You need to format a hard drive to be able to use it in Windows. If you’ve bought a new hard drive, you may need to format it for the first time – or it may come ready to use. If you’re reusing an old hard drive, formatting it is an effective way to wipe it clean. This guide will walk you through the process of formatting a drive for use in Windows 10. The process is a little different depending on whether you do it for the first or the tenth time.
Tip: Formatting a hard drive completely wipes all data from it. Before starting this process, make sure to back up any data you want to keep.
The easiest way to format a hard drive is through File Explorer. Just open File Explorer by pressing the Windows key, then typing “File Explorer” and hitting enter. In the bar on the left-hand side of the File Explorer window is the “This PC” section. At the bottom of the “This PC” section is an entry for each of the hard drives in your computer. Right-click on the hard drive you want to format and click “Format” from the context menu.
The formatting window allows you to choose which “Allocation unit size” you want to use. This measurement is the size of the clusters that the hard drive is divided into. When changing any data in a cluster the entire cluster must be overwritten. So, generally, you should leave this at the default, the smallest setting of 4096 bytes.
You can also change the volume label. This is the name the drive has in File Explorer. Set this to any name you want. It’s also recommended that you leave “Quick format” enabled. Quick format skips a number of checks and assumes the drive is free of errors. Disabling quick format can make the process take hours for larger hard drives. Unless you are happy to wait for a long time and suspect there may be bad sectors on the drive, it’s recommended that you leave quick format enabled.
Tip: You can’t configure the capacity or the filesystem format for internal hard drives in this tool. However, for external hard drives and other removable media, you may be able to choose between NTFS, FAT32, and exFAT. NTFS is a safe bet if you only want to use the hard drive with Windows. If you also want to use the drive on other operating systems, exFAT offers better compatibility.
Once you’re happy with the format settings, click “Start”. You’ll get a warning popup alerting you that Formatting will wipe the hard drive. If you’ve backed up all the data you want to, press “OK” to start formatting the drive. Once the process is complete, a small popup window will confirm that the format is complete.
Formatting drives for the first time
If a drive is completely unformatted it may not show up in File Explorer for you to be able to format it. In this case, you need to press the Windows key+X shortcut and click “Disk Management”. If the drive is listed as “RAW” you can right-click and select “Format”. The format process is the same as before, although here you will have a choice to “Enable file and folder compression”. You should leave this option disabled as it will compress the entire contents of the drive, rather than enable support for compression as the name suggests.
If however, the hard drive is shown as unallocated, you’ll need to create a partition. That process is detailed here.