How to format a new hard drive on Windows 10

Windows 10 format hard drive with Disk Management
Windows 10 format hard drive with Disk Management (Image credit: Windows Central)

On Windows 10, when connecting a new internal or external hard drive, it's important to spend the time to format it before storing files. You want to do this to make sure that the drive is empty, working as expected, and free of malware that might otherwise harm the current setup and files. It's also important to format the storage to ensure that it's using the proper settings to avoid compatibility problems.

Whenever you format a hard drive, the data will be deleted, since part of the process includes purging the file system table that tracks the locations of the files written on disk. The process will then define the area where files will be stored, and a compatible file system (such as NTFS, FAT32, or exFAT) will be applied to organize the new content. The system will continue to detect the previous data, but it'll identify that information as available space to store new data.

Windows 10 includes many methods to format a hard drive, but using Disk Management is perhaps one of the best options for most users.

In this Windows 10 guide, we'll walk you through the steps to properly format a traditional hard drive or Solid-State Drive (SSD), whether it already has a partition or was never initialized.

How to format existing partition using Disk Management

When you're dealing with a drive that already has a partition, you can format the existing partition to delete its files and start with a clean storage.

To format a partition using Disk Management, use these steps:

  1. Open Start.
  2. Search for Create and format hard disk partitions and click the top result to open the Disk Management console.
  3. Right-click the new hard drive and select the Format option.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. In the "Value label" field, confirm a new name for the storage.
  2. Use the "File system" drop-down menu, and select the NTFS option (recommended for Windows 10).
  3. Use the "Allocation unit size" drop-down menu, and select the Default option.
  4. Check the Perform a quick format option.Quick tip: The quick format option wipes the drive fast, but it doesn't check for problems. On the other hand, when clearing the option, a full format will be performed, which not only wipes the drive clean, but it'll also check for bad sectors. It's an option that could take many hours depending on the size, but it's a good practice to make sure the drive is in working conditions.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Clear the Enable file and folder compression option.
  2. Click the OK button.
  3. Click the OK button again.

Once you complete the steps, the tool will format the selected partition on the drive, and then you can begin storing files.

How to create and format partition using Disk Management

In the case that you have a hard drive that was never partitioned and formatted, it will not appear in File Explorer, and you'll have to initialize, create a new partition, and then format it before you can use it.

Usually, you can tell a hard drive doesn't have a partition, because it will not appear in File Explorer, and on Disk Management, it'll show up as unallocated space.

To set up a new hard drive with raw space on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Start.
  2. Search for Create and format hard disk partitions and click the top result to open the Disk Management console.
  3. Right-click the hard drive marked as "Unknown" and "Not Initialized" and select the Initialize Disk option.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Under the "Select disks" section, check the disk to initialize.
  2. Select the partition style:
    • Master Boot Record (MBR) for hard drives smaller than 2TB in size.
    • GUID Partition Table (GPT) for hard drives larger than 2TB in size.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the OK button.
  2. Right-click the Unallocated space part of the storage, and select the New Simply Value option.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Next button.
  2. Under the "Simple volume size in MB" section, leave the default size if you're planning to use the entire hard drive to store files. Otherwise, specify the amount of space in megabytes you want to allocate for the partition.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Next button.
  2. Use the "Assign the following drive letter" drop-down menu to select a new drive letter.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Next button.
  2. Use the "File system" drop-down menu, and select the NTFS option (recommended for Windows 10).
  3. Use the "Allocation unit size" drop-down menu, and select the Default option.
  4. In the "Value label" field, type a descriptive name for the storage.
  5. Check the Perform a quick format option.Quick tip: To perform a full format that includes a disk check, clear the quick format option. If you use the full format option, remember that it can take many hours to complete depending on the size.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Clear the Enable file and folder compression option.
  2. Click the Next button.
  3. Click the Finish button.

After you complete the steps, the new hard drive will be initialized, partitioned, and properly formatted.

If the drive is exhibiting problems using the Disk Management tool, as a result of data corruption or another issue, you can use the DiskPart command-line tool to resolve the problem.

We're focusing this guide on Windows 10, but these instructions should also work on Windows 8.1 and Windows 7.

Mauro Huculak is technical writer for WindowsCentral.com. His primary focus is to write comprehensive how-tos to help users get the most out of Windows 10 and its many related technologies. He has an IT background with professional certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTIA, and he's a recognized member of the Microsoft MVP community.

9 Comments
  • Not sure I agree with the decision to make a full vs quick format just to check the drive for bad sectors. Isn't that what SMART monitoring is supposed to be for, detecting damage to a disk whilst in use? Windows has natively supported reporting of SMART status since at least Windows 7, though I'm sure Vista had it too. A full format of a modern 4TB drive will take close to 2 hours.  If I wanted to check a disk for bad sectors, I'd use chkdisk or manually check the SMART info. I see little logic to lump a disk check with a format if the format is all you're looking to do.
  • SMART only updates the information based on what the drive accesses. Bad sectors are only reallocated when they can't be read/written on the disk. SMART gets updated once that happens.
    A quick format only write the start of the disk with the partition layout and basic file system structure. Thus, SMART at that moment in time will only be counting the a very small part of the disk. A full format will overwrite every sector of the drive, ensuring that the SMART information is accurate and correct before you start using the disk. If after the full format, you get SMART failures you can immediately return the drive to the retailer for a replacement, or offer up a RMA ticket for a replacement. It's much better to do that as soon as possible, rather than later on in a few months after you've got your data on it and find out some of the disk is actually bad.
    Keep in mind that depending on what is wrong with the disk at the bad sectors, those sectors can spread very quickly to other parts of the disk once accessed as the read,write head sweeps over (in the case of debris on the platter). While this should have been picked up in the factory during the low level format tests, drives can get damaged in shipping.
    Personally, 2 hours isn't much for the sanity it can save. Its not like the old DOS days where the machine was locked up doing a format and you couldn't use it for anything else until it had completed. Modern Windows machines are more than happy to continue on like nothing is happening while you're formatting a disk. Just go play some fortnite, binge watch some youtube videos or finish that essay off while you wait it out.
  • I'm honestly surprised that they haven't updated the UI of this program in forever, given all that they're updating. Maybe they'll get to for the next update with Neon.
    Hope they do look at it, especially since sometimes it can break, which is infuriating. I do miss Disk Utility on Mac, although they did make it harder to use a couple years again. Still waiting on an upgrade for this. Glad they have this though so I don't have to look up powershell commands every time.
  • Is it worthwhile reformatting a microSD card or just leave it alone when unsung one for additional drive space?
  • These days, MicroSD cards are so cheap that they're practically a disposable item.
  • For mechanical drives, always a good idea to fully format to eliminate bad sectors. SSD's, on the other hand will do just fine with quick format.
  • "completely clean, and free of malware or malicious code". If you worry about this, I'd suggest that you stop buying your storage from Aliexpress.
  • It would be good to note something about the step selecting MBR Vs. GPT. GPT would be something a common user needs to rely on if they have a partition to create that is larger than 2TB, however there are work-arounds to that. Cluster size, and max sectors are two of the main factors for this case. Creating a dynamic disk even though is not always beneficial is way to work around this. Even though it does not allow the partition to be bigger, you can create volume sets. Just the average user would not care. Secondly, they can select GPT even if the partition is not 2TB in size, just depends on what the goal is or will be. Fortunately MBR is forward compatible with newer systems. Yet GPT is not backward compatible with most older systems.
  • If you are going to recycle a 3 year old article, you might want to update it noting that MS is updating the disk management process. Not for the better I might add.