How to Format a Storage Device in Windows - dummies

How to Format a Storage Device in Windows

By Dan Gookin

All computer storage media must be formatted before it can hold data. Because all media comes preformatted, there’s never a need to initially format storage media on a PC. You may, however, find the need to reformat media.

One reason to do so is to erase all information previously stored on the media. When you reformat, all information previously stored on the disk is erased. Reformat storage media only if you truly need to. There is no undo command.

Another reason may be to make the media compatible with another computer, such as reformatting an NTFS volume to FAT or vice versa.

Here are the steps to do so:

  1. Open the Control Panel.

  2. Open the Administrative Tools window.

    • In Windows 7, choose System and Security and then choose Administrative Tools.

    • In Windows Vista, choose System and Maintenance and then choose Administrative Tools.

    • In Windows XP, open the Administrative Tools icon.

  3. In the Administrative Tools window, open the Computer Management icon.

    In Vista, click Continue or type the administrator’s password.


  4. On the left side of the window, choose Disk Management.

    It’s beneath the Storage heading.

  5. Right-click the media you want to format.

    You can click an icon at the top or bottom of the window.

    Windows 7 and Windows Vista sport the Convert utility, which changes the disk format to NTFS for certain types of storage media. The Convert utility doesn’t reformat the media, so no information is deleted.

  6. Choose Format from the shortcut menu.

    The Format command is dimmed for media you cannot format, such as an optical disc. You also cannot format the media that’s running Windows, such as drive C.

  7. If a warning appears, click the Yes button to continue.

    The Format dialog box appears.


  8. Type a volume label.

    The volume label is merely a name that helps you identify the media.

  9. Choose a format for the drive.

    Here as some of your choices:

    • Extended File Allocation Table (exFAT or FAT64): Designed for use with media cards and flash drives.

    • File Access Table (FAT): The original disk format.

    • File Access Table, 32-bit (FAT32): An updated version of the FAT that allowed access to larger hard drives. Still popular because FAT32 is recognized by many operating systems. Not as useful as NTFS, however.

    • High Performance File System (HPFS): Developed for IBM’s OS/2 and still used on PCs, though not as popular as NTFS.

    • File System for Windows NT (NTFS): The current and best disk format.

    The rest of the options in the Format dialog box don’t need to be adjusted unless you’re directed to do so by a higher authority.

  10. Click the OK button to display a suitable warning.

    A warning appears, reminding you that formatting erases any data stored on the media.

  11. Click the OK button to begin the formatting process.

  12. If Windows detects that the volume is being used, click the No button.

    Media is used when files are open, folder windows are open, or programs are accessing the drive or media card. If you’re certain that nothing is accessing the card, click the Yes button to proceed with the format.

    You can watch the formatting progress in the Status column of the Disk Management console.

    Formatting takes time. The larger the volume, the longer it takes.

  13. Close the Disk Management console when you’re done.

Freshly formatted (or reformatted) media is ready for use. At that point, you’re free to use the storage device as you see fit.