How to format a hard drive, SSD, or USB flash drive
To format a local computer hard disk drive, SSD (solid-state drive), external storage hard drive, SD card or USB flash drive (sometimes improperly called a memory stick) and erase all its information and prepare it to hold data follow the steps below.
You can use the instructions on this page to format a memory card in a memory card reader.
If you want to format a hard drive and reinstall Windows, see: How to erase my hard drive and start over.
If you want to format a write-protected USB flash drive, you must first disable the write protection, then proceed with formatting the flash drive. See: How to enable or disable write-protection on a USB flash drive.
Basic format using My Computer in Microsoft Windows
- Press the Windows key, type My Computer, and press Enter.
- Find the appropriate drive icon and right-click it.
- In the drop-down menu that appears, select the Format option.
- In the Format window, most options should be set by default, and you can most likely leave those default settings as is.
Quick Format is optional. The Quick Format feature formats the drive faster but makes it easier to recover data using specialized software.
- Click Start to begin the format process.
Basic format using the Windows command line
- Open the Windows command prompt.
- At the prompt, type format and the appropriate drive letter, and press Enter. For example, if the hard drive you are formatting is drive E:, type format E:
- When asked if you want to erase all contents on the hard drive, type Y to proceed.
You may see a prompt to Enter current volume label for drive E: or something similar, depending on what drive letter you are formatting. You need to know the volume for the hard drive before starting the format process. Before executing the format command, type vol e: (replace e: with the drive letter of the hard drive being formatted) and press Enter. The volume name displayed, for example, with Volume in drive E is MyData, "MyData" is the volume name.
Zero-fill format using the Windows command line
The zero-fill format option is only available in Windows Vista and later.
For a more thorough erasing of data on a hard drive, you can zero fill it, which overwrites all data on the hard drive with zeroes. Zero filling makes it impossible for someone to recover data from the hard drive that was overwritten.
To zero fill a hard drive, use the following command at the Windows command prompt.
format e: /p:count
The above command tells Windows to format the hard drive (in this case, the E: drive) by writing zeroes to every sector. Replace the count text with the number of times you want the hard drive to be formatted. After the first round of zero-fill formatting, the format process fills every sector with a random number between zero and nine. The more times you format the drive with the count option, the more securely the hard drive is erased.
Basic format using the DOS command line
If you have a Windows recovery disc or a Windows installation disc, you can access the DOS command prompt and erase or a hard drive. Using the following format method allows you to erase the primary hard drive on the computer (e.g., the C: drive).
- Insert the Windows recovery disc or Windows installation disc in the CD or DVD drive.
- Restart the computer. As the computer is booting up, a message like Press any key to boot from CD should be seen. Press any key on the keyboard to make the computer boot to the Windows recovery or installation disc.
If you do not see the message Press any key, the computer's boot sequence is likely not set to boot from the CD or DVD drive first. In your BIOS setup, configure your boot sequence so the CD or DVD drive is listed first.
- Once the computer has finished booting to the disc, a Recovery Options box should appear. Click Next to proceed through the recovery process.
- After a few moments, a System Recovery Options screen should appear. Select the Use recovery tools that can help fix problems starting Windows option.
- Select that operating system you want to repair and click Next.
- On the next screen, select the Command Prompt option.
- The recovery process should exit and return you to the command prompt. At the command prompt, type the following command: format e: (change the e: drive letter to that of the hard drive you are formatting).
- Once asked if you want to erase all contents on the hard drive, type Y to proceed.
You need to know the correct volume for the hard drive you want to format. For example, you may see a prompt to Enter current volume label for drive E: or similar, depending on what hard drive letter you are formatting. Before executing the format command, you can type vol e: (replace e: with the drive letter of the hard drive being formatted) and press Enter. The volume name displayed, for example, with Volume is drive E is MyData, "MyData" is the volume name.
- How to make sure all data is erased on a computer hard drive.
- How to regain computer hard drive space.
- How to delete a partition in Windows.
- Can you get files and data after a hard drive is reformatted?
- What is the difference between a quick format and a full format?
- Do I need to defrag my SSD or flash drive?
- How do you copy files from one drive to another drive?
- Hard drive help and support.