People use the term disk formatting pretty interchangeably to mean several different things. While none are incorrect, taking a deeper look at what hard drive formatting actually does can help you understand when and why you need to do it. Your hard drive may need to be formatted in more – or fewer – situations than you think.
What is Formatting a Hard Drive?
Many think formatting a drive deletes and removes all the files, but that isn’t exactly the case. Because of this, files that aren’t accessible after a format can still be retrieved by data recovery specialists. While parts of them may be removed and overwritten, there is no guarantee that the files are completely gone and will never be restored.
The point of formatting a hard drive isn’t only to make space for new files. It’s to set up a new file system and prepare the disk for use. There are a variety of file systems to choose from and which you choose depends on the system you’re using and the purpose of your drive. One of the effects of this – generally very useful – is removing files and removing the old file system.
The format you choose determines exactly what happens to the files on your drive and how easy it would be to recover them. Specific software is available to those who want their files removed forever without the possibility of restoration.
What is Happening During a Format?
When you format a disk, the program you use removes the file system and deletes some of the data on the disk. The format can check for any issues with it, including corruption or bad sectors. It creates a new file system to prepare the disk for any purpose you might have for it.
What Is the Difference Between a Quick Format and A Normal Format?
Quick format is mainly used because it’s so fast. Less data is removed, the process doesn’t check for errors in the disk, and it’s over in just a few moments. Files on a drive that goes through a quick format are more recoverable than files that go through a standard format.
A typical format takes much longer – potentially hours. It removes more data from the disk, tries to find and fix errors on the disk, and prepares the new file system.
You can use either type of format, but most of the time, a longer format is the better choice. You want the process to check for errors. A little extra time upfront can help stave off future problems.
What Does a Format Do for My Hard Drive?
Your file system is the backbone of your hard disk. All the files kept in it are stored and accessed in a way determined by the file system. There are a few you might want to consider when you’re formatting a drive.
- NTFS: It is one of the most common file systems for Windows users. It stands for New Technology File System and was the successor to the FAT file system. In comparison, NTFS improved file names, encryption, and file sizes, among other benefits. However, you can’t use it on systems that aren’t Window systems.
- exFat: It is another file system option for drives used in multiple systems. It stands for Extended File Allocation Table. It’s commonly used on certain removable media, like DS cards and external drives. If you’re formatting a drive you plan to move between operating systems, consider exFAT.
- APFS: It is Apple’s newer file system, though many Apple users still use HFS instead.
Your file system determines how files are delivered, located, stored, deleted, and managed. It may seem simple, but it’s an essential part of your system.
Formatting your drive also makes room for new files, even if the old ones aren’t entirely deleted. A longer, standard format will look for problems on the drive and try to repair them as well. That’s one reason why it’s important to format a drive before installing it into a new system.
Is There Any Reason to Format a Drive if It Isn’t Having Problems?
Sometimes formatting a drive and installing a new file system can fix issues you didn’t even realize were present.
When files on a hard disk are deleted, they aren’t actually removed from the computer. Instead, their information is removed from the file system, and the space they took up is available for new files to overwrite. This can contribute to drive problems over time, as the main files are written and rewritten to make space for new files and remove old ones from the index.
Installing a new file system with a format removes all of those ghost records and possible errors. Everything in the file system is new, fresh, and less prone to errors than the old, well-used system.
Is It Bad for A Drive to Format It Multiple Times?
Your drive can only work for so long. Like most electronic components, it’s rated to operate for several cycles before it stops working. Formatting will take up some of those cycles and move it closer to the end of its life.
However, that doesn’t mean you should hesitate to format when a format is needed. It just means that excessive, unnecessary formatting can push your disk drive a bit further toward eventual replacement.
What is the Best Way to Format My Hard Drive?
You can format your disk drives using the Disk Management utility or the Command Prompt window. They both work the same, and the choice should be made based on what works best for you.
What Options to Choose when Formatting a Hard Drive?
When you format your drive, the most essential options are what kind of format you’re going to do and what file system you want to use. However, there are a few other things to consider.
- Volume Label: The volume label is the name you’ll see on the disk. It isn’t the drive letter but instead a designation for you. Name it whatever makes the most sense.
- Allocation unit size: The allocation unit size should be the default unless you have a specific reason to change it. Default just means the process will choose the right allocation unit size for your disk.
- Enable File and Folder Compression: Leave Enable File and Folder Compression unchecked unless you have a reason to enable it. People use it when they need to have active management over file compression, but it can make the drive perform worse to have it active.
Formatting is a very straightforward process that’s relatively easy to complete. Just be sure to back up all your data before you get started.