Do you want to format a hard drive on Windows 11 without making a mistake that could impact the disk's functionality? Don't worry - this step-by-step guide covers six proven methods to ensure a flawless formatting experience.

Whether you wish to format an external drive on Windows 11 or reformat an internal disk, you can use any method below to partition it and set a new file system. Let's see why you should do it first.

Table of Content
    1. Determine the File Format of Your Hard Drive
    2. Save Your Files Before Formatting
    3. What To Do if You Can't Access the Drive
    1. Format a Hard Drive on Windows 11 via Settings
    2. Format a Hard Drive on Windows 11 Using Disk Management
    3. Format a Hard Drive on Windows 11 Using File Explorer
    4. Format a Hard Drive on Windows 11 Using CMD
    5. Format a Hard Drive on Windows 11 Using PowerShell
    6. Format a Hard Drive on Windows 11 Using a Professional Formatting Tool

Precautions Before Formatting a Hard Drive on Windows 11

1. Determine the File Format of Your Hard Drive

Formatting entails assigning a file system to your internal or external drive. Here are the file system formats you can choose from when formatting a hard drive for Windows 11:

Windows 11 File Systems Description
FAT32 Windows has used the FAT (File Allocation Table) file system since 1977. Its FAT32 version superseded FAT16 in 1996 to increase the volume size and filename length (32 GB and 255 characters, respectively). Windows still supports it, but the maximum file size is only 4 GB.
exFAT Microsoft introduced exFAT (Extensible FAT) in 2006 for removable media like external disks and USB drives with a volume greater than 32 GB. It supports 128 PB and files up to 16 EB.
NTFS The New Technology File System has been the default option since 1993. It supports 256 TB and files up to 18 EB. Moreover, it's the only file system enabling compression, encryption, and permissions. It's the best Windows 11 disk format for protecting data.
ReFS Microsoft introduced the ReFS (Resilient File System) in 2012 to offer more storage capacity (4.7 ZB volumes and files up to 18 EB) and improve functionality. It proactively fixes errors, salvages data due to corruption, checks metadata integrity, and enhances performance. However, unlike NTFS, it doesn't support file compression and encryption.

Here's a quick overview of these file systems' essential features to help you choose the best one for your needs:

windows 11 disk format comparison table

2. Save Your Files Before Formatting

If you wish to reformat a hard drive on Windows 11, we highly recommend you save your files first (unless there isn't anything you want to keep). Create a backup with Windows Backup or a third-party tool or move the data to another disk to seamlessly transfer it back later.

What To Do if You Can't Access the Drive

You can't move your files to another location if you can't access the drive you wish to format. Here's the error you'd encounter:

format a drive on windows 11 if it's inaccessible

Why would your hard drive be inaccessible? Some reasons include disk corruption, errors due to power failures, and malware.

Either way, it doesn't mean your data is lost. You can retrieve it with the professional data recovery software - Wondershare Recoverit. Here's how:

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  1. Download and install Wondershare Recoverit on your Windows 11 PC.
  2. Connect the problematic drive to your computer.
  3. Launch the program, choose Hard Drives and Locations, and select the desired storage disk.
    choose a hard drive for data recovery
  4. Recoverit will start scanning for files on the selected hard drive automatically.
    scan files on the hard drive
  5. After the scan, choose the files you want to restore, click Recover, and save them to another location.
    recover files from windows 11 hard drive
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Let's see how to format a drive on Windows 11 once you create a backup.

6 Ways to Format a Drive on Windows 11

Whether you wish to format or reformat a drive on Windows 11, the following tried-and-tested methods will help you install a new file system and enable your OS to read and write data.

Method 1. Format a Hard Drive on Windows 11 via Settings

Follow these steps to format a disk in Windows 11 via Settings:

  1. Go to Settings > System > Storage > Advanced storage settings > Disks & volumes.
    disks and volumes on windows 11
  2. Select the disk you wish to format and click Properties.
    disk and volumes properties
  3. Click Format.
    click format
  4. Name the drive, choose a file system, tick the Perform a quick format checkbox, and click Format.
    quick format hard drive on windows 11

You can also perform a full format on Windows 11, but a quick one enables data recovery and is faster. When you full format a hard drive on Windows 11, all existing data, files, and folders on the drive are permanently erased, making data recovery nearly impossible.

Learn more: Quick Format vs. Full Format

Method 2. Format a Hard Drive on Windows 11 Using Disk Management

You can also use Disk Management to format a new hard drive on Windows 11 or reformat an existing one. This Windows utility is also excellent for deleting disks and creating partitions.

You can format an external SSD on Windows 11, reformat an internal HDD, or initialize a new disk by following these steps:

  1. Use the Windows key + R keyboard shortcut to open the Run command dialog box.
  2. Type “diskmgmt.msc” (without the quotation marks) and hit Enter to launch Disk Management.
  3. Right-click the desired disk (connect it to your PC first if it's external) and select Format.
    format drive in windows 11 disk management
  4. Name the volume, choose a file system, tick the Perform a quick format checkbox, and click OK.
    choose file system to start formatting

Method 3. Format a Hard Drive on Windows 11 Using File Explorer

File Explorer provides the most straightforward way to format an HDD on Windows 11 (or another internal volume or external storage medium). Here's what to do:

  1. Open File Explorer, select This PC, right-click the desired drive, and click Format.
    format disk on windows 11 file explorer
  2. Choose a file system, name the volume, tick the Quick Format checkbox, and click OK.
    choose a windows 11 disk format

Method 4. Format a Hard Drive on Windows 11 Using CMD

Windows Command Prompt (CMD) is a built-in command-line interpreter for performing administrative functions like disk formatting. It might seem complex, but the screenshots below will make it a breeze.

Here's how to format a disk on Windows 11 using CMD:

  1. Connect your storage device to your PC if it's an external drive.
  2. Search for Command Prompt in the Taskbar's search bar and select Run as administrator.
  3. Run the following commands one by one: diskpart and list disk. Command Prompt will display all the volumes on your PC.
    cmd commands to format a disk on windows 11
  4. Choose the one you wish to format by running the following command, ensuring you replace “3” with a corresponding number: select disk 3.
    select disk in command prompt
  5. Run the following commands one by one to cleanly partition the drive and create a new file system: clean, create partition primary, and format FS-NTFS quick. You can replace the NTFS value with FAT, FAT32, exFAT, or ReFS.
    clean and partition the disk in cmd
  6. Once the process completes, run this command: assign letter=X. You can use any available drive letter.
    assign a drive letter to hard drive
  7. Finally, run the exit command to close CMD.

Method 5. Format a Hard Drive on Windows 11 Using PowerShell

PowerShell is a program with a command-line shell and scripting language for managing system configuration and automating tasks, among other uses. All newer Windows versions have it, so you don't need to install anything.

Here's how to format a new hard drive on Windows 11 using PowerShell:

  1. Connect your storage device to your PC if it's an external drive.
  2. Search for PowerShell in the Taskbar's search bar and select Run as administrator.
  3. Run the Get-Disk cmdlet (command-let) to see all connected drives.
  4. Run this cmdlet to delete data before formatting (unless the disk is new), ensuring you replace “3” with a corresponding number: Get-Disk 3 | Clear-Disk -RemoveData. Confirm the action by typing A and pressing Enter.
  5. Run this cmdlet to prepare the volume for formatting: Initialize-Disk -Number 3 (use your disk's number).
  6. This cmdlet will format your drive: New-Partition -DiskNumber 3 -UseMaximumSize | Format-Volume -FileSystem NTFS -NewFileSystemLabel myDrive. Remember to use the correct number. You can replace NTFS with another file system and myDrive with another label.
  7. Run this cmdlet to assign a new drive letter: Get-Partition -DiskNumber 3 | Set-Partition -NewDriveLetter H (use any available letter).
    powershell commands to format disk on windows 11

Method 6. Format a Hard Drive on Windows 11 Using a Professional Formatting Tool

A professional third-party formatting tool is an excellent way to format a new drive on Windows 11. Why? Because most solutions pack other valuable features, and some are entirely free.

AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard is one example. It lets you create, merge, clone, resize, format, and delete partitions. You can also clone disks, clean your PC, and convert file systems without losing data.

Here's how to format a hard drive on Windows 11 with AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard:

  1. Download and install AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard on your PC.
  2. Connect your storage drive if it's external and launch the program.
  3. Right-click the desired disk (or one of its partitions and select Format Partition.
    format partition with aomei
  4. Create a label, choose a file system, and click OK.
    choose a windows 11 disk format
  5. Click Apply in the top left corner and confirm the action by clicking Proceed.
    confirm formatting hard drive on windows 11

Why Do People Format Hard Drives on Windows 11?

why format a hard drive on windows 11

Most people format drives on Windows 11 to improve their computers' performance. Formatting an HDD or SSD deletes unnecessary programs and files, many of which might consume significant CPU.

We know what you're thinking. You can delete the files the old-fashioned way. However, that doesn't entirely remove them. They stay in the file system, but you can overwrite them with other data.

Formatting sets a new file system, eliminating ghost records and fixing potential errors. Moreover, it removes malware (if any). You might not be aware of malicious software in your computer, which could spread to all disks (internal and external), so formatting your hard drive will restore your computer's health and performance.

However, you can't format the C drive on Windows 11 (or any other OS version). If you try, you'll see the “You cannot format this volume” message explaining that your PC could stop working because the C drive contains the operating system.

Another reason to format a hard disk on Windows 11 is to change its file system. For instance, you might wish to increase storage capacity, enable file compression and encryption, or set permissions.

Conclusion

You can format a hard drive on Windows 11 in many ways. Whichever you choose, you'll have your disk ready for operation within minutes. However, create a backup beforehand to avoid data loss.

If you can't access the drive, use data recovery software like Wondershare Recoverit because it will help you retrieve data and save it to another location before formatting.

FAQs

  • Should I format my hard drive to FAT32 or NTFS on Windows 11?
    It depends on your hard drive's storage capacity. FAT32 supports volumes of 32 GB maximum and files up to 4 GB. On the other hand, NTFS supports 256 TB and files up to 18 EB. Moreover, NTFS enables file compression, encryption, and permissions.
  • What is the best file system format for Windows 11?
    NTFS is the best file system for Windows 11, which is why it's the default format. Besides supporting extensive storage, it protects your data from unauthorized access with encryption. Additionally, it lets you compress files to save space and enhance performance.
  • Is the exFAT file system better than NTFS for Windows 11?
    The exFAT file system is better for removable storage media like external hard disks and USB drives. It supports volumes up to 128 PB and files up to 16 EB. You can even use it on macOS. As for NTFS, it's better for internal HDDs and SSDs on Windows 11 and older versions, primarily because it's faster and consumes less CPU and fewer system resources.
Eleanor Reed
Eleanor Reed Jan 18, 24
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