Your hard drives don’t necessarily require replacement every time you run out of space or want to install a new OS.
Computers can easily format a drive to prepare it to be used as if it were a new disk. Knowing the suitable options and procedures can help you ensure you’re able to use your disk as desired after you’ve completed the process.
What Does Formatting a Hard Drive Do?
The most basic reason to format a hard drive is to prepare it as a new operating system. However, it also removes data and makes room for storing other files on the disk. Formatting your drive might also help fix problems that can’t be solved outside of that process.
If you’re experiencing issues with your hard drive, doing a standard format could help it work properly. However, it’s not a cure-all for any problems. If your disk is making strange noises, it’s probably time to replace it rather than format it.
How to Format a New Hard Drive
Use the Right Tools
There are various tools you can use to format a disk drive. Choose based on your comfort level and what you need to do in addition to the formatting.
- Disk Management Tool: Windows has a utility called Disk Management, where you can make changes to any of the disks connected to your computer. It’s probably the easiest way for people who aren’t experienced with disk formatting to work on their disks.
- Command-Line Tool: You can also use an elevated command prompt window or Windows Power Shell to format a disk drive. You have to input the information yourself, but it’s a quick and easy way to get the job done if you don’t want to open Disk Management.
- Windows Explorer: If you have Windows Explorer open and can see your hard drives listed in the side panel, simply right-click one and choose the Format option to start the process.
- Third-party Tools: Plenty of companies sell their version of disk management software for every system, including Windows. You can do things like simulate changes before committing, combine partitions, and even run from a bootable program so that you can format a disk that isn’t connected to an OS.
Some of these programs cost money, though. Ensure that you need one to do the task you want to complete before purchasing.
Initialize The Disk
When you initialize a disk, you bring it online and apply a particular partitioning style. This is done before formatting and is necessary for drives that haven’t been formatted before. You may see it in the Disk Management window as Unknown, not initialized, and that the data on the disk is unallocated.
- Press Windows key + X.
- Choose Disk Management.
- Scroll down the list of disks to find the one that isn’t initialized.
- Right-click the disk name.
- Choose Initialize Disk.
- Select the disk you want to initialize.
- Choose the partition style.
- Click OK.
Once you’re done, the disk will appear in the list and be available for the standard formatting options in Windows.
MBR or GPT
Master Boot Record (MBR) and GUID Partition Table (GPT) are two different partition protocols.
An MBR file structure creates a boot sector with an OS boot loader, among other things. It can support four primary partitions and hard disks of up to 2 TB. Most of the essential information is stored in that boot sector, making it problematic if damaged.
GPT is newer than MBR and works with UEFI BIOS setups. Each partition on the drive will have a random string of information that identifies it. You can create up to 128 partitions on a drive if you use Windows and select GPT. The drives it works with can also be larger than 2 TB.
GPT has more backups within the disk and self-correction protocols that can find damaged areas on the disk. However, MBR is more compatible with older systems.
For most users with modern equipment, GPT is the right choice.
You need to create volumes before you are able to format a new disk. It’s part of the process, even if you only choose to use one volume with a disk.
- Press Windows key + X.
- Open Disk Management.
- Right-click the unallocated space and choose New Simple Volume.
- Click Next.
- Choose the size and click Next.
- Choose your formatting options, and then click Next.
You should see the new area of the disk appear as a healthy volume with the type of file system you selected.
Types of Volumes
If you create volumes on your hard drive, you can select from five options.
- A simple volume operates as its own separate unit. You can assign a drive letter to one and access it as its own disk.
- A striped volume takes parts of multiple disks and creates a logical volume from that space. It uses RAID-0 to store information on various disks. If one of the disks fails, you can lose access to the information entirely since it was held on all of them.
- Spanned volumes combine space from multiple disks into one volume. It can help you have fewer drive letters and keep things organized.
- Mirrored volumes back up data on a secondary drive. Whenever you update files on one drive, a copy is made on the other. If you lose one drive, you can still get the data from the mirrored volume.
- RAID-5 volumes are also striped, but they include extra space that backs up the data.
Most home users will be fine using simple and spanned volumes.
Formatting The Partitions
You can format a single partition on a disk without formatting the entire disk. Just right-click on the partition in disk management and choose Format. You will lose all information on that partition, though.
The primary partition is where the operating system must be stored on a drive. It’s the active partition. You can also create extended partitions where you keep logical drives.
Boot and recovery partitions are two other types of partitions you may have heard about. A boot partition has the files required to load the operating system and boot the computer. A recovery partition stores files needed to reinstall Windows when you experience an error.
Looking at your disks, you might notice something called an EFI partition. It’s where the information to load your system is stored, so it’s a type of boot partition. It doesn’t have a drive letter and isn’t available to use. It’s best to leave it alone since your system requires it to start.
File Systems and Other Options
One of the most important things about formatting your hard drive is choosing suitable options.
A quick format isn’t as thorough as a standard format, but it takes significantly less time. A quick format is over in a few minutes. A classic format can take hours.
However, a standard format will scan and fix bad sectors on your disk. If you have the time, you should use the standard format option. It’s imperative to use it when you install a new operating system on the drive.
Another situation where the standard format is preferable is preparing to sell your computer. It will make your information more difficult to recover and help you maintain your privacy.
Disk Allocation Size
Hard drives are organized around cluster size, which is the size of the units in the hard drive where information is stored. Smaller clusters waste less space, but this isn’t a problem with modern disk drives. They’re enormous, and the wasted space is minimal.
Choosing the standard 4096 MB disk allocation size is best for most users. Windows organizes less than 16 TB disks in 4 KB clusters in NTFS file systems. FAT16, FAT32, and exFAT use a wider range of cluster sizes for various disk sizes.
Each file system has a different way of organizing the things saved on the disk. In general, you choose a file system based on what kind of disk you’re using and what you plan to do with it.
NTFS is the most common file system for computers running Windows. It can support disks of up to 1 million terabytes. There are a few different features that make it ideal for most users.
- Supports file encryption
- Includes file permissions
- Tracks changes to the drive
If you’re formatting a hard drive to use for a Windows operating system or as a storage drive, NTFS is a good choice.
ExFAT is a format introduced and applied to memory cards like SD cards. Linux, Windows, and macOS all support the exFAT file system. It also supports disks of up to 1 million terabytes. It can store individual files larger than 4 TB.
If you want to format a drive on computers with both Windows and macOS systems, use exFAT instead of NTFS.
FAT32 is also compatible with systems other than Windows. It has a smaller maximum disk size than other systems, with up to 16 GB.
How to Format a Hard Drive
The way to format a hard drive depends on what system you’re using. However, most operating systems have a method of formatting a drive built-in.
You can use these methods to format any type of disk attached to your system. External disks like USB drives and SD cards can also be formatted.
Format a Hard Drive on Windows
- Press Windows key + R.
- Type “diskmgmt.msc” without quotes, and then press Enter.
- Right-click on the drive you want to format.
- Click Format.
- Choose the file system from the drop-down menu.
- Choose the allocation unit size.
- Check whether you want a quick format. Leave it blank for a standard format.
- Click OK.
You can also view your partitions and the health of each one in the same area.
Format a Hard Drive on Windows Power Shell
If you prefer using commands to change your computer, you can do so with an elevated Power Shell window.
- Press Windows key + X.
- Choose Windows PowerShell (Admin).
- Type “diskpart” without quotes, and then press Enter.
- Enter the following commands, replacing X with the number of your disk, Y with the letter of your volume, and pressing Enter after each one.
- list disk
- select disk X
- list volume
- select volume Y
- format fs=ntfs
- Type “Exit” without quotes, and then press Enter.
You can change the file system by replacing NTFS with fat32 or exfat. You can also input the command as “format fs=ntfs quick” if you want to do a quick format.
Format a Hard Drive on Mac
In macOS, you manage your hard drives in Disk Utility.
- Press CMD + Spacebar.
- Type “Disk utility” without quotes and click the corresponding app.
- Click Erase.
- Choose the disk format you want to apply.
- Click Erase.
If you’re setting up a disk for Time Machine or need to create partitions for other reasons, you can choose the Partition option in Disk Utility to do so.
Format a Hard Drive on Linux
To format a hard drive on Linux, you need to create a partition beforehand.
- Launch the terminal window.
- Type “sudo fdisk /dev/sdc” without quotes.
- Press Enter.
- Press P, and then Enter.
- Press N, and then Enter.
- Choose P to create a primary partition.
- Choose a number for your partition. Choosing one creates a single primary partition.
- Type “sudo mkfs.ext4 /dev/sdb” without quotes.
- Click Y to confirm.
Linux doesn’t have a built-in disk management system, which is why you have to use commands to format your drive.
Does Formatting a Hard Drive Delete All the Data?
Formatting a hard drive does not delete all the data on the disk. It deletes the references that enable a user to get the data, but a data recovery specialist can still recover it.
What’s a Secure Way to Remove All Data?
You need to download a program that overwrites all the data on your hard drive. For the most secure option, use one that does multiple overwrites and wipes. There are a few programs that many people use to remove all their data from hard drives before selling or throwing it away.
- Darik’s Boot and Nuke
Many motherboards include a secure erase tool, especially for solid-state drives. Check the documentation that came with your setup to determine if you already have access to one.
It’s always good to make sure your data is secure. However, this isn’t necessary unless you want to ensure that everything on your hard drive is not recoverable.
How Long Does It Take to Format a Hard Drive?
It depends on a few factors. It might only take a few minutes if you’re doing a quick format. Standard formats often take hours, depending on the size of the disk. Checking for errors is the part that takes more time.
Does Formatting a Laptop Remove Dual Boot?
Yes, if you format the entire hard drive, everything is gone. No matter what operating system you have on a hard drive, it will be deleted along with other files and settings when you format it.
Does Formatting an External Drive Delete Everything?
Formatting an external drive works just like formatting an internal one. Everything is deleted, and the newly selected file system is applied.
Does Formatting a Hard Drive Repeatedly Damage It?
It shouldn’t harm your hard drive to format it repeatedly. However, it’s essential to back up your data anyway. Drives can fail for many reasons other than frequently having data written and erased.