Formatting a hard drive: step by step instructions

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Formatting a hard drive: step by step instructions
Formatting a hard drive: step by step instructions

Certainly, formatting a hard drive is one of the most important processes. The scope of such operations is quite wide. But not every user of a computer system fully understands what kind of process it is, what it can be used for, and how to perform such procedures in Windows systems. Read about all this in the material below.

What is hard disk formatting?

It is worth starting the consideration of the main topic with some theoretical information that will help to understand the essence of the formatting processes themselves. In order not to delve into the jungle of technical terms, an ordinary user can be given a completely simple explanation. In a general sense, formatting a hard drive in Windows 10 or in any other operating system is a special tool for creating (or fixing) the structure of the hard drive itself and the information subsequently written to it in the form of files (unless someoneknows that folders are also files, but only of a very specific type). This is the simplest interpretation, since the processes involved in formatting are actually much more complex.

Formatting the hard drive
Formatting the hard drive

Formatting types

When talking about formatting a hard drive or an external storage medium, special attention should be paid to understanding its main types. In the computer world, there are two main methods of formatting low-level and high-level. The first type is used to create the structure of the disk itself (marking tracks, sectors, etc.). The second type is already used to create a file system, boot sectors, logical structures for organizing partitions, file allocation tables. Thus, we can conclude that the first type allows the operating system to initialize the device itself, and the second involves the recognition and ordering of information written to it.

In this case, high-level formatting, in turn, is also divided into two categories: quick and full formatting. With quick formatting or, as it is also called, clearing the table of contents, only the file tables are overwritten, and with full formatting, the disk is first checked for errors, bad sectors are marked by the system as non-working (so that they are not written to in the future, but they themselves sectors were ignored), and only after that a new file structure is created. In both cases, the information on the media is destroyed. But after clearing the table of contents, the previously presentfiles can be restored on the disk, but after the full one - it is impossible (but this is only considered so). We will dwell on these issues separately, but for now we will consider why formatting a hard drive or a similar external storage device (USB hard drives, flash drives, memory cards, etc.) is generally necessary.

What is formatting used for?

The organization of the structure, as it is already clear, is the main purpose of such processes. However, today you can find a lot of examples when formatting is used for completely different purposes. For example, clearing the table of contents can be used to quickly delete all the contents of a stationary disk or removable media (even with hidden objects or non-removable content), which can take much more time in manual mode. Full formatting allows you to eliminate some errors and failures, but most importantly, it is sometimes almost the only way to completely get rid of the viruses present on the media, which cannot be neutralized or removed using standard methods. In addition, another situation can be cited as an example.

Disc needs to be formatted before use
Disc needs to be formatted before use

Apparently, many have noticed that when installing a new hard drive or its SSD counterpart, the system displays a message stating that the hard drive needs to be formatted. Why is that? Yes, only because it must first be initialized, despite the low-level formatting performed at the factory. One more problem -unreadable media with modified file systems like RAW. The information on the disk may be visible, but it is impossible to perform any actions with it. Worse, when the contents of the media are not displayed at all, and formatting is impossible. Other tools are used to fix such problems, but formatting can also be applied at one of the stages as a companion tool.

Features of choosing a file system

As far as file systems are concerned, there are quite a lot of them today. Windows mostly uses the FAT and NTFS standards. The first type, in general, is obsolete, although when creating bootable flash drives for computers with primary input / output systems, UEFI is still used, since NTFS is not recognized by them.

FAT32 and NTFS file systems
FAT32 and NTFS file systems

The main disadvantage of FAT32 is only that such systems cannot work with large volumes of modern hard drives (2 GB or more) and save files larger than 4 GB on media. NTFS is much more "democratic" in this respect. But in any case, not only the file system plays a role here. The question is also what partition style is used (MBR or GPT).

Formatting hard disk partitions during Windows installation

But we digress. Now let's move from theory to practical actions. Formatting a hard drive to NTFS or FAT may be required during the installation of the operating system (the type of file system directly depends on the Windows modification being installed and itsarchitecture). Here the problem is also that if another OS was installed on the hard drive before, the new one simply will not get into the system partition (it will be proposed to install it in another logical partition). This, by the way, applies to absolutely all situations, regardless of whether the installed operating system is more recent than the previous one, or vice versa.

Formatting a Drive When Installing Windows
Formatting a Drive When Installing Windows

Formatting will be required anyway. The same applies to disk partitioning, in which each created virtual partition must be formatted (otherwise it will simply not be recognized by the system).

Standard Windows tools

In Windows, the built-in hard drive formatting utility can be invoked in several ways. The easiest method is to use the RMB context menu on one of the sections in Explorer.

Standard partition formatting
Standard partition formatting

When formatting is activated, a special window will appear in which the main parameters for the process being performed will be indicated. As a rule, the standard cluster size can be left unchanged when formatting a hard disk. At best, you can only use changing the type of the desired file system and, if necessary, check the box next to the quick cleanup item. If this item is not checked, full formatting will be performed by default.

Formatting in Disk Management
Formatting in Disk Management

The above utility for formatting a hard disk can be found inspecial disk management section (diskmgmt.msc). As in the "Explorer", here you need to use the RMB menu on the selected partition, after which the settings window will appear, but with fewer options.

System partition formatting issues

Some users are asking questions about formatting the system partition (usually the "C" drive) in a running OS, which turns out to be impossible.

Attempt to format the system partition
Attempt to format the system partition

No wonder, since Windows will not authorize its own destruction (especially since the formatting tool is located just in this section)? However, if required, you can format the C drive, but only in one case - when booting from removable media. In this case, you will need a bootable optical disc or USB flash drive. To format the hard disk (meaning the system partition), you will have to use the command line.

Command line options

When using the command console (cmd), you should pay attention that in a running OS, in order to format it, it must be launched with administrator rights, but only logical partitions can be formatted. When starting from removable media (Shift + F10), no additional rights are required, and you can even format a partition with an installed operating system.

For each of the options, the standard command format is used, followed by a space-separated drive letter with a colon. But if you add additional attributes to the main command,you can use some additional features (for example, format the hard disk in FAT32 with a direct indication of the type of the selected file system, set the quick format option, etc.).

format command attributes
format command attributes

You can view all attributes in a special help system.

Formatting as part of other processes

Quite often, formatting can also be found as an additional tool that is used at one of the stages of other processes. So, formatting is almost always present when using the DISKPART command set, which is used to create and manage hard disk partitions or to burn bootable USB media using Windows. It goes without saying that formatting is also required if new or additional hard drives and SSD drives are installed in the computer system. The same applies to the removal of virus threats when standard tools are powerless. As you can see, there are enough applications.

Formatting software

If we briefly consider programs from third-party developers, first of all, we can single out a small but very effective utility HDD Low Level Format Tool, as the name probably already implies, created for low-level formatting.

HDD Low Level Format Tool
HDD Low Level Format Tool

No less popular are programs like MiniTool Partition Wizard, HP Drive Key Boot Utility, Format USB Or Flash Drive Software andmany more.

Issues of safety and recovery of information

Finally, many people are afraid of formatting only because such processes completely destroy all information. We can partly agree with this. However, do not forget that today you can find such a huge number of programs for recovering files even after formatting that such processes become completely simple. And allegations that after a complete formatting of the media it is impossible to recover information are refuted quite elementarily when using the most powerful R-Studio program, which is capable of restoring everything and everything. And we are not talking about specialized software packages that are used by special services and, of course, are not available to the average user.

Note: even before formatting the system partition, you can first copy the necessary files to a logical partition or to removable media, so that later you do not rack your brains about recovering lost information.

Last tips

Summing up all of the above, it is worth advising all users, without exception, to master at least the basics of working with the command console, since it is its toolkit that is the most powerful and allows you to fix many problems using tools that are not available to others operating system applications or third-party utilities.

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