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How to Format an External Hard Drive in Windows 7

Updated on September 17, 2012
Windows 7 Hard Drive Format Dialog Box
Windows 7 Hard Drive Format Dialog Box

The Windows 7 operating system now includes hard drive management tools such as formatting and partitioning a hard drive. Reformatting an external hard drive is sometimes needed to clean up a drive or to set up a drive for system backup. When you need a freshly formatted external drive, use the following procedure.

1. Plug the External Hard Drive into a USB Port

Plug in the external hard drive into a USB port on the host computer. Newer computers may have a mixture of USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports. They look the same, but USB 3.0 ports are faster. If the external hard drive is USB 3.0 compliant, make sure to plug the drive into a 3.0 port to enjoy the increased speed. Use a USB 2.0 port for an older external USB 2.0 hard drive.

Most 2.5" external hard drives only require connect to one USB port for power. Most larger 3.5" external hard drives require connection to two USB ports or connection to a DC power converter to operate. Make sure the drive's power cable is connected before proceeding.

2. Wait for the Drive to Become Ready

Wait for the host computer to recognize the external drive. If it is the first time the drive is connected to the computer, Windows 7 will automatically install the necessary drivers.

Hard Drive List
Hard Drive List

3. Click the Window Icon

Click the Windows icon in the bottom left corner of the screen.

4. Find the External Hard Drive

The program dialog box will appear. Click the "computer" icon. The computer explorer dialog box will then open. Under "Hard Disk Drives" find the name of the removable drive. Right click on the name of the external drive. A new dialog box will appear with action items for the disk drive.

5. Begin Formatting the Drive

Select "Format" from the list in the dialog box. Select the file system from the pull down menu. Choose from NTFS, FAT, or FAT32. Choose the partition to formation and name the volume label of the hard drive. Also, choose "quick format" by checking the box, leave unchecked to allow a full format of the drive. Once all the selections are finished, click the "start" button to begin formatting.

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