Formatting External Hard Drives

Formatting a hard disk drive (HDD) in an external hard drive enclosure is done the same way like an internal drive that is connected to the PATA or SATA connector of your computer. Simply connect the external drive via USB, FireWire or eSATA to your computer, turn on the power and then use the native disk utility of the Operating System or if you prefer a 3rd party program. In case your hard drive enclosure has RAID, make sure to set your preferred RAID mode before you format the hard drives.

Warning:
Removing partitions and formatting a hard drive will destroy all existing data on that particular disk! Make sure you have a backup of all your data in a different location prior to making any changes to the external drive.

Win98SE/ME

Format Hard Drive on Windows 98SE & Windows ME

The tool used to format or reformat the drive on Windows 98 is the so called DOS command prompt and "fdisk". You can start it by going to Start/Program Files/Accessories and selecting "MS-DOS" or you can go to Run and type "fdisk" instead.

  1. The first window will be the blank MS-DOS command prompt. Type fdisk and press Enter. Skip this step if you came via Run.
    MS-DOS command fdisk
  2. Select Y to enable the large disk support and press Enter.
    Enable large disk support
  3. Enter 5 to change the current disk drive and press Enter.
    Change current drive
  4. Select the drive you want to format but make sure to select the correct one. In this example it is disk 2 but that may be different in your case!
    Enter fixed disk drive number
  5. Enter 1 to create a primary DOS partition and follow the on-screen instructions. After you have created the partition according to your requirement, close the MS-DOS command prompt by typing exit.
    Create primary DOS partition
  6. Restart your computer and then go to My Computer. The new drive should now appear and after double-clicking on the drive icon, you will be prompted to format it. Choose FAT32 and full format, enter a name for it and format the drive. Your external hard drive is now ready to use! Note: The FAT32 file system can be used on most Operating Systems including Win98SE, WinME, Win2000, WinXP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Mac OS 9, Mac OS X and Linux Systems but the maximum size of a single file is limited to 4GB.

WinXP/Vista

Format Hard Drive on Windows XP & Vista

The tool used to format or reformat the hard drive on Windows XP and Vista is the so called Disk Management application. You can find it by right-clicking on My Computer, choosing Manage and then selecting Disk Management. The alternative is to go to Start/Control Panel/Administrative Tools/Computer Management.

  1. Right-click on My Computer and select Manage.
    Manage My Computer
  2. Go to Disk Management.
    Disk Management
  3. Choose the drive you want to prepare and right-click on the gray field on the left side in order to initialize the drive. Once done, right-click on the Unallocated space for further commands and select New Partition.
    New Partition
  4. Follow the Partition Wizard and set up the drive according to your requirements. In general, we recommend to create one primary partition and format the hard drive using the NTFS file system.
    Partition Wizard
  5. Go to My Computer and the new drive should now appear. If the drive has not been formatted already, you will now be prompted to format it. Select NTFS if the drive is only used on Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7. If the drive will be used on older or different Operating Systems, you may want to select FAT32 instead. Keep in mind that on Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7, the largest partition that can be created using FAT32 is 32GB and the size of a single file can not exceed 4GB.

Win7 >2TB

Create a partition and format the drive on Windows 7

The tool used to format or reformat a hard drive on Windows 7 is the Disk Management application. One way to access it is by right-clicking on My Computer, choosing Manage and then selecting Disk Management. Another way is is described below.

  1. Go to Start, select Run, type diskmgmt.msc and click OK to start the disk management application.
    win7-format-hdd-01
  2. If it is a brand new drive without any existing partitions, the disk management application will automatically prompt you to initialize the disk. If not, right-click on the external disk (e.g. Disk 3) and select Initialize Disk.

    For volumes up to 2TB, the MBR partition provides the best compatibility. For volumes over 2TB, select the GPT partition in order to make use of the full storage capacity. Click OK to create the partition.
    win7-format-hdd-02
  3. Right-click anywhere in the "Unallocated" space of the new disk and select New Simple Volume...
    win7-format-hdd-03
  4. Follow the Partition Wizard to create a new primary partition and format the drive. For Windows, we recommend using the NTFS file system.

Create a large partition over 2TB on Windows 7

If it is a brand new drive without any existing partitions, see the instructions above but make sure to select the GPT partition at step 2.

If a partition has previously been created on a system that does not support large volumes over 2TB, you will need to use the command line interface to clear any previous partitions and then use the Disk Management application to create a new GUID Partition Table.

  1. Go to Start, select Run, type diskpart and click OK.
    win7-format-hdd-04
  2. Type list disk to see all the available disks. For more information about the disk part program, see http://support.microsoft.com/kb/300415.
    win7-format-hdd-05
  3. Select the external disk. As an example, to select Disk 3, type select disk 3.
    win7-format-hdd-06
  4. Type clean to clear the existing partition(s). MAKE SURE THE CORRECT DISK HAS BEEN SELECTED BEFORE YOU EXECUTE THE COMMAND!
    win7-format-hdd-07
  5. Go to Start, select Run, type diskmgmt.msc and click OK to start the disk management application.
    win7-format-hdd-01
  6. The disk management application will automatically prompt you to initialize the disk. Select GPT (GUID Partition Table) and click OK to create the partition.
    win7-format-hdd-08
  7. Right-click anywhere in the "Unallocated" space of the new disk and select New Simple Volume...
    win7-format-hdd-03
  8. Follow the Partition Wizard to create a new primary partition and format the drive using the NTFS file system.

Mac OS X

Format Hard Drive on Mac OS X

The tool used to format or reformat the hard drive on Mac OS X is the Disk Utility. You can find it inside the Utilities folder.

  1. Start the Disk Utility, which can be found inside the Utilities folder.
    Disk Utility Mac OS X
  2. Select your external hadr drive and prepare it according to your requirements. In general, we recommend to create 1 Partition and format it using the Mac OS Extended file system. If you intend to use the drive on other Operating Systems, especially on Windows, we recommend using the MS-DOS file system instead.
    Creating Partition on Mac OS X
  3. Close the Disk Utility after you are finished and your new drive will be ready and available to use on your desktop.

Mac OS 10.5

Apple Partition Map on Mac OS 10.5

If the formatting process as seen under Mac OS X has failed but the drive can be successfully formatted on a PC or another computer, try following procedure instead.

  1. Start the Disk Utility and select the external drive.
  2. Choose 1 Partition from the volume scheme and then click on Options.
    Create Partition on Mac OS 10.5
  3. Select the Apple Partition Map option and click OK.
    Select Apple Partition Map on Mac OS 10.5
  4. Apply these settings to format the drive.
  5. After successfully formatting it, create as many partitions as you like and feel free to go back to Options to select a different partition scheme.

FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

How come I cannot format the external hard drive on Mac OS 10.5?

Some users seem to be able to format the drive on Windows just fine but are unable to format the same drive on Mac OS 10.5. If that happens, go to Options, select the Apple Partition Map and then try formatting it again.

How to partition a hard drive without formatting?

On Windows, this is only possible with 3rd party applications. When using the native disk management utility to modify the partition, it will erase all existing data and require you to reformat the hard drive.

I cleared the partition but didn't format the drive yet. Can I still recover the data?

In general, when you remove the partition, the data is no longer accessible. However, if you didn't do anything else yet, like formatting, it might be possible to recover some or all of the data with data recovery software. To reover the lost partition, we suggest trying the open source program TestDisk.

What file system should I choose to format my external hard drive?

This will depend on how you want to use the drive but in general, we recommend following:

  • NTFS for Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7
  • HFS+ (Mac OS Extended) for Mac OS X
  • FAT32 to use it across different platforms like Windows, Mac and Linux (single file size for FAT32 is limited to 4GB)

Disclaimer:
Information in this article is subject to change without notice. inXtron does not make any representations or warranties (implied or otherwise) regarding the accuracy and completeness of this document and shall in no event be liable for any loss of profit or any other commercial damage, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. All brand names and product names used in this document are trademarks, or registered trademarks of their respective holders.

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