How to Format a Hard Disk

This is a notorious task for anyone that runs both Linux and Windows operating systems. It also may become necessary when you’ve corrupted a drive, or a virus is preventing you from getting any use out of it. Really, there several different reasons that you might want to format a hard disk. I won’t waste my time trying to tell you why you should or shouldn’t perform these tasks, let’s just jump into the guts of how to do it.

As always, picture are at the bottom.

Formatting Your Hard Disk

Ok, so you’ve decided that you want to format your hard drive. Below are some terms you should be familiar with before we get started:

  • cmd.exe – the command prompt
  • diskpart – a command-line utility
  • Disk Management – graphic format/partition utility
  • FAT32 – the old file system used before XP
  • NTFS – the newer and current file system
  • Destructive – formatting WILL destroy ALL data on the specified disk

I will use CMD to indicate that the following steps are for use with the command prompt method, and DSK to indicate that the steps are for use with the disk management utility.

Getting started, we need to identify the drive that you want to format. Follow these steps to do so:

  1. In explorer/computer, find the drive you wish to format and note the drive letter (C:/ should be your system drive)
  2. CMD – Run command prompt as administrator (right click, Run as Administrator)
  3. CMD – Type “diskpart”, hit enter
  4. CMD – Type “list disk”, hit enter. This will display all drives recognized by your system. Generally, Disk 0 will be your system drive.
  5. CMD – Type “list volume”, hit enter. Confirm that the letter of the volume you want to format matches what you saw in explorer/computer/
  6. CMD – Type “select volume *”, hit enter. Insert the volume letter you wish to format. For our purposes, I will call the drive Z.
  7. Determine how you want to format the drive. The general syntax would be: “format fs=NTFS label=NameYourDrive quick compress

This is a general purpose formatting. The drive will be formatted with compression-enabled NT file system (NTFS). If you know what you are doing, you can enable ovverride, change the allocation size, or format it in FAT32.

Next we will cover how to format a disk using the disk management utility in Windows. This process is simpler and more straightforward.

  1. Type “disk management” in the search/run box. Run it when it shows up.
  2. DSK – When it opens, you will see a listing of your drives/volumes and below that a bar graph of sorts showing the partitions and sizes.
  3. DSK – Using explorer/computer, verify the drive and volume that you wish to format. We will again call this “Z”.
  4. DSK – Right click on the drive/volume in either the top menu or the bar graph, and select “Format”.
  5. Click “Yes” when it asks you if you want to format – this is a warning like I have given you that formatting is irreversibly destructive to all data on the disk.
  6. On the next menu, name your volume, select a file system (NTFS recommended), and use the default unit allocation size unless you know what you are doing.
  7. You can select/unselect the “Quick Format’ and “Compression” checkboxes to your desire.
  8. Click “Ok”. Confirm again that you acknowledge the destructive nature.

Depending on whether or not you use quick format, it will take anywhere from 1-5 minutes. Once it is done, you are ready to create partitions!

NTFS compression is not supported for sizes above 4096.

Compression can only be used with NTFS

FAT32 is only compatible with drives of 32GB or less (which basically means flash drives).

If you get an error that the disk is write protected, find another tutorial or contact me on the forum. This is an advanced problem.

Generally, if you don’t enter a value in the CMD execution, it will use values defined by the FILESYSTEMS command.

For more information on the diskpart utility, including the format command, check out:

technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc766465(v=ws.10).aspx

Also be sure to keep an eye out for our videos on YouTube:

www.youtube.com/user/TechsTalk


I am a web designer and a computer/CE technician. I am fluent in HTML and CSS, though not so much in PHP, JS, and traditional programming languages. I live in Maryland - you don't need to know anything more than that :) Feel free to contact me on Skype. It goes to my iPhone, so I usually respond fairly quickly unless I'm asleep. I have a backwards schedule, and do most of my work at night, however you can usually catch me in the morning or late evening.

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