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How To Format a Hard Drive in Windows 7


Drive Format Options in Windows 7 - Format Hard Drive Windows 7

Drive Format Options in Windows 7

You need to format a hard drive to use it in Windows 7. To format a hard drive means to delete any information on the drive and to setup a file system so Windows 7 can read from it and write data to it.

Prefer screen shots? Try my Step by Step Guide to Formatting a Hard Drive in Windows 7 for an easy walk-through!

As complicated as formatting might sound, it's not at all difficult to format a hard drive in Windows 7. The ability to format a hard drive is a very basic function that all operating systems have and Windows 7 makes it really easy.

Important: You must partition a hard drive before formatting it. If you've installed a new hard drive but have not yet partitioned it, please see How To Partition a Hard Drive in Windows 7 and then return here to format the drive.

Follow these steps to format a hard drive in Windows 7:

Note: Not using Windows 7? See the tip at the bottom of the page for help.

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: The time it takes to format a hard drive in Windows 7 depends almost entirely on the drive's size

Here's How:

  1. Open Windows 7 Disk Management from the Computer Management utility.

    Note: You can also open Disk Management from the Command Prompt in Windows 7 but doing so from Computer Management is probably easier.

  2. With Disk Management open, locate the drive you want to format from the list at the top.

    Important: Don't see the drive you want to format listed or does an Initialize Disk window appear?

    If either situation above happens, it most likely means that the hard drive has not yet been partitioned, something you must do before you format the hard drive.

    See How To Partition a Hard Drive in Windows 7 for instructions. Come back to Step 3 below when you're done.

    Note: Formatting the C drive, or whatever letter happens to identify the partition that Windows 7 is installed on, can not be done from Disk Management or from anywhere else in Windows 7. See How To Format C for instructions on formatting your primary drive.

  3. Once located, right-click on the drive and choose Format.... A "Format [drive letter]:" window should appear.

    Warning: Obviously it's very, very important to choose the correct drive to format in Windows 7:

    • If you're formatting a drive that has data on it, double-check that it's the correct drive by looking at the drive letter and then checking in Windows Explorer that it is in fact the correct drive.
    • If you're formatting a new drive, the drive letter assigned should be unfamiliar to you and the File System will probably be listed as RAW.
  4. In the Volume label: textbox, either give a name to the drive or leave the name as is. If this is a new drive, Windows 7 will assign the volume label New Volume.

    I recommend giving a name to the drive so it's easier to identify in the future. For example, if you're using this drive to store movies, name the volume Movies.

  5. For File system: choose NTFS unless you have a specific need to choose another file system.

    NTFS is always the best file system option to use in Windows 7 unless you have a specific need to choose FAT32. Other FAT file systems are only available as options on drives 2GB and smaller.

  6. Set the Allocation unit size: set to Default unless there's a specific reason to customize it. It's not common to set a custom allocation unit size when formatting a hard drive in Windows 7.

  7. Windows 7 might suggest that you Perform a quick format by checking this option by default but I recommend unchecking the box so a standard format is done.

    In a standard format, each sector on the hard drive is checked for errors and a one-pass write-zero is also performed. A quick format skips the bad sector search and basic data sanitization.

    So while a quick format will format the hard drive considerably faster than a standard format, the benefits usually outweigh the short-term cost (your time) of the full format.

  8. The Enable file and folder compression option is probably unchecked by default and I recommend keeping it that way.

    File and folder compression isn't usually necessary in today's world of incredibly large hard drives but feel free to enable it if you think you might use the feature.

  9. Click OK at the bottom of the window.

  10. Click OK to the "Formatting this volume will erase all data on it. Back up any data you want to to keep before formatting. Do you want to continue?" message.

  11. The hard drive format will begin. You can keep track of the drive format by watching the Formatting: xx% progress in the Status field.

    Note: Formatting a hard drive in Windows 7 could take a very long time if the drive is large and/or slow. A small 2GB hard drive might only take several seconds to format while a 2TB drive could take considerably longer depending on the speed of the hard drive and the computer as a whole.

  12. The format is complete when the Status changes to Healthy, which will happen a few seconds after the format counter reaches 100%.

    Windows 7 does not otherwise notify you that the drive format is complete.

  13. That's it! You've just formatted a hard drive in Windows 7 and you can now use the new drive to store files, install programs, backup data... whatever you want.

    Note: If you created multiple partitions on this physical hard drive, you can now return to Step 3 and repeat these steps, formatting the additional drive(s).


  1. Not a Windows 7 user? See How Do I Format a Hard Drive in Windows? for specific instructions for your version of Windows.

  2. When you fully format a hard drive in Windows 7 you also perform a very basic wipe of the data on it. See How To Wipe a Hard Drive for some arguably more thorough methods of truly erasing the data on your hard drive.

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Format a Hard Drive for Windows 7

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