How to Reformat Your Hard Drive

Reformatting—or more accurately, formatting—a hard drive is a rare task, but one that is an important part of owning a computer or external hard drive. Whether it’s because you’re selling a device or troubleshooting something that’s not working properly, you should reformat a hard drive when you want to erase all the data it contains. Keep reading to learn the steps to take to reformat a hard drive on Windows and Mac computers.

How to reformat a hard drive on Windows

  1. Open the Run app by searching for it in the Windows menu.

    Screenshot of Run app on Windows.

  2. Type “diskmgmt.msc” and then click OK.

    Screenshot of Run app window with disk management command typed in dialogue box.

  3. Select the correct hard drive from the list that appears in the Disk Management window. In the details box that appears across the bottom, right-click and select “Format” from the menu.

    Screenshot of Disk Management menu in Windows.

  4. In the box that appears, select the file system you want to use (default is NTFS). If you want to wipe the entire drive, make sure “Perform a quick format” is left unchecked and it will perform a normal format. If you only want to delete the data on the drive, a quick format should suffice. Click “OK” to perform the format.

    Screenshot of Format options in Window Disk Management app.

How to reformat a hard drive on Mac

  1. Access the Utilities folder under “Go” in the Finder menu.
  1. Open the Disk Utility application.
  1. Select the correct hard drive from the menu on the left and click “Erase” at the top of the window.
  1. Select the file system you want to use (default is APFS) and click “Erase”.

Reformatting different types of hard drives

The steps above are the same whether the hard drive you’re formatting is internal or external. An internal hard drive, as the name suggests, is a drive built into the device. They cannot be removed without opening the computer and accessing the drive enclosure. Primary hard drives or C drives (C:) are internal hard drives that contain a computer’s operating system. If the primary drive is partitioned, the operating system may be maintained separately from other files.

External hard drives, on the other hand, are storage devices that are easily removable. These include flash drives, SD cards, and similar portable devices. When an external drive is successfully connected to your computer, you should be able to select it from the list of available drives to format by following the steps above. 

Why you may need to format your hard drive

There are several reasons you may need to format your hard drive. The most common reason is if you want to sell your device or give it to someone else. If you choose to perform a quick format, there’s a chance some files may be retrievable. It’s best to perform a normal format if you don’t want anyone to be able to access your old files—though normal formatting can take a considerably longer time.

You may also need to format a hard drive if other troubleshooting steps haven’t successfully resolved a technical problem. In this case, formatting the hard drive makes it possible to reinstall an operating system. However, this is usually done as a last resort in most troubleshooting processes.

If you’re looking for a way to reduce clutter and purge old data or files from your hard drive, you should look into ways to clean your hard drive instead of formatting it. Sometimes formatting is the right approach if you’re 100% sure you won’t need any of the files on an old hard drive, but this is rarely the case. Formatting is a drastic measure that’s effectively the same as a factory reset, so it’s rarely used as part of regular hard drive maintenance.

Kaiti Norton
Kaiti Norton is a Nashville-based Content Writer for TechnologyAdvice, a full-service B2B media company. She is passionate about helping brands build genuine connections with their customers through relatable, research-based content. When she's not writing about technology, she's sharing her musings about fashion, cats, books, and skincare on her blog.

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