How to Format a New Internal Hard Drive or Solid State Drive

Joel Lee 09-12-2016

If you’re reading this, it’s because you have a new HDD (hard disk drive) or SSD (solid state drive).


Maybe it’s packed with bloatware How To Remove Bloatware & Avoid It On New Laptops Tired of software you never wanted consuming your laptop's resources? Your computer isn't free ad space. Here's how to get rid of bloatware. Read More and you want to wipe it clean and start from scratch. Or you bought a used drive from someone and you don’t trust that they’ve cleared it properly. Or maybe the drive was formatted for another operating system like Mac or Linux, in which case it may be unusable on Windows or at the very least could cause compatibility issues.

Whatever the case, you should always format a brand new data drive 7 Things to Know When Buying a Data Drive for Backups Thinking about buying a data drive for storing file backups? Here's what you need to know if you want to make an informed decision. Read More because you never know what a previous owner has hidden on it — not just bloatware, but malware, viruses, keyloggers, and other scary things. Keep reading for step-by-step instructions on how to do this.

If you haven’t installed the drive yet, check out our step-by-step guide to installing new drives The Complete Guide on Installing a Solid State Hard Drive in Your PC A solid state hard drive is one of the best upgrades available for a modern computer. It increases the load times of programs dramatically, which in turn makes a PC feel snappier. Results can be... Read More . The article focuses on SSDs, but the gist is the same for HDDs. This post assumes the drive is already installed.

Formatting HDDs and SSDs in Windows

Formatting a data drive means wiping it clean and resetting the drive’s internal file system to use a particular format: FAT32, NTFS, EXT4, etc. Given a particular file, the format determines how exactly individual bits should be stored on the drive.

Windows 10 makes it very easy to format drives, so it’s not the process that’s difficult. The hard part is finding the confidence to follow the instructions and do it yourself — and even that’s not very difficult. Never done this before? Relax. You’ll be fine.


1. Launch Disk Management

Most users do this by opening the Start Menu and searching for “Disk Management”, which brings up a Control Panel option titled Create and format hard disk partitions. Click it to launch Disk Management.

But there’s a faster way: in Windows 8.1 or 10 press Windows key + X to launch the Power Menu 10 Neglected Windows Superpowers & How to Access Them With all its nooks and crannies, not even the most die-hard Windows fans have explored all its complex features. We have compiled those hidden Windows tips and tricks we think anyone will appreciate. Read More , then click Disk Management. There are other ways too, but they’re unnecessary when you can just do this.

2. Partition the Data Drive (optional)

You can segment a physical data drive into multiple individual parts, called partitions. This lets you take a 500 GB drive and split it into, say, one 300 GB partition and one 200 GB partition. Windows will then recognize it as two separate drives (C: and D:, for example).



You can also take multiple partitions and combine them.

Most modern drives are already prepared as one partition by the manufacturer so this step isn’t necessary to continue, but you should consider splitting your drive for better organization. Or if the drive is used, you should re-partition it to your liking.

Check out our guide to partitioning drives in Windows How To Shrink & Extend Volumes Or Partitions in Windows 7 In Windows 7 and Windows Vista, resizing your volumes or re-partitioning your hard drive has become a lot easier than in previous Windows versions. However, there are still a few pitfalls that will require you... Read More for detailed instructions on how to do that.

3. Format the Right Drive

View the list of volumes at the top and find the drive that you want to format. Note that even though I said drive, Disk Management actually formats individual partitions. Remember that Windows views each partition as a separate drive, so you can indeed format them separately.


To format, right-click on the drive and select Format. Be absolutely sure that this is the drive you want! Formatting the wrong drive could have disastrous consequences, ranging from lost personal data to an inoperable system.


Pro Tip: New, unformatted drives will appear as RAW under the File System column whereas prepared drives will be either FAT32 or NTFS. Linux drives are usually EXT4.

Note that you cannot format the Windows system drive (usually the C: drive but not always). It requires more complicated methods to format the Windows drive, and that’s beyond the scope of this article.


4. Select the Right Settings

The Volume Label is the name of the drive. This is what appears in File Explorer when you’re browsing This PC. You can name it whatever you want, as long as you use letters and numbers only.

For File System, you’ll want to choose NTFS. It’s the most recent file system From FAT To NTFS To ZFS: File Systems Demystified Different hard drives and operating systems may use different file systems. Here's what that means and what you need to know. Read More used by Microsoft as of this writing, and most modern data drives are optimized for this file system, especially SSDs. If you cannot use NTFS for whatever reason, FAT32 is fine (unless you need support for file sizes greater than 4 GB, in which case you should use exFAT).

Don’t worry about Allocation Unit Size and just leave it on Default.


We recommend unchecking Perform a quick format. When it’s enabled, the drive is assumed to be error-free and all of its contents are only marked as deleted. Running a standard format will actually go through and overwrite the entire drive with zeroes. The downside is that it takes a lot longer whereas a quick format is almost instantaneous.

We also recommend unchecking Enable file and folder compression because it can negatively impact your day-to-day drive performance. This feature was more useful back when drive space was limited, but now you can buy huge drives for very cheap.

5. Format and Finish

Click OK and you’ll see a warning about losing data.


Before you continue, double-check that the drive has nothing important on it — and if it does, make sure you back up that data to a safe location 5 Basic Backup Facts Every Windows User Should Know We never tire to remind you to make backups and keep your data safe. If you're wondering what, how often, and where you should back up your files, we have straight forward answers. Read More .

Click OK again and your drive will show as “Formatting” under the Status column in Disk Management. Wait until it finishes — it could take several minutes or hours if you chose to standard format. Once it’s done, you’re done!

Other Data Drive Tips

Everything has a lifespan and data drives are no exception. HDDs and SSDs both wear out over time, the only question is how long they’ll last Hard Drives, SSDs, Flash Drives: How Long Will Your Storage Media Last? How long will hard drives, SSDs, flash drives continue to work, and how long will they store your data if you use them for archiving? Read More . So be sure to learn the warning signs of a dying HDD 5 Signs Your Hard Drive Is Failing (And What to Do) Since a majority of people today own laptops and external hard drives, which get dragged around quite a bit, a realistic hard drive lifetime is probably around 3 - 5 years. This is an extremely... Read More and the warning signs of a dying SSD 5 Warning Signs Your SSD Is About to Break Down and Fail Worried your SSD will malfunction and break down and take all of your data with it? Look for these warning signs. Read More .

Get started on the right foot with your new data drive by learning how to take care of it properly How to Care for Your Hard Drives and Make Them Last Longer Sometimes an early death is the fault of the manufacturer, but more often than not, hard drives fail earlier than they should because we don't take care of them. Read More .

Did you get an error when trying to format? Here’s how to fix the “Windows was unable to complete the format error” 7 Fixes for the "Windows Was Unable to Complete the Format" Error Seeing a "Windows was unable to complete the format" error on your USB flash drive or SD card? Here's how to fix this problem. Read More .

Originally written by Sharninder on February 24, 2009.

Related topics: Computer Maintenance, Drive Format, File System, Hard Drive, Solid State Drive.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Mabel Amber
    March 13, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Thank you so much for these instructions, clear and very easy to follow up. Thus I finally managed to remove from a hard disk taken out of an old laptop an annoying and "mysterious" segment of 19 GB claimed disk space, which appeared to be something called "MFT".

  2. walter carroll
    November 2, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    I have a failed 1.5TB hard drive with about 900MB of data on it. I’m pretty certain that my data is intact and that the problem is ‘sector migration’ where the sectors have simply migrated beyond the drive’s error correction limits. Do you know of any simple way that I might be able to get my data to copy or migrate onto another drive in such a way that it would then be readable? Because the drive is currently not recognizable (except occasionally briefly) that is preventing me from transferring files. My thanks for any help you can provide.

  3. Stu953
    November 13, 2009 at 12:57 am

    Connected NEW hard drive in notebook. Dell XP PRO re-installation disk spins but all I see is a flashing cursor. downloaded XP start up 6 disk set, but disk 6 crashes with Stop: 0x00007b .

    Is there a simple or easy way to format this HD? or a program that I can download, or a way of getting the re-installation disk to work? . HELP, PLEASE

  4. Allan
    November 6, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    thanks for the article, this helped me out!

  5. khingcat
    November 3, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    Hi, I just bought a new SATA hard drive,I've installed it on my PC. How to format this new drive? I've run Disc Management but it told me that this drive is unallocated (Not Initialized). What I have to do now to make my new hard drive to work? My OS is Windows XP Professional SP2.

    • Sharninder
      November 6, 2009 at 9:10 pm

      right click the new drive's icon and initialise it. Does that work for you ?

    • khingcat
      November 7, 2009 at 12:06 pm

      I've tried that way, too, but that didn't worked. I've found how to format my drive, I change my SATA cable no1 to my new hard drive, and I let my old hard drive not connected. When I insert Windows XP installer, it was recognized and I do the installation as usual. After all installation process done, I connect my old hard drive to SATA port no.2 and now my PC boot from new hard drive. But now I found something strange and a little disturbing me, my partition where I put all program not labeled C but E. Can anybody help me how to change it to C? Because label C has been used for removable drive slot on my printer (my printer has USB slot for UFD, HP Photosmart D5160).

  6. tvs117
    August 24, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    great guide, thank you!

  7. Mackenzie
    February 14, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    It's only more involved in Linux because you are making it that way. Why force users into the command line? Just use GParted like most Linux users this century.