How to Format a Hard Drive in Windows 10

The practice of formatting a hard drive on Windows has been around since ancient times when the operating system was inscribed onto wax tablets and tech-savvy ancients would know how to wipe the waxy slate clean. Today the process is more advanced though still fairly easy to do. Here we’ll tell you everything you need to know about formatting a hard drive on Windows 10 and how to do it.

Note: Make sure you’ve backed up all your data if you’re formatting an existing drive. This guide shows you how to format a hard drive from within Windows. If, however, you want to format the drive that your OS is installed on, you’ll need to boot your PC to a Windows installation disc or ISO and do it from there.

Formatting is the process by which you wipe all data from a hard drive so that new data can be written over the top of it. There are a few different file systems you can format a drive to (NTFS, FAT32 and exFAT being the most popular), each of which works fine in Windows but may not work across different devices.

If your computer has slowed down, you can hear your hard drive struggling with reading and writing (grinding clicking sounds in your PC), and you’ve tried everything else, then it might be time for a format. Alternatively, you may want to format a new hard drive you’ve just bought so it works in your PC.

Note: in Windows you cannot format the C: partition, as that is where the Windows system files are residing. You can only format the secondary (or external) hard disk or another partition in the primary hard disk.

To get a clearer picture of things, go to the “Disk Management utility” in Windows. (Press the Win key, type “disk management” and select “Create and format hard disk partitions”.)

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Here you’ll see all the hard drives – internal and external – connected to your PC. If you’ve just inserted a new hard drive, it should be listed, but the space within it will be “Unallocated.” If you want to format an existing active hard drive, you can do one of the following:

  • Right-click the drive you want to format and click “Delete volume,” which will turn that drive (or partition) into unallocated space and delete all the data on that drive. This is useful if you want to create partitions (more on that in a bit).

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  • Alternatively, right-click the drive you want to format, and select “Format,” which will take you to the options for formatting your drive directly into a different file system.

If you went for the “Delete volume” option and that drive is now “Unallocated space,” you’ll need to decide whether you want the whole drive to be one partition or if you want to create separate partitions on that drive (useful for lots of things, such as if you want to install a second operating system, such as Ubuntu, on that drive, or if it’s an external drive, you might want to have an NTFS partition for your Windows stuff, but a dedicated exFAT partition also, which is compatible with your PS4.)

Once you’ve decided, right-click the big black bar representing the Unallocated space, and click “New Simple Volume.” We’re going to create a 60GB NTFS partition first, so that’s “60000” in MB. You should obviously enter numbers relevant to you. If you want the whole drive to be one partition, just type the same number as the “Maximum size” displayed.

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Next, choose what drive letter you’d like your new drive/partition to have.

On the next screen, here are the key things you need to know:

  • File system: Choose from NTFS, exFAT or FAT32. NTFS is the fastest system for Windows, but the least compatible with other devices. FAT32 is pretty universal but limits file sizes, while exFAT is a modernized version of FAT32 without the size limits, so generally a better option.
  • Allocation unit size: The bigger the unit size, the faster the read speed technically, but you should adapt this to the size of the files on your drive, otherwise you risk wasting space. If you’re creating a hard drive for watching movies, go for a big allocation unit size. If it’s more general stuff, go for a smaller one.
  • Perform a quick format: If you have time to spare, we recommend not selecting this option. A full format will scan your disk for bad sectors and fix them, which will ensure better performance in the long run.

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Once you’ve selected the options that suit you, go ahead and click Next, then Finish. The drive or partition will be created, and you’ll see it in your Disk Management window. Notice that the other half of our drive is still Unallocated. If we want to fill this up, we just repeat the process above but with the parameters we want for that partition.

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That, in a nutshell, is how you format a hard drive using Windows 10. The same rules apply for SSDs, SATA drives, USB flash drives, and internal/external drives. Just remember to do all your backing up beforehand!

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