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How To Format a Hard Drive in Windows Vista


Drive Format Options in Windows Vista - Format Hard Drive Vista

Drive Format Options in Windows Vista

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

That might sound complicated to do but it's not at all difficult to format a hard drive in Windows Vista. Formatting a hard drive is a basic function of all operating systems and Windows Vista makes it incredibly easy to do.

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

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

Note: Not using Windows Vista? 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 Vista depends mostly on the size of the drive

Here's How:

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

    Note: You can also open Disk Management from the Command Prompt in Windows Vista but starting it via Computer Management is more common.

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

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

    If either situation above occurs, it probably means that the hard drive has not been partitioned, something you must do before you format the drive.

    See How To Partition a Hard Drive in Windows Vista for instructions. Start at Step 3 below when that's complete.

    Note: Formatting the C drive, or whatever letter happens to identify the partition that Windows Vista is installed on, can not be done from Disk Management or from anywhere else in Windows Vista. 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: For obvious reasons it's extremely important to choose the correct drive to format in Windows Vista:

    • If you're formatting a drive that has data on it, check that it's the correct drive by looking at the drive letter and then confirming in Windows Explorer that the data on that drive is the data you want to erase.

    • If you're formatting a new drive, the assigned drive letter should not be familiar and the File System should be reported as RAW.
  4. In the Volume label: textbox, assign a name to the drive or leave it as is. If this is a newly partitioned drive, Windows Vista will assign the name New Volume.

    It's my recommendation that you give a descriptive name to the drive so it's easier to identify in the future. For example, if you're using this drive to store music, give the drive a volume label of Music.

  5. For File system: choose NTFS unless you have a good reason to choose another file system.

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

  6. Leave the Allocation unit size: set to Default unless you have a specific reason to change it. It's not common to set a custom allocation unit size when formatting a hard drive in Windows Vista.

  7. Windows Vista does not suggest that you Perform a quick format and I agree. Keep this box unchecked so a standard format is done.

    In a standard format, an error check is completed on each sector on the hard drive. A quick format skips this valuable bad sector search. A standard format is much slower than a quick format but it helps proves that the hard drive is working as it should and is a safe place for whatever you save there.

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

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

  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 now start. You can keep track of the drive format by watching the Formatting: (xx%) progress in the Status field on the top half of Disk Management.

    Note: Formatting a hard drive in Windows Vista could take a very long time if the drive is large and/or slow. A small hard drive might only take several seconds to format while a very large drive could take hours - it all depends on the size of the drive, the speed of the hard disk drive and the speed of the computer as a whole.

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

    Windows Vista doesn't specifically alert you that the drive format is complete but the newly formatted drive will probably open up automatically in Windows Explorer.

  13. That's it! You've just formatted a hard drive in Windows Vista and you can now use the new drive to store any kind of file, backup data, install programs... anything you want.

    Note: If you created more than one partition 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 Vista user? See How Do I Format a Hard Drive in Windows? for specific instructions for your version of Windows.

  2. When you format a hard drive in Windows Vista, you don't truly erase any information, you only hide it from the operating system. See How To Wipe a Hard Drive if you want to actually erase the data on your hard drive.

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