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How To 

How to Format an External Drive in Windows 10

Unlike a USB stick, after you connect an external hard drive to the USB port, you must first initialize it and define its partitioning scheme (Master Boot Record (MBR) or GUID Partition Table (GPT)), and then proceed to the formatting part.

Although Windows 10 usually prompts you about the new disk as soon as it is connected to your PC, if it doesn’t, you must manually get to the Disk Management snap-in, and continue from there.

Here’s how:

Step 1
Get to the Initialize Disk box

Right-click Start and click Disk Management from the context menu. This launches the Disk Management snap-in, and automatically displays the Initialize Disk box above it. The Initialize Disk box shows a list of all the new disks that need to be initialized.

Step 2
Select partitioning scheme

Check the box for the disk you just connected (Disk 1 for this example) from the Select disks list, either select the MBR (Master Boot Record) radio button or leave GPT (GUID Partition Table) selected, and click OK. This initializes your new hard disk using the partitioning scheme you selected, and takes you back to the Disk Management snap-in, showing the new disk’s entire space as Unallocated. While MBR can have only up to 4 primary partitions where each partition can be of only up to 2TB, the GPT disk type supports up to 128 partitions, and every partition can be of up to 256TB in size in a Windows computer.

Step 3
Format the new disk (define partition size)

Right-click anywhere on the Unallocated section of the disk you just initialized, click New Simple Volume, click Next on the welcome screen, specify the size of the partition in the Simple volume size in MB field on the Specify Volume Size window (total size is used for this example), and click Next. This tells Windows that you want to create a partition of the size you specified in the Simple volume size in MB field, and takes you to the next window. By default, the entire disk space (or the remaining unallocated space, if other partitions were created earlier) is shown in the Simple volume size in MB field. You can either enter your preferred size in MB or leave the default value unchanged to allocate the suggested space to the partition you’re creating.

Step 4
Format new disk (assign a drive letter)

Choose your preferred drive letter for the new partition from the Assign the following drive letter drop-down list and click Next. This tells Windows that the partition you’re about to create should have the selected drive letter. For this example, the letter suggested by Windows (letter E:) is left unchanged.

Step 5
Format new disk (choose file system and other formatting preferences)

Select your preferred file system (NTFS for this example) from the File system drop-down list on the Format Partition window, leave everything else unchanged, and click Next. This tells Windows to format the new partition using the NTFS file system with the default allocation unit, the format should be quick and not thorough which usually takes a considerable amount of time, and the name of the volume (partition) should be New Volume. Although you can change the settings on this window, leaving everything to default should give you the best user-experience and optimum performance.

Step 6
Format new disk (review and confirm)

Review all the settings on the final page and click Finish. This creates a new partition of the size you specified, and formats it with your preferred specifications. Once the formatting is done, you can launch File Explorer, go to This PC and start using your external disk normally.

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