Certified IT Support Professional Learning Resources Formatting Hard Disk

Learning Resources

Formatting Hard Disk

Disk formatting is the process of preparing a hard disk drive or flexible disk medium for data storage. In some cases, the formatting operation may also create one or more new file systems. The formatting process that performs basic medium preparation is often referred to as "low-level formatting." The term "high-level formatting" most often refers to the process of generating a new file system. In certain operation systems (e.g., Microsoft Windows), the two processes are combined and the term "format" is understood to mean an operation in which a new disk medium is fully prepared to store files. Illustrated to the right are the prompts and diagnostics printed by MS-DOS's FORMAT.COM utility as a hard drive is being formatted.

Formatting a disk for use by an operating system and its applications involves three different steps.

Low-level formatting (i.e., closest to the hardware) marks the surfaces of the disks with markers indicating the start of a recording block (typically today called sector markers) and other information like block CRC to be used later, in normal operations, by the disk controller to read or write data. This is intended to be the permanent foundation of the disk, and is often completed at the factory.

Partitioning creates data structures needed by the operating system. This level of formatting often includes checking for defective tracks or defective sectors.

High-level formatting creates the file system format within the structure of the intermediate-level formatting. This formatting includes the data structures used by the OS to identify the logical drive or partition's contents). This may occur during operating system installation, or when adding a new disk. Disk and distributed file system may specify an optional boot block, and/or various volume and directory information for the operating system.

Partitioning is the process of writing information into blocks of a storage device or medium that allows access by an operating system. Some operating systems allow the device (or its medium) to appear as multiple devices; i.e. partitioned into multiple devices.

On MS-DOS, Windows, and UNIX-based operating systems (such as BSD, Linux/GNU, OS X) this is normally done with a partition editor, such as fdisk, parted, and Disk Utility. These operating systems support multiple partitions.

In current IBM mainframe OSs derived from OS/360 and DOS/360, such as z/OS and z/VSE, this is done by the INIT command of the ICKDSF utility. These OSs support only a single partition per device, called a volume. The ICKDSF functions include creating a volume label and writing a Record 0 on every track.

Floppy disks are not partitioned; however depending upon the OS they may require volume information in order to be accessed by the OS.

Partition editors and ICKDSF today do not handle low level functions for HDDs and optical disk drives such as writing timing marks, and they cannot reinitialize a modern disk that has been degaussed or otherwise lost the factory formatting.

Formatting Disk Drive

Step 1: Partition the hard disk

  1. Insert the Windows XP CD into your CD or DVD drive, or insert the first Windows XP Setup disk into the floppy disk drive, and then restart the computer to start the Windows XP Setup program.

    Note If you are using the Windows XP Setup disks, insert each additional disk when you are prompted, and then press ENTER to continue after you insert each disk.
  2. If you are prompted, select any options that are required to start the computer from the CD or DVD drive.
  3. If your hard disk controller requires a third-party original equipment manufacturer (OEM) driver, press F6 to specify the driver.
  4. At the Welcome to Setup page, press ENTER.
  5. Press F8 to accept the Windows XP Licensing Agreement.
  6. If an existing Windows XP installation is detected, you are prompted to repair it. To bypass the repair, press ESC.
  7. All existing partitions and non-partitioned spaces are listed for each physical hard disk. Use the ARROW keys to select an existing partition, or create a new partition by selecting the non-partitioned space where you want to create a new partition. You can also press C to create a new partition using non-partitioned space.
  8. To create the partition with the maximum size, press ENTER. To specify the partition size, type the size in megabytes (MB) for the new partition, and then press ENTER.
  9. If you want to create additional partitions, repeat steps g. and h.
  10. To format the partition and install Windows XP.

Step 2: Format the hard disk and install Windows XP

  1. Use the ARROW keys to select the partition where you want to install Windows XP, and then press ENTER.
  2. Select the format option that you want to use to format the partition. You can select from the following options:Notes
    • Format the partition by using the NTFS file system (Quick)
    • Format the partition by using the FAT file system (Quick)
    • Format the partition by using the NTFS file system
    • Format the partition by using the FAT file system
    • Leave the current file system intact (no changes)
    • If the selected partition is a new partition, the option to leave the current file system intact is not available.
    • If the selected partition is larger than 32 gigabytes (GB), the FAT file system option is not available.
    • If the selected partition is larger than 2 GB, the Windows Setup program uses the FAT32 file system (you must press ENTER to confirm).
    • If the partition is smaller than 2 GB, the Windows Setup program uses the FAT16 file system.
    • If you deleted and created a new System partition, but you are installing Windows XP on a different partition, you are prompted to select a file system for both the System and Startup partitions.
  3. Press ENTER.
  4. After the Windows Setup program formats the partition, follow the instructions that appear on the screen to install Windows XP.


 For Support