Before you start, remember these tips:
  • The Windows CD will give you a chance to format your drive.
  • Windows Vista and Windows 7 have a Backup and Restore feature.
  • Don't forget to save your bookmarks.
  • Have all your program disks and keys handy.
  • Don't dispose of your drive without formatting it first.
  • You cannot format your main hard drive whilst it is in use. If you wish to format the main drive "C:" then you will have to use a Boot Disk or Boot CD, as explained below.
  • If you want to format an additional hard drive, e.g. a secondary one and not your main one, skip to the bottom.
Step 1: Backup All of The Data On The Hard Drive

If you would like to quickly backup your files, follow these steps:
  • Look at all of the programs that are installed on your computer.
    • Make sure you have a copy of the program to reinstall and have its serial number and/or license key written down.
    • Make sure you backup any data files associated with the program.
  • Backup all of your documents such as Word and Excel documents and photos.
  • Don't forget to save your bookmarks and emails.
  • You can manually backup your data by copying all of the files you know you need to CD/DVD or other storage media such an another hard drive, or you can use a backup software program. There is one that comes with Windows XP that you can use. This Microsoft article details how to install and use it.
Step 2: Erase All of The Data on Your Disk

  • If you plan to re-install an operating system than it's probably a good idea just to go ahead with the standard formatting (skip to the instructions below for reinstalling windows), without any other additional methods for deleting data.
  • However, if you are giving away, selling, trading or otherwise disposing of the hard drive, you should make sure your data can't be recovered. This will help prevent any kind of identity theft or simply keep your information private from anyone else who might read it.
  • Decide the level of security you need. If you need to erase all of your data to make it completely unreadable then you can either buy software or hire a company to wipe your old data. Wiping is done by overwriting your entire hard drive with either a 1 or a 0.
  • Find a reputable company and buy the software or their services.
  • Use the software to completely over-write your drive one or more times.
If You're Reinstalling Windows
  • Go into your BIOS and set the boot priority (sometimes referred to as Boot Order) to start with your CD-ROM drive.
    • To do this restart your computer and watch the screen for the instructions on which key to hit during the start-up process to enter the How to Set BIOS to Boot from CDROM: It is often the Delete or F8 key.
    • Hit the appropriate key and look through the menus for a boot priority option.[/*]
    • When you find the boot priority option, change it to boot from the CD first, this is often done by using the arrow keys or pageup and pagedown keys.
  • Restart your computer with the Windows (Win98 & higher) disc in the drive.[/*]
  • Follow the steps to boot from the CD.
  • You can choose to install a fresh copy of Windows or repair Windows but this will not give you the option to format your drive.[sup] [/sup]
  • Using the commands given, delete the current partition.
  • Select the now un-partitioned space and create a new partition. What does it mean to Partition your hard drive?
  • Choose that partition and format it choosing a file system (Fat or NTFS)
  • Continue installing Windows.
If You're Not Reinstalling Windows and It's Your Main Drive (C:)
  • Make, create or download the files to make a boot disk. is a fairly decent resource.
  • Go into your BIOS and set the floppy disk as the first boot device.
  • Restart your computer with the boot disk in the drive.
  • Choose to boot your computer using CD ROM support.
  • Type the following command "fdisk".
  • Select "Y" to enable large disk support
  • Use this program to create a partition and set the partition to active. (Click here to view Microsoft's article on how to use fdisk).
  • When formatting is done reboot with the boot disk again.
  • Type in the following command "Format c:" where c is the letter of your hard drive
  • Type "y" to accept.
  • You are now done formatting the drive.
The above may also be done using a USB flash drive if your BIOS supports booting from a USB drive. Check inside your BIOS options to be sure.

If You're Not Installing Wndows and it's NOT Your Main Drive
  • Open Computer Management by clicking the Start button, clicking Run, typing in compmgmt.msc and clicking OK. If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  • In the Navigation pane, under Storage, click Disk Management.
  • Right-click the volume that you want to format, and then click Format.
  • To format the volume with the default settings, in the Format dialog box, click OK, and then click OK again.