How to partition and format hard disks in Windows


Updated: May 6, 2009

You've bought a new hard disk, found a new hard disk, stole a new hard disk - and plugged it into your machine. Windows happily informs you that your new hardware has been installed and is ready for you. You open the Windows Explorer and look for your new drive, assigned a fresh new letter of the English alphabet. It should be there somewhere. But it is not there. What now? This tutorial will teach you how to partition and format hard disks in Windows using nothing more but the built-in Disk Management utility.

Believe it or not, for most Windows users, this is not a trivial task, since Windows operating systems usually come pre-installed. And even those users that are more savvy and install Windows for themselves, usually create desired layouts during very early stages of the installation and rarely ever add new hardware, so they have little experience working with the Disk Management tool.

This tutorial is a good opportunity to get familiar with its functions and options and learn how to work with unpartitioned, unformatted hard drives. Although the chance of a Windows user buying an unformatted disk in a store somewhere is not very high, it might happen and then, you ought to know what to do. Let's begin.

Preview

Connecting the device and checking status

You may want to connect either internal or external drives - or both. If you're connecting internal drives, make sure you follow a few simple rules:

If you have no idea what I just wrote about, then you are probably not going to be installing new internal disks by yourself. You're most likely going to use external devices.

Indeed, external hardware is simpler. Most likely, you'll use USB (or firewire) to connect the new drives. In both cases, the configuration should be automatic.

USB disk

Now, connect/plug in your new hard disk. Wait for Windows to install whatever drivers it has. If it succeeds in properly detecting the hard disk, you're good to go. If not, you may have several problems: like too little power in the USB ports, unconnected ports, missing drives, bad device, etc. We won't talk about these issues now. We'll focus on the first case - our new hardware works.

Open the Disk Management utility

There are many ways of doing this. Let's try the simplest: right-click on My Computer > Manage. Then click on Disk Management. Your existing partitions will be listed in the right pane. Let's go over some basics:

Usually, your volumes (C:, D:, etc) will coincide with partitions - one volume, one partition. Primary partitions are marked with dark blue bars. The Extended partition is marked in green. Logical partitions are light blue. Unpartitioned disks are black.

Win disk not initialized

Take a look in the image above. As you can see, all listed volumes belong to Disk 0, and they are the only ones with letters assigned. Disk 1 has an Unknown status and has not been initialized.

Not Initialized means our drive has no partition table. It's more than not being formatted or being formated with "unknown" filesystems. We've seen this exact issue when we tried using Linux partitions in Windows without Linux drivers. Here, there are no partitions at all. So first, we need to create the partition table.

Create partition table = initialize disk

Let's do it. Right-click on Disk 1. Choose to Initialize Disk.

Initialize

Choose which disks you want to initialize:

Step 2

Our disk now has a partition table. This is signified by the Online flag.

Initialized

But it has no partitions. Let's create one.

Create partition(s)

This is something Linux users do quite often. Windows users are less likely to have to tamper, so they will have less knowledge or experience. Therefore, it is important work slowly, carefully, making sure you make no mistakes.

BTW, when anyone ever tells you that Linux is difficult, point them to GParted and then compare to Disk Management. No major difference, really. Both are equally deadly for less knowledgeable computer users.

So, we'll create a new partition:

New partition

Now, we need to choose several options for this new partition:

Wizard 1

Your first step is to choose the Partition Type:

Wizard 2

The next step is to choose the Partition Size:

Wizard 3

Assign the Drive Letter to your new partition:

Wizard 4

Choose the filesystem (either FAT, FAT32 or NTFS) you want the partition to be formatted with. You can also label the disk and change the default Allocation unit size. This is identical to Linux inodes. If you don't know what this option means, leave it be. In general, broadly, it defines the minimal size of a file on the disk.

Wizard 5

Review your choices and confirm.

Wizard 6

The partition will be now created and formatted and you'll have a new drive showing up in Windows Explorer.

Task done

That's it. Simple, quick and painless. Job done.

Conclusion

Working with hard disks is an essential part of system administration. Being able to manipulate disks with confidence gives you flexibility and control over your system setup. Partitioning and formatting disks may sound intimidating, but in reality, these tasks are rather simple. I hope you've learned something new.

If you're interested in mastering partitioning on a whole new level, using the popular, cross-platform GParted, then please take a look at my extensive tutorial on the subject. On a side note, we'll have a similar tutorial for Windows 7 quite soon, as well.

Have fun.

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