files from the drive.
- Do not create new partitions in order to use the rest the space on your drive (that is currently unavailable).
- Do not attempt any in-place fixes.
- Contact a Data Recovery Specialist
Professional data recovery services are now available.
Why is Data Recovery needed for an overwritten drive?
In many cases, this the only option is to have a Data Recovery Specialist clone the drive then perform a RAW recovery, which means no metadata like file name, date, or folder structure.