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How to format a hard drive

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If you are planning on ditching your old computer, formatting a hard drive is almost always a necessary thing to do

There are a lot of reasons why you would want to format a hard drive. When it comes to disposing of a computer or selling it, formatting it properly will ensure that sensitive data found on the disk has been completely removed.

You may also need to format a drive if you need to get rid of malware or you are installing an operating system.

There are many types of formatting. Quick formatting is a speedy way of clearing the disk ready for reinstalling an operating system. But you should only do this if you are not planning to dispose of the disk just yet. This is because it pretty much leaves data in place; it just makes the disc appear that it is clear from data.

Here we will show you all the steps needed to format a hard drive. We will also explain a few terms on the way.


A hard drive can be divided up into smaller sections named partitions. When you have started up into your operating system, these can show as a separate hard drive, but they are just sections of the same disc. With partitions, it is possible to format one partition and leave another one alone. This is good if you want to keep one section for operating system installation files. Otherwise, if you want to format all of the disk, you will need to remove these partitions as well.

What file system?

The file system you use when formatting a hard drive will depend on which operating systems you use.

Windows uses NTFS and Mac OS uses HFS so they're incompatible with each other. A file system called exFAT works with both Mac and Windows. This exFAT is better than the FAT32 file system it supersedes as FAT32 has a maximum 4GB file size limit whereas exFAT can work with files as large as 16EB (exabytes). The exFAT file system also runs better than FAT32.

Formatting a disk with without an operating system

If you have a PC with no operating system, then you will have to use a bootable CD, DVD or USB flash drive with a third-party formatting tool on it. It is important to note that the BIOS on a computer cannot format a hard drive.

A good tool is Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBA), which can be downloaded here. This can erase and format a hard disk so you can go ahead and install a new operating system. DBAN is downloaded as an ISO file, which is a disk image that you would then burn onto a CD or DVD using another computer.

If you can’t make a bootable CD/DVD, then you can use another tool by the name of Universal USB Installer which can convert an ISO image to run on a bootable USB drive. If you run the Universal USB Installer setup program, follow the instructions to turn your DBAN ISO into a bootable USB.

To boot from a CD, DVD or USB, you will need to go into your BIOS and change the boot order to change this to boot from the device you want rather than the system’s hard drive.

Once booted up, DBAN will guide you through formatting your hard drive and give you the option of how securely wiped you want the drive to be.

How to format a drive in Windows

The easiest (and possibly quickest) way to format a disk is from Windows Explorer. Simply press the Windows key and E to bring up an Explorer window, then right-click the disk you wish to format, then from the context-sensitive menu, choose Format.

The Format window defaults to Quick Format, you can uncheck this to make a more thorough job. You can also choose the file system you want on this disc and rename the Volume Label too if desired. If you leave all the settings and click on the Start button, this will format the disk in around a minute.

How to format a drive using Windows Disk Management utility

Windows has a disk management utility that you can use to format a hard drive (except the drive that runs Windows). In the search box, type in diskmgmt.msc to start this up. (You can also find this tool in the Control Panel under Administrative Tools. It is a section called 'Create and format hard disk partitions'.

This is great if you have a brand new drive that you want to format, as it is probably not initialised as a disk yet (and you won’t see it in Windows Explorer), Disk Management will find any uninitialised disks and prompt you to initialise it. Disks with capacities of 2TB or more should use the GPT (GUID Partition Table) as this allows you to create four or more partitions should you wish.

Once initialised, this will appear as Unallocated Space and select New Simple Volume. Then select how big the partition will be and the drive letter.

How to format a drive on a Mac

To format an external drive on a Mac, first open Finder on the Mac, then go to /Applications/Utilities and double-click on Disk Utility. Choose the drive in the left-hand sidebar and click on Erase (icon at the top). Under the Format menu, select the file system you want to use. Leave the default settings; OS X Extended format and GUID partition map. These will format the drive in OS X's HFS+ file system so it will be compatible with Time Machine.

You can then give the drive a name and click the Erase button. This process should only take a few seconds to format your drive.

Original article written by Rene Millman

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Guest Monday, 25 June 2018


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