Formatting a Hard Drive Using the Windows Operating System

Formatting a hard drive using the Windows operating system is quite an easy task now days. Over the years technology has granted us easy ways to take care of our own computers, without having to always employee and IT repair guy. I personally love formatting a hard drive regularly to keep my computer running to its optimum performance. I guess you might say I have a problem as I find that it is the only way that I can really keep my computer in order.

My friends and family cringe when I mention the F Word and it is not what you think, as I am speaking about the word format. Formatting a hard drive is the ultimate computer maintenance task. It cuts out all the hard work of either maintaining your computer or trying to fix it when errors occur. Many people are left with no option but to re-install Windows from scratch when a problem just can’t be solved.

Getting prepared for formatting a hard drive

When formatting a hard drive you will need certain things to perform this task correctly. Here is a list of things you will need when you want to format your computer.

  • You will need a Windows operating system CD. Hopefully you will have the original CD hanging around somewhere. it is also okay to use a copy of your exact disk that you had as long as you have your Windows COA sticker attached to your computer. This is also known as the COA sticker and holds the serial number for your copy of Windows.
  • You will definitely need to have your files backed up to either an external hard drive or maybe even an online backup service.
  • When formatting a hard drive you will obviously need a computer that needs a format. This might be a computer with so many errors that it is not worth fixing. It may also be a computer that just hasn’t had a good format in a long time.
  • If you are formatting using Windows XP or even Windows Vista you will need to have either a backup of your device drivers or a system disk that holds your drivers. If you do not have a disk that hold your device drivers then you might have to search for them on the Internet. before formatting a hard drive I seriously recommend making sure that you have a driver for your network adapter so you can connect to the Internet. This will allow you to download the other drivers if needed.

Backing up your files before formatting a hard drive

This is one of the most important things that you can do. People do not understand that when you are formatting a hard drive, this means that you will wipe every piece of darter from that hard drive. If you had saved photos and files or even e-mail addresses, they will all be gone after formatting the hard drive. I hope you understand what I am saying here. Absolutely everything will be gone from your computer and you will only have a fresh new copy of Windows is installed on your computer. This also means that any programs that you have installed, such as photo editing programs, games, and so on, will be absolutely gone. When you have finished formatting your computer, the usual procedure is to reinstall all of your necessary programs and drivers to enable you to start using your computer again.

The difference between formatting a hard drive with Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7?

Obviously Windows XP was released approximately 10 years ago and along the way we have had Windows Vista and now Windows 7. Technology has changed over the years but the basic knowledge on how to format a hard drive stays the same. You still have to partition the hard drive before formatting and installing Windows on. If you want to reformat windows you will also still have to delete the old partition where the original version of Windows existed. There are many things that are exactly the same when formatting a hard drive with Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7. Of course, Windows 7 looks a lot prettier, but the essence of formatting a hard drive is still there.

If I was talking about formatting a hard drive with Windows millennium or Windows 95, that would be a totally different story. Back in those days most computers still had a floppy drive and this was used as a start-up disk. However now the modern Windows operating system CD’s are bootable without having to use a floppy disk.

Another major difference between formatting a hard drive with Windows XP and the later versions of Windows is that the newer versions are on a DVD disc and not a CD.

Common factors when formatting a hard drive with any Windows operating system

  • When formatting a hard drive with any version of Windows you must insert the operating system CD and boot from it. This means that you will see a message on the screen saying “press any key to boot from CD or DVD..”. If you do not see this message when you start your computer with the Windows operating system CD in the CD drive, then you must enter your computer BIOS and change the boot settings. Here is a brief tutorial on how to change settings in your BIOS.
  • It is always recommended that you delete the previous partition that Windows was installed on an create a new partition for the new installation.
  • In all versions of Windows you will have the chance to divide or partition your hard drive into any size you require.
  • All of the recent versions of Windows use the NTFS file system. It is not recommended that you use the old FAT32 file system.
  • When formatting a hard drive in any version of Windows you will see an option to choose a quick format or a slow format. A slow format is always better when you have had major errors on your computer. This can also be known as a low level format.

Common problems people have when formatting a hard drive with Windows

  1. The first step is probably the hardest. As previously mentioned above, you will need to insert the original Windows operating system disk and then start your computer so it boots to that CD. People do not realize that you need to enter the BIOS to change the settings to make the computer boot to the CD first. Some people think there is a problem when the CD does not start.
  2. People often get confused when deleting the partition and creating a new one. Please pay particular attention to this area as it is not as hard as you think.
  3. When you have had your Windows disc for a long time it can become worn. Often I will make a copy of my original disks to use as the original would not transfer the system files to my computer correctly. If you find that when formatting a hard drive, the process stalls a number of times, then it could be your CD is worn out.
  4. One of the common problems that people have when formatting a hard drive is that they accidentally interrupted the process. It is not okay to stop the process of formatting a hard drive half way through. This is a definite way to cause major errors or even the dreaded black screen on your computer.

Formatting your hard drive with Windows

Below I am going to list step-by-step instructions to follow when formatting a hard drive in various versions of Windows. They are all very similar with only a few minor differences. Therefore if you are experienced in formatting a hard drive using Windows XP, you will definitely have no problem formatting with Windows Vista or Windows 7.

The following steps below presume that you have entered your BIOS and change the settings for your computer to boot to your CD or DVD drive. Therefore you will see the message on the screen saying “press any key to boot from CD or DVD…” If  you have not this far and press a key on your keyboard, this means that you are booting into the CD to start formatting your hard drive.

Formatting a hard drive using Windows XP

1.   The first screen you will see will be blue and it will look like files are being loaded onto your computer. You will be prompted to press the F8 key to agree to the Windows terms and conditions.

2.  The next screen you will see after booting from the CD will be a blue screen. On the screen you will need to read it carefully and then press enter. If you press enter on your keyboard, this means that you want to install Windows XP. See the screen shot below.


3.   Now you will see a screen showing the previous installation of Windows.

4.  Select that version of Windows so we know which partition we are going to delete. If you have not got a previous version of Windows on your computer you will see an un-partitioned space.


5.  As you can see in the screenshot above I have selected the previous version of Windows.

6.  Now I will press the escape key to install a fresh copy of Windows XP.

7.  On the next screen I will select the partition with Windows on it and press D on the keyboard to delete it.

8.  Then I will press the letter L to confirm that I want to delete that partition.

9.  To recreate a petition we will need to press the C on the keyboard. Your computer will estimate the size for the partition and all you have to do is press enter.

10.  To see more instructions please see this detailed tutorial on how to format Windows XP.

Formatting a hard drive using Windows Vista

When formatting a hard drive with Windows Vista, it is very much the same as Windows XP except the operating system will probably be on a DVD and not a CD. This means that you will have to have a DVD drive to read the disc. once you have booted from the DVD disc you will be prompted to “press any key to boot from the CD or DVD..”

1.  After pressing any key to boot from the DVD you will be presented with the screen shown above. This is where you need to set your language options.

2.  After pressing Next you will need to press on the Install Now button in the middle of the screen.

3.  Enter your license key which you will find on your COA sticker.

4.  Next you will have to accept the license agreement by ticking the box and pressing next.

5.  In the next window you will have the choice to upgrade or have a custom installation. Choose custom installation.

Choose custom istallation Windows vista

6.  Now you can choose the the partition where your previous Windows version is installed.

Windows Vista delete partition

7.  If you have an un-partitioned hard drive then you can simply continue but if you have a previous installation of Windows you will need to delete the partition and create a new one.

8.  Press on Drive options (advanced) link to see more options on editing the partition.

drive options

9. After pressing on the Drive options link you will see an option to delete. If you have selected the partition you can now delete it.

delete the hard drive partition

10.  After deleting the partition keep the partition selected and press on format.

11.  Now you can press on new to create a new partition.this section is the most difficult part.

12. The rest is a breeze and is pretty much automatic.

completing installation

13.  The computer will want to restart. Do not touch anything while restarting, especially if you have left the DVD disc in the drive.

14.  When the computer restarts you will need to fill in a few details such as time zones and network options.

Formatting a hard drive using Windows 7

Formatting a hard drive with Windows Seven is identical to Windows Vista. All you need to do is follow the instructions above. Every step is the same.

install windows seven now

Formatting a spare hard drive

It is even easier to format an external hard drive if it is attached to  your computer as a second hard drive or even if it is in an old hard drive in an external hard drive case. All you have to do is access that particular hard drive in Windows Explorer, right click on it to access a menu, and then choose to format. That is the easiest way I know of formatting a hard drive. This only works on hard drives that do not contain Windows system files.

See more helpful articles on how to format windows.

You can also download a free PDF report on How to Format Windows

Just remember, that when formatting a hard drive with any version of Windows, practice makes perfect.


  1. Dale Chadwick says

    I was told it would be a $100 job, if I brought in my computer and my disc. Plan to copy out the stuff I need and and find a friend or do it myself. Would be happy to be not lost in M 7.

    • says

      Yes some people do not charge too much if they only have to press a few buttons.. Having the disc and letting you backup your files will make it easy for them..

  2. dale rego says

    I hit gold when I stumbled on this site. I am 54 years old and until a year ago I was intimated by my mouse. Thanks to your site and all the others like it! I am determined to learn how to use my computer and its nice to be able to get free information on things that I have questions about or things that I do not know even exist. Thanks, Dale Rego