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How to Set Up an External Drive for Windows System Image

To use an external hard drive for Windows Vista Complete PC Backup or Windows 7 System Image, you must ensure that the drive is formatted with the NT File System, or NTFS. Because most external drives come formatted with the FAT32 standard, it means that the drive must be converted.

You can use either an external hard drive or a very high capacity thumb drive, but either way, the NTFS will have to be installed. The conversion operation is technical, but not that difficult to work through. Here are the steps:

  1. Open the Computer window and make a note of the external drive letter and its volume label.

    The drive’s volume label is a smidgen of text used to identify the media by name. It’s not used for much in Windows, except for instances that involve formatting or conversion. In the Computer window, the volume label name appears in front of the drive letter.

  2. Close the Computer window.

    The next step is to open an administrator Command Prompt window.

  3. From the Start menu, choose All Programs→Accessories and then right-click the Command Prompt icon.

  4. Choose the command Run As Administrator from the pop-up menu.

    The Administrator Command Prompt window opens and displays a command prompt.

  5. Click the Continue button or type the administrator password to continue.

  6. Type the command convert <drive letter>: /fs:ntfs, but replace <drive letter> with your PC’s external drive letter.

    If the external drive letter is J, you type this command:

    convert j: /fs:ntfs

    Double-check your typing! A colon appears after the drive letter followed by a space. A colon appears between fs and ntfs.

  7. Press Enter.

    If you see the message Drive is already NTFS, you’re fine; skip to Step 10. Also, confirm that you typed the proper drive letter in Step 6.

    You’re prompted for the drive’s volume label:

    The type of the file system is FAT32.
    Enter current volume label for drive J:

    To cancel the operation at this point, press Ctrl+C.

  8. Type the drive’s volume label.

    You can always reopen the Computer window if you forget what the label was, but because you made a note of it in Step 1, you won’t have to.

  9. Press Enter.

    Windows converts the drive’s internal structure to the NTFS format. Again, none of the drive’s files are erased.

    The process can take several minutes, depending on the drive’s capacity. You see some information displayed on the screen as you wait.

    When the operation has been completed, you see the text Conversion complete and then another command prompt.

  10. Type exit and press Enter to close the Administrator Command Prompt window.

To confirm that the drive has been converted, open the Computer window and select the external drive’s icon. The bottom part of the window, the Details pane, should describe the file system as NTFS. (If the Details pane doesn’t show up, choose Layout→Details Pane from the Organize button menu.)

  • Converting the drive to NTFS doesn’t change how you can use the drive. As far as you’re concerned, the drive still shows up and holds files just like before. Internally, however, Windows is using the drive more efficiently.

  • Most operating systems now available understand the NTFS format and can use an NTFS hard drive just as well as they can use a FAT32 hard drive.

  • Converting the drive is not the same as reformatting the drive. The reformat operation erases the drive’s contents.

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