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How To Format a Hard Drive in Windows XP


Drive Format Options in Windows XP - Format Hard Drive XP

Drive Format Options in Windows XP

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

As complicated as that might seem to do, it's not at all hard to format a hard drive in Windows XP. Formatting a hard drive is a basic computer function so Windows XP makes it very 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 XP and then return here to format the drive.

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

Note: Not using Windows XP? 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 XP depends greatly on the size of the drive

Here's How:

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

    Note: You can also open Disk Management from the Command Prompt in Windows XP but starting it via Computer Management is probably just as easy.

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

    Important: Don't see the drive listed that you want to format or does an Initialize and Convert Disk Wizard start?

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

    See How To Partition a Hard Drive in Windows XP 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 XP is installed on, can not be done from Disk Management or from anywhere else in Windows XP. 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: It's very important to choose the correct drive to format in Windows XP:

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

    It's my opinion that you should 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 act as a backup for important files, name the volume Backup.

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

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

  6. Allocation unit size: should remain at Default unless you have a specific reason to change it. It's not common to configure a custom allocation unit size when formatting a hard drive in Windows XP.

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

    In a standard format, each sector on the hard drive is checked for errors. A quick format skips this valuable error check. 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 choose to store there.

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

    Most of the time file and folder compression isn't necessary in today's world of very large hard drives but if you think you might use the feature then you can certainly enable it.

  9. Click OK at the bottom of the window.

  10. Click OK to the "WARNING: Formatting will erase all data on this volume. To format the volume, Click OK. To quit, click Cancel." 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 XP could take a very long time if the drive is slow and/or large. 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 overall speed of the computer.

  12. The format is complete when the File System changes from nothing to NTFS (or whatever file system you chose) which will happen just after the format counter reaches 100%.

    Windows XP doesn't specifically alert you that the drive format is complete.

  13. That's it! You've just formatted a hard drive in Windows XP and you can now use the new drive to store saved files, install new programs, etc.

    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 XP 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 XP, 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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