Does factory reset delete everything on external hard drive?

What is a factory reset?

A factory reset, also known as a hard or master reset, refers to restoring a device back to its initial state – the same condition it was in when it left the factory. It deletes all data, settings, and installed apps from the device storage and resets it to default factory settings (Source:

There are a few common reasons for performing a factory reset on a device:

  • Before selling or gifting the device to someone else, to protect personal data
  • To clear out old data and start fresh with a clean slate
  • To resolve persistent performance or software issues
  • If you’ve forgotten the passcode and need to regain access

Factory reset returns the device to a clean “out of the box” software state by erasing all user data. However, it does not erase external drives connected to the device.

Does factory reset affect external hard drives?

By default, a factory reset will not delete data stored on an external hard drive that is connected to the device. When performing a reset, the process is focused on wiping the internal system drive and restoring the device’s software to original factory conditions. External drives are generally left untouched.

However, there are some exceptions to be aware of. On a Windows PC, be sure to safely eject the external drive before resetting to ensure it is not affected. On gaming consoles like Xbox, it is recommended to disconnect external storage prior to resetting just to be safe. Macs generally don’t touch external drives during resets.

The key is that a factory reset is intended for the internal system drive. As long as the external drive is disconnected or ejected beforehand, its data should remain intact after resetting. However, not ejecting properly could put that data at risk. When in doubt, disconnect all external storage before proceeding with a factory reset.

How factory reset handles connected devices

A factory reset typically deletes all data and restores the internal hard drive of a computer to its original out-of-the-box state. However, external drives like USB sticks or external hard drives connected to the computer are generally not affected during a factory reset (Source).

This is because a factory reset only wipes the internal C: drive where the operating system is installed, and does not touch secondary external drives. For example, if you have an external D: or E: drive connected via USB, these drives will retain all their data after the reset. The external drives are treated as separate from the system being reset (Source).

In contrast, when doing a factory reset, all data stored internally on the C: drive like user profiles, programs, system files etc. is deleted. The internal drive is formatted and restored to the default state it was in when you first booted up your computer.

So in summary, a factory reset only affects the internal system drive and does not touch externally connected devices like USB drives. The external drives remain intact along with all their data. However, you will lose access to the internal drive data until you reinstall programs and restore files from a backup.

When data is deleted during factory reset

Whether a factory reset deletes data on an external hard drive connected to your device depends on a few factors:

Cases where external drive data is deleted:

– If the external drive is formatted to act as internal, expanded storage for the device, a factory reset will delete all data on the external drive. This is because it is seen as part of the device’s internal storage.

– Some devices might automatically reformat any connected external drives during a factory reset, deleting all data on them.

– If the external drive contains backup data from the device, this backup data will likely be deleted in a factory reset.

Cases where it is not deleted:

– If the external drive is used just for data storage and not as internal expanded storage, a factory reset generally will not delete or modify data on it.

– The external drive is not physically reformatted during the reset process. The data remains intact unless explicitly deleted.

– If the external drive does not contain any backups or data associated with the device, its data should remain unaffected after a factory reset.

Precautions before factory resetting

When factory resetting your computer, it’s important to take precautions to protect the data on any connected external hard drives. Here are some tips for keeping your external drive data safe:

First, be sure to properly eject the external drive before beginning the reset process. This ensures the data isn’t corrupted.

Next, consider backing up your external drive files beforehand. Copy important docs, photos, videos, etc to a separate protected location like cloud storage or another external drive. That way you have a backup if any files are lost.

You may also want to temporarily disconnect the external drive and store it safely. Some reset procedures can accidentally wipe connected drives. Removing sensitive drives prevents any mishaps.

Finally, know how your computer handles externals during factory reset before proceeding. This gives you control to prevent data loss.

Taking basic precautions like these can give you peace of mind that your external drive data will remain intact through the reset process.

Recovering deleted external drive files

It is possible to try recovering deleted files from an external drive after a factory reset, but success is not guaranteed. Some options to attempt file recovery include:

Using data recovery software like EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard, Recuva, Disk Drill, or PhotoRec. These tools scan the drive and try to assemble deleted file fragments.

Recovering from a backup, if files were backed up prior to factory reset. This offers the best chance of recovery success.

Sending to a data recovery service, but this can be expensive with no guarantee.

The main challenges with file recovery after reset are that Windows completely erases and formats the drive, so files are not simply deleted but overwritten. The more the drive is used after reset, the lower the chances of recovery. So it’s best to stop writing new data and run recovery software immediately.

Success rates depend on specific circumstances, but almost complete recovery is possible if recovery is attempted right away before new data is written. But there is no surefire way to get back all deleted files after a reset.

Alternatives to factory reset

While a factory reset is one way to wipe an external hard drive, there are other options that allow you to selectively delete data instead of everything. Here are some alternatives to consider:

Format the drive

Formatting the external drive erases all its data, but doesn’t touch other connected drives. This is less drastic than a full factory reset. To format, right-click the drive in File Explorer, select “Format” and pick your desired file system.


  • Only erases target drive data
  • Leaves OS and other drives intact


  • Permanently deletes all data on drive
  • No way to recover formatted data

Delete specific files/folders

You can manually delete only certain files/folders on the external drive instead of everything. This allows precision removal of sensitive data.


  • Precisely remove only unwanted data
  • Preserves other drive files


  • Time consuming for large drives
  • Requires manually finding all sensitive data

While factory reset is a “clean slate” approach, alternatives like formatting or manual deletion give you more control over exactly what data gets removed from an external drive.

Factory reset best practices

Before factory resetting your computer, it’s important to take precautions to avoid permanently losing data. Here are some best practices to follow:

First, back up your external hard drive to a separate location. Copy important files to a secondary external drive, USB flash drive, cloud storage, or another computer. This protects your data in case it gets erased during the reset.

Next, safely eject the external drive and disconnect it from your computer. This prevents the reset process from interacting with the external drive at all. Store the drive in a secure location until after resetting.

When factory resetting, use the full reset option in your device settings menu. This willcompletely restore the internal drive to factory condition. Avoid quick “reset” features that may not fully wipe data.

After the reset, reconnect your external drive before reinstalling apps or copying data back. Check that files are intact, then proceed to use your computer normally.

Following these best practices protects your external drive while safely resetting your computer to a clean state.


Here are some common questions about factory resetting when external hard drives are connected:

Is my external hard drive data deleted during a factory reset?

Generally, a factory reset will not delete or format data on an external hard drive that is connected to the device. As long as you safely eject the external drive before resetting, the data should remain intact (source). However, it’s always best to back up your external drive as a precaution.

Do I need to disconnect my external drive before factory resetting?

Yes, it’s highly recommended to disconnect and safely eject any external drives before starting a factory reset. This prevents any chance of data loss (source).

Can a factory reset format my external drive?

In rare cases, some devices may try to format connected external drives during a reset. To be safe, always disconnect and eject external drives first. You can also disable USB storage in reset settings if available (source).

How do I reset an external hard drive?

To factory reset an external drive, you’ll need to reformat it. On Windows, use Disk Management. On Mac, use Disk Utility. This will erase all data, so backup first (source).

Why reset an external drive?

Reasons to reformat an external drive include removing partitions, fixing corruption, erasing sensitive data before selling/donating, or fully wiping malware (source).

The bottom line: deleting data on external drives during a factory reset

Performing a factory reset on your device will typically delete all data and restore it to its original factory settings. However, how it handles external devices like hard drives varies between manufacturers. In many cases, a factory reset will leave data on connected external drives intact. But some devices may wipe those drives as well.

The safest option is to disconnect all external drives before a reset. Make sure you have backups of important data elsewhere. Resetting without detaching external drives risks losing that data permanently if it gets deleted. While recovery software exists, it is not always successful.

Factor in how your device handles external drives before factory resetting. Backup necessary data from them first. With proper precautions, you can factory reset without worrying about deleted files on attached hard drives.