We all have heard this term earlier, about Formatting the Computer or formatting Hard Drives (formatting of computers is essentially formatting of the hard drive inside the computer). Let us today know exactly all about what Formatting is and how do we go about it.
OK, so what is ‘Formatting’ of Hard Drives?
First of all, let us know what Formatting actually means. Hard Drives are storage medias, which is read / written on by computers. And, for the computers to be able to read and write on to it, they need to be able to communicate and store the data on the device in a way which the computer can actually do it.
So, Formatting basically configures the storage media (read: hard drive) such that the computer is able to write on it and is able to retrieve the information as and when required. This is quite essential as without a proper formatted hard drive (or any other media) will be of no use.
Hard Drives of different sort, internal ones, external ones, pen drives, they all come pre-formatted. Hence, you do not require to format them on first use.
So what all happens when a disk is Formatted?
The formatting of a disk basically means:
- All the existing information will get deleted. As this process deals with re-writing the file-system on the disk, it has to erase all the existing information on the disk. If you remember, whenever any funny thing used to happen to your computer, your computer-wala would have suggested you for formatting of your PC. Right? So they basically remove everything from the computer, so that whatever was wrong or mis-behaving factor was there on the disk, will get removed. But, at the cost of loosing your data.
- During this time, the partitions are also created on the drive. Partitions are nothing but dedicated areas on the drive, which can be used to segregate the data stored on the device. These partitions are identified on the basis of a letter that is assigned to each of the drives created. On Windows, you will generally see 2 partitions. One is used for all the Operating System related installations (generally C:) and for the User related data, D: is used. These partitions are created during the formatting process.
What are the different Formats available and how to choose one?
The first thing to do before formatting a drive, is to decide which format to use. The choice of format quite depends on the way you would be using your drive. Let us first get to know what are the different formats that are available. Here are the different format options:
- NTFS (New Technology File System) – This is the default File System for Windows. Linux and Mac OS can only read this format, but cannot write on it. All external Hard Drives are pre-formatted with this file system. Hence, if you buy a new Hard Drive to be used with a Macbook, you will have to format it in the Mac-readable file system (we will read more about this later).
- FAT32 (File Allocation Table) – This file system existed since MS-DOS and is the most common file system being used, even today. The best part about this format is that Windows, Linux and Mac OS, all can read and write on this format. But, the only drawback is that it supports files with max size of 4GB. And, it can be used on medias which are upto 2TB in size. So, if you are going to use you storage disk on Windows as well as Macbook, this format can be used.
- exFat (Extended File Allocation Table) – This is the ideal format if you have to use an external drive with both, Windows and Mac. It is platform-independent and overcomes such disadvantages. It can also store files which are bigger than 4GB.
- Mac OS Extended – This format is available only on the Macbooks and not on Windows as this is developed by Apple. This format is best suited if you are a Mac user only and do not plan on using the same drive on Windows (unless you do not mind reformatting).
Hopefully by now you would have decided which file system to use for formatting your disk. Now let us see how do we actually format the drive.
How to Format disk on Windows platform
Majority of the computer users are Windows users, hence first we will talk about steps on Windows OS. Also, these steps are written here keeping in mind that you are formatting your external hard drive and not the one which is currently active in your machine. Here are the steps:
- First thing first – check properly that you do not have any data on the drive which you want to format. As the formatting process will erase everything from the drive
- Make sure that you drive is connected properly to the machine and the connection is not loose. It is important as if during the formatting, the drive gets disconnected, it can lead to drive getting corrupted and unusable
- Go to ‘Computer’ and Right-click on the drive which you would like to format and click on ‘Format’
- You will now see a dialogue box same as shown above (where Format options are discussed). Choose the required format.
- Now, by default ‘Quick Format’ will be selected. Let it be and click on ‘Start’. Quick format runs very fast and does not erase everything from the drive. But it DOES ERASE all the data. And for file system, it creates a new one instead of over-writing on the existing. You need not worry about this option, unless you are an advanced user. Just let this option be selected and hit ‘Start’.
Voila! You have formatted your drive.
How to Format disk on Windows platform
The steps to formatting a disk on Mac OS are quite similar to Windows’, but how to locate this option is quite different. Actually Mac OS has a separate in-house utility that deals with everything about disks. It is in fact called Disk Utility only. Now let us see the steps to format disk on Mac OS:
- Ensure that you do not have any important data on the drive to be formatted and connect the drive to Macbook
- Start Disk Utility and see if the required disk is already mounted to Mac OS
- Select the right disk from the Left Panel and go to ‘Erase’ tab. Here select the required format and click on ‘Erase’ button
It will take a few seconds to format and you will be done.
Here are a few extra points which you should keep in mind
- In case you are planning to format your internal hard-drive, you need to keep in mind that you will need a Boot-disk so that once the disk is formatted, this Boot-disk will be used to run the machine
- Formatting a drive means you are deleting the stuff from the disk, which means that there is a physical intervention required here. So, keep in mind that you are not formatting your drive a lot. It may leave your drive unusable and corrupted. Choose one format at the beginning and stay with it, unless required to format it again
- Take care of your data on the drive before formatting. I cannot say this enough – you have make sure that you have taken a backup of all your important stuff before letting the formatting process delete it from the disk. Once lost, cannot be recovered
- Quick Format is more than enough for you and try not to do slow format
I hope this would have given you a fair idea about formatting hard drive. Let us know if you know something more and would like to share with us.