How to format a storage device in Windows 7 using different file systems

In this article today I am going to describe the options that are available in the Windows’ format tool and I also going to show you how to format a storage device (Hard Drive, USB flash drive, etc) in Windows 7 using different file systems. Using the format tool in Windows can be really useful when, for example you are getting rid of an old computer or an old hard drive to prevent that personal information don’t fall easily in the wrong hands or when getting a new hard drive is a good practice to use format to check for errors. Keep reading to learn more…

For those of you that may not know, in simple words, Format in computing means to erase all the data that resides in a storage device, this could be an internal or external hard drive, USB flash drive, etc and including the creation of a file system to start clean again.

To format a hard drive or USB drive do the following:

1.  Connect the storage device to the computer, if the device is external, then go to Start and click Computer.

2.  Select the storage device, right-click and select Format…

Windows 7 - Option Format

3.  When the Format box appear you will notice that Windows recognizes:

  • The maximum storage capacity of the device.
  • The file system that the device is currently using. Depending what the application may be for the hard drive or external storage device Windows can format in one of theses file systems: NTFS, FAT32 and exFAT.
  • The allocation unit size, which is the cluster size. To put it in a simple words the larger the size of the clusters the faster the hard disk will be, the smaller the size of the cluster will make the hard drive slower. You will be fine using the recommended settings for normal users: 4096KB.
  • Also there are some default settings that you can use by pressing the Restore device defaults button.
  • In the Volume label you can type a name for the device.

Last we have the Format options with:

  • Quick format: Most the time you will use this option, but it is recommended to uncheck this option if you are formating a new storage device to enable Format to engage a deep scan and check for bad sectors — but it will take more time to finish the process –.
  • Create an MS-DOS startup disk: This option will create a boot disk that will allow you to boot in MS-DOS.

Windows 7 - Format

When you are about to format your hard drive or USB flash drive, if you don’t need specific settings just leave the defaults — in the case you need a different file system you have the support for NTFS, FAT32 and exFAT and you can easily select one from the File system menu –. Next choose a new Volume label if you wish, and like I said before it is recommended that you uncheck the Quick Format options if the storage device is new and it has never been formatted before to allow a deep scan and to check every sector for errors and of course for the creation of the file system, if not just leave the option checked. Last is the Create an MS-DOS startup disk option — don’t worry about this last option unless you need it for a really specific task –.

4.  Next click the Start button to begging formating, and as you may know by now after the process is finished all the data that once were in the storage device will be erased, to confirm click OK in the Warning box.

Windows 7 - Format Warning

5.  Now just wait until the process complete and click OK to finish.

Windows 7 - Format complete

Once the hard drive or external storage has finished formatting you can start saving files right away. This process should also be similar if you are running Windows XP or Windows Vista.

Remember to always pay attention when using the format tool and don’t erase then data on the wrong storage device.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 15 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 21 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and Email him at [email protected].