|When installing a
hard disk drive
(commonly called a hard drive) for the first time, attempting to remove
errors from your drive, getting rid of a nasty
even cleaning a hard drive because you are
selling or donating your computer -- those are just a few of the
many reasons why one
might consider formatting their hard drive.
actually means to prepare a
medium, usually a disk, for
reading and writing. When you format a disk, the
erases all bookkeeping information on the disk, tests the disk to
make sure all sectors are reliable, marks bad sectors (that is, those that are scratched or otherwise damaged), and creates internal
address tables that
it later uses to locate information. You must format a disk (floppy
or hard disk) before you can use it.
When you take a disk that has been
formatted and run it through the format process again, it is
referred to, logically, as "reformatting".
Key Steps to Formatting
Back it Up!
Before the format process, you want to make sure that if your goal is
hard drive recovery, you
back up as much personal
data and information
from your hard drive as you need. In some instances where a virus has
caused serious system damage, this may not be possible, but if your
format is planned ahead of time you certainly can copy and archive data
off your hard drive before you start the format process.
Key Terms To
Understanding Hard Disk Formatting
To prepare a storage medium, usually a disk, for reading and
A magnetic disk on which you can store computer data. The term hard
is used to distinguish it from a soft, or floppy, disk.
A fixed amount of storage on a disk or tape.
To divide memory or mass storage into isolated sections. In DOS
systems, you can partition a disk, and each partition will behave
like a separate disk drive.
How to Format
If you purchased your computer from systems vendor such as a Dell , HP
Compaq or Gateway system, you most likely will have a set-up or a restore-and-recovery CD (also referred to as a master CD) which came with the
system. If this is the type of system you use, then a format is an easy
process as the master CD will format the hard drive, reinstall your
Windows operating system, and install any
software and programs which
came with the system. If you no longer have your master set-up CD, you
should contact the manufacturer to get a replacement.
If you aren't using this
type of mass-market system, then a hard drive format will consist
of you formatting the hard drive manually, installing your Windows OS
from CD, then installing your software programs and hardware
drivers. Before you begin the formatting process, it is important to make sure
you have all your driver
CDs located, Windows CD and your software CDs
to ensure a smooth set-up.
It's also important to know
about your operating system before you format. For example, if you're
going to be reinstalling Windows 98 or Windows Me then you should have a
Windows 98 or ME start-up disk to complete the procedure. In this
instance, you would restart the system with the start-up floppy in the
drive. Upon system boot, you will choose to have CD-ROM support. Once
the files load you can then choose to run the format command on your
main drive (usually C drive). If you are using Windows 2000 or Windows
XP, the Windows installation process offers "format your hard drive" as
an option. Here you would ensure your computer is set to boot from
CD-ROM (a setting in your system
BIOS), insert the Windows CD and
restart the computer. From there you will be on your way to
The Format Command
Format is a Microsoft DOS command. It's a
you can run to remove information from a computer disk, floppy disk or
hard disk. It is an external command found in many of the Windows Operating
systems. Hard drive formatting is done in three steps:
Low-level formatting creates the physical
structure on the hard drive. Partitioning divides the hard drive into
logical pieces that become
volumes. High-level formatting defines the
logical structures on the partition and places at the start of the disk any
necessary operating system files.
The format command
syntax is the following:
FORMAT drive: [/parameters]
- where drive:
specifies the volume to format (the hard disk letter followed by a
colon) example format c:
where [parameters] formats the disk with different
options example format c: /s will copy system files to the
formatted disk or format c: /q performs a quick format.
The syntax used between
Windows 95, 98 and ME differ slightly from Windows 2000 and XP. To see
the available Format command parameters for your operating system, you can type
FORMAT /? at the DOS command line.
Does Formatting Really erase All Data?
It's important to remember that "format" and "delete" do not
mean erase! Reformatting a disk does not erase the data on the disk,
only the address tables. The good news is that if you accidentally reformat a
hard disk, a
computer specialist should be able to recover most or all the data that was
on the disk. The bad news is that for any business or corporation that is
planning to donate old computers to charity, this could pose a security risk
if that computer disk drive contained confidential business information.
Remember just because you may donate the computer to charity that doesn't mean an
honest person will end up with it. While that shouldn't deter you from
recycling old computers in this way, it should be an incentive to ensure all
business data has been completely wiped from the hard drive. Never just
delete the files and assume they are gone because you can't see them on the
hard drive. Businesses should at
the very least run the format command to erase the hard drive.
The safest method to completely remove data is to overwrite the disk. You can do this yourself,
although it is quite time consuming. To overwrite the disk would mean to
format, then fill the disk completely with data, and format again. The
easiest way to do this is to use a software program that will
overwrite the disk for you. Most of these programs, which are often referred to as
"Data Dump" software, will meet even the strict deletion requirements of the
U.S. military. As an added bonus, a few good data dump programs can be freely
downloaded from the Internet.
Several Data Dump programs can be found in our list of reference
Did You Know...
In 2003 two MIT students purchased 158 used disk drives from
various locations and found more than 5,000 credit card numbers,
medical reports, detailed personal and corporate financial
information, and several gigabytes worth of personal e-mail and
pornography on those drives. [Source]
Vangie 'Aurora' Beal
Last updated: September 23, 2005
Adapted from PC
GuideHard Disk reference
Windows Reinstall features step-by-step guides and many articles to help users
install, reinstall, and format systems running any Windows operating system.
Hard Disk Logical
Structures and File Systems
Describes "standard" file systems used on PCs, with particular focus on the FAT
file system and its variants. This page is from "The PC Guide."
3 ways to get rid of an old PC
This Microsoft Small Business center articles discusses environmentally-friendly
ways a business can get rid of old computers.
PC Inspector e-maxx
PC INSPECTOR e-maxx is the new professional data deletion program from CONVAR.
The deletion process is always based on the physical drive and is independent of
the file system or the number of partitions. PC INSPECTOR e-maxx also meets the
strict deletion requirements of the US military.
Eraser is an advanced security tool (for Windows), which allows you to
completely remove sensitive data from your hard drive by overwriting it several
times with carefully selected patterns. Eraser is free software and its source
code is released under GNU General Public License.
Designed for strict compliance with corporate/government file retention and
erasure policies, cyberCide utilizes wipe methods that exceed standards set by
the U.S. Department of Defense.
File Deleter is an easy-to-use tool for delete files permanently. File Deleter
can erase all data of deleted files physically without any chance to recover,
and protect your privacy effectively.
Old Hard Drives Yield Data
Simson Garfinkel and Abhi Shelat, students at MIT’s Laboratory of Computer
Science, said Wednesday that they bought 158 disk drives for less than $1,000 on
the Web and at swap meets. Scavenging through the drives, they found more than
5,000 credit card numbers, medical reports, detailed personal and corporate
financial information, and several gigabytes worth of personal e-mail and