How To Format A Hard Drive

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Here’s a quick and easy guide on how to format a hard drive so your computer works as flawlessly as possible.

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A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Format a Hard Drive

Step 1: Know the Different File Systems

File Systems Definition: These programs allow different operating systems (OS) to store and organize data. Usually, an OS uses a default system which might not be recognized by other types of OS.

There are many reasons why you might need to know how to format a hard drive. For instance, you might be planning to sell your computer and you want all your files removed from it.

You might also be in the process of exploring a new operating system. Whatever your reason may be, we got you covered.

How to format a hard drive starts with familiarizing yourself with different file systems. Here’s a list of the most common systems you might encounter.

File Systems

  • NTFS: Windows uses this as its default file system. Therefore, NTFS-formatted hard drives allow Windows with a read and write access. If you’re using Linux or OS X, your computer will read NTFS-formatted hard drives. However, it can’t write to these drives, unless you have installed NTFS-3G.
  • FAT32: This file system allows read and write access to Windows, Linux, and OS X. This scores this system points for versatility points. But, it has two major downsides. The first is its limited storage capacity (4GB max), which proves problematic to chronic movie hoarders. Also, FAT32 is a relatively old file system, which is too old to be recognized by newer updates of Windows.
  • ExFAT: This system has all the major advantages of FAT32 sans the downsides. This means you can use it for both Windows and OS X and for storing files larger than 4GB.
  • HFS Plus: This is OS X’s default file system, which is why it is also called “Mac OS Extended.” For this system to be compatible with Windows, you’ll need to install Paragon HFS+ or similar tools.

These are just a few of the most commonly encountered file systems out there, especially for Mac and Windows users. The operative word here is compatibility.

For example, if you are Mac person, you’ll want to format your hard drive with HFS Plus. Meanwhile, if you are a Windows person, NTFS is your smartest option.

If you tend to use both, an ExFAT-formatted hard drive will give you your needed flexibility.

Step 2. How to Format a Hard Drive (Computer’s Main Hard Drive)

The installer will do the formatting for you if you only need to install a new OS or reinstall your existing OS. This process is as simple as inserting your installer drive or disc and following the resulting prompts.

The process gets a little complicated if you want to completely erase your hard drive’s content. Here, the first order of business is to back up your data. This will save you a lot of time and effort later on in case you realize that you have important files in your wiped hard drive.

The first tool that you’ll need is a bootable CD/DVD or USB drive. You can then follow these steps to securely wipe your computer:


  1. Download Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN).
  2. Save it in a CD or DVD.
  3. Use it to boot your computer.
  4. Go to BIOS by pressing either “F2” or “F12”(alternately, you can press “Delete” while booting)
  5. Select your boot device: “CD/DVD.”
  6. On the “Startup” screen, press “Enter.”
  7. Select the drive/s you want to be removed.


  1. Insert the Mac OS DVD into your computer (for recent versions, you might need to download the Lion Recovery Assistant in a USB drive).
  2. On startup, press and hold “C” until the computer boots to the DVD.
  3. Go to the “Applications” menu.
  4. Choose “Disk Utility.”
  5. Select the drive you want to be removed.
  6. Click the “Erase” tab.
  7. Click “Security Options.”
  8. Choose “35-Pass Erase.”

Keep in mind that the “35-Pass Erase” is just one of three options. There’s also “Zero Out Data” and “7-Pass Erase.

If you’re looking to wipe your hard drive so it’s clean and devoid of history, “35-Pass Erase” is a great option, but it might take longer than the two other options. However, if your main concern is security, it’s probably not the best choice.

RELATED: Backup Strategies For When (Not If) Your Hard Drive Fails

Step 3. How to Format a Hard Drive

Flash or External Hard Drive for Windows

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Formatting an external hard drive takes only a few seconds.

The best external hard drive will work once you plug it in, even without being formatted, but experts still recommend for these devices to be formatted.

This is because hard drives usually come with built-in software that might prove burdensome storage and function-wise. Formatting eliminates these possible annoyances.

Tech Made Easy

To format an external hard drive for Windows, follow these steps:

  1. Plug your drive into your computer.
  2. Go to Windows Explorer.
  3. From the sidebar, choose “Computer.”
  4. Find your drive and right click.
  5. Choose “Format.”
  6. Choose the file system you want to use (with the tips above in mind).
  7. Name your drive under “Volume label.”
  8. Check the “Quick Format” box.
  9. Click “Start.”

Flash or External Hard Drive for Mac

For Mac users, here are steps you need to follow:

  1. Open “Finder.”
  2. Choose “Applications/Utilities.”
  3. Double click on “Disk Utility.”
  4. Check the sidebar (lefthand) and select your drive.
  5. Choose the “Erase” tab.
  6. Choose your preferred file system (with the tips above in mind) under the “Format” menu.
  7. Name your drive.
  8. Click on the “Erase” button.

Here is a quick tip for Windows on how to complete format hard drive from Aron Alliston:

We hope these tips on how to format a hard drive can help you in formatting your own device. Before proceeding, be sure to back up your files to your computer or another device just so you’re assured that you still have a copy of the files you’ll need later on.

What are your reasons for formatting your hard drive? Share them with us in the comments section below. 

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