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

Key Takeaways

  • Formatting a drive involves erasing all of its data and setting up a file system.
  • You can use the Disk Management tool in Windows to format drives easily.
  • Choose the right settings, such as NTFS, for the file system, and make sure to perform a full format for better performance.

If you have a new or pre-owned hard drive (HDD) or solid-state drive (SSD) to increase your computer’s storage capacity, it’s a good idea to format it before you start filling it up. Here’s how to do it.

What Happens When You Format an HDD or SSD on Windows

Formatting a data drive completely erases all its data and prepares it for storing new information. This process also allows you to set the drive’s file system to a specific format, such as FAT32, NTFS, or EXT4. This file system determines how files are named, stored, and accessed. Additionally, formatting the drive includes scanning the entire drive for errors and marking any bad sectors to prevent future data corruption.

The Disk Management tool in Windows makes it very easy to format drives. Before proceeding, however, make sure the drive does not contain any important data. If it does, ensure you back up that data to a safe location.

Step 1: Launch Disk Management

Open the search menu, type in Create and format hard disk partitions, and select the first result that appears. Alternatively, you can press Win + X to launch the Power Menu and then click Disk Management.

Step 2: Partition the Data Drive (Optional)

You can segment a physical data drive into multiple individual parts, called partitions. For example, you could take a 500 GB drive and split it into one 300 GB partition and one 200 GB partition. Windows would then recognize these partitions as separate drives (such as C: and D:). Similarly, you could combine multiple partitions into one.

Most modern drives are already prepared as one partition by the manufacturer, so this step isn’t necessary to proceed. However, you should consider partitioning your drive for better organization. Alternatively, you can combine the partitions according to your preferences if the drive is already in use.

Step 3: Format the Right Drive

View the list of volumes at the top and find the drive that you want to format. New, unformatted drives will appear as RAW under the File System column, while prepared drives will be either FAT32 or NTFS. Linux drives are typically labeled EXT4.

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.

screenshot of the disk management context menu with format highlighted

You cannot format the Windows system drive (typically the C: drive, but not always). Formatting the Windows drive requires more complex methods, which are beyond the scope of this article.

Step 4: Select the Right Settings

In the Volume Label field, enter the name of the drive that will appear in File Explorer. You can name it anything you prefer, as long as you use letters and numbers only.

For the File System, you’ll want to choose NTFS. It’s the most recent file system used by Microsoft, and most modern data drives are optimized for this file system, especially SSDs. If you cannot use NTFS for any reason, FAT32 is acceptable (unless you require support for file sizes larger than 4 GB, in which case you should use exFAT).

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

screenshot of the disk management format screen

It’s best to uncheck the Perform a quick format option. Leaving it enabled means Windows will assume the drive is error-free. Unchecking the option will initiate a standard format, which will overwrite the entire drive with zeros. The only downside is that it takes longer.

We also recommend unchecking the Enable file and folder compression option, as it can negatively impact your day-to-day drive performance.

Step 5: Format and Finish

screenshot of disk management displaying the pre-format warning

Once you see a warning about losing data, click OK again, and your drive will show “Formatting” under the Status column in Disk Management. Wait until it finishes-this could take several minutes or even an hour or so, depending on the size and speed of the drive, as well as the type of formatting being performed. There are other methods to format a drive as well, but the Disk Management tool is the most straightforward option.

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