How to Partition and Format a Hard Disk Drive in a Windows Operating System


This document will provide an understanding of how to install and format a hard disk drive for use with a Windows operating system. The hard drive being installed is a Western Digital 250 GB Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) drive. Your Hard Drive is one of those components inside your computer that is mostly likely to fail as the system gets older. This is because it is a mechanical device that uses motors, and other moving parts that are guaranteed to wear out. This drive’s primary purpose is for backup purposes only, and as such will be installed as a slave device.

Installing an IDE Device

This section outlines the procedure for installing an additional IDE device. You can use a similar procedure when installing the first drive in a new PC or changing IDE configuration.

Determining the Configuration

Installing an IDE hard disk drive in a computer is a fairly straight forward procedure. Simply determine which device will use the Master designation and which device will use the Slave designation. Theoretically, a computer can have up to four IDE devices configured and working properly within a desktop computer.

Jumper Settings For An IDE Hard Drive
Jumper Settings For An IDE Hard Drive

Most motherboards have two IDE controllers: IDE1 (primary) and IDE2 (secondary). Each IDE controller can support a 40-pin cable with up to two devices attached. The devices must be configured by jumper settings as slave or master.

If there is only one device on the cable, use the master setting. (Some devices have a specific single jumper setting for this).

If you add a second device to the cable, use the slave setting. Configure the drive from which you want to boot as the master device on the primary controller, unless the boot sequence options in the BIOS settings let you choose otherwise.

Certain configurations give better performance than others. You should configure the hard disk as the master drive on the primary controller and the CD-ROM as the master drive on the secondary controller. Less contention will occur because IDE can only service one request from one device at a time. Also, the CD-ROM is a much slower device and if you attach it to the same controller as the hard drive, it will slow down access.

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Set Jumpers for Each Device

jumper settings on an ide hard disk drive
Setting jumpers on an IDE drive require you to use a specialized tool or needle nose pliers to extract the jumper. Then re-position the jumper on the corresponding value as shown in this diagram.

Use a pair of thin-nose pliers (or fingers) to set the appropriate jumper settings for the device. Instructions on configuring the jumpers are either contained within the documentation supplied with the device, or may be written on the device itself. If this documentation is not available, the Internet is an ideal source of reference.






Connecting the IDE Device

IDE1 and IDE2 connectors on the motherboard.
IDE1 and IDE2 connectors on the motherboard.

Before you remove the system unit cover to gain access to your hard drive, remember tor remove any and all ESD (Electrical Static Discharge) from your body. This is done by touching an object such as a doorknob or the case of the system unit. After this safety precaution is done, remove the system unit cover and locate the drive. Depending on the location of old your Hard Drive, you may have to remove other components just to have access to it. If so, take very good notes of everything you disconnector remove, you can refer to them later as you replace the components.

Here are some instructions for installing the hard disk drive:

  1. Turn off the PC. Remove the power cable and the cover.
  2. Check that there is a free drive bay to hold the extra disk.
  3. Connect the IDE cable to the drive and the drive controller. The IDE cable must be correctly orientated. Usually it has a red stripe that should be aligned with Pin 1 on each connector (this is often marked with a white spot). The master and slave drives can be plugged into any connector on the cable.Cables are not usually supplied with the PC but may be supplied with the new hard drive. You may require an IDE cable with connections for two drives or a second IDE cable (if the secondary controller is to be used).Check that the data cable is correctly orientated.
  4. Attach a cable from the power supply to the power connector on the new drive. The plug will only fit one way.
  5. Fix the disk securely into the drive bay, using the screws provided.
  6. Replace the cover and turn on the PC.

 Configuring CMOS

All but the oldest PCs automatically detect and configure the BIOS to recognize the new device automatically. If an auto-detect option is not available, use the CMOS setup utility to select the device-specific parameters. The settings for a hard disk drive include cylinders, heads, sectors, translation type, PIO mode and DMA mode. Ensure that you save the changes before exiting from the setup. Preparing a Hard Disk A new hard disk drive requires partitioning and formatting before it can be used; the FDISK and FORMAT commands are used for this purpose.

The CMOS Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor battery chip is where all the settings the BIOS uses is stored when there is no power running through the machine.
The CMOS Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor battery chip is where all the settings the BIOS uses is stored when there is no power running through the machine.

Low-level Formatting

Low-level formatting (LLF) of hard disks
Low-level formatting (LLF) of hard disks

A new hard disk is completely unmarked. For the heads to be able to locate tracks and sectors, index marks have to be written to the surface. This process is called a low-level format and is done at the factory. In addition to writing the track and sector marks, a defect table is built so that files are not stored on bad areas of the disk with the potential risk of lost data. Some BIOS setup programs and utility packages such as PC Tools allow a low-level format.
You should never perform a low-level format on IDE drives unless explicitly instructed to do so by the manufacturer, as it could make the disk completely unusable.


First-generation (ST-506) hard disk drives could not transfer data as fast as it could be read by the processor or disk controller. ST-506 drives stored data in sequential sectors. This is an inefficient way of accessing data. By the time one sector has been processed, the disk has spun past the next and the controller has to wait for a full revolution of the disk before it can access more information. Interleaving reduced this problem by renumbering the sectors, so they were non-sequential.

Current PCs and drives are capable of sustaining a 1:1 interleave. Therefore the process of choosing the correct value (selected during the manufacturer-performed low-level format) is now automatic and you should not change it.


Partitioning the hard disk drive is the act of dividing it into logical volumes. High-level formatting prepares it for use with an operating system. You must partition the hard disk into at least one volume before performing a high-level format.


fdisk screenshot
For computer file systems, fdisk (for “fixed disk”) is a command-line utility that provides disk partitioning functions. In versions of the Windows NT operating system line from Windows 2000 onwards, fdisk is replaced by more advanced tool called diskpart. Similar utilities exist for Unix-like systems.

FDISK is a program used within DOS and Windows 9x for configuring hard disk partitions. You can usually find it on the Setup Disk. FDISK can create primary and extended DOS partitions. A primary partitionmust exist on the disk from which you wish to boot, as it is the only type that can be set active (bootable). A primary partition acts as a single volume and is accessed with a single drive letter. An extended partition can be created if the primary partition does not use all of the hard disk space. An extended partition can be divided into logical DOS drives, each of which acts as a separate volume and is accessed with its own drive letter.


The size of a partition cannot be changed; you must delete and recreate it, effectively deleting any data in the partition. If you want to change the size of the primary DOS partition, you must delete and recreate every partition on the disk. Do not store data in your partitions unless you are happy with the setup.

High-Level Formatting

FORMAT is a DOS command that creates the boot record, File Allocation Table (FAT) and the root directory. It also checks the hard disk surface for errors and can transfer the system files to the disk, turning it into a boot disk.

Choosing A File System

The format process creates a file system on the disk partition. Microsoft operating systems offer a choice of file systems.


FAT16 is used with most DOS or Windows-based PCs and may also be used with Windows NT. FAT stands for File Allocation Table and refers to how disk usage is tracked. A FAT16 system is created with the DOS FORMAT command.


Modern hard disks often have more than 65,536 sectors. The only way that the FAT16 system can cope with this number of sectors is to group them together in 2s, 4s, 8s, etc., and to give each group an entry in the FAT. This process is known as clustering. Disk clusters are also referred to as Allocation Units. For example, a 150MB disk has 300,000 x 512 byte sectors, which is too many entries for the FAT to cope with. However, if 8 sectors form a cluster, the number of FAT entries becomes 300000/8 = 37500. A cluster is the smallest unit of storage. In the example, the smallest unit is 8 x 512 bytes = 4KB. The larger the cluster, the more space is wasted on the disk because the cluster is the smallest amount by which a file can grow.


FAT32 is an enhancement to the standard FAT file system that supports 232 entries. It was introduced in Windows 95 OEM Service Release 2, also known as Windows 95b. Earlier versions of Windows 95 cannot read a disk volume formatted with FAT32 and nor can Windows NT version 4. Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows 2000 and Windows XP all support FAT32. FAT32 has two main advantages over FAT16:

  1. Smaller cluster sizes
  2. Support for disks or partitions up to 8GB (2GB for FAT16)

To create a FAT32 file system, use the Windows 95b or Windows 98 version of FDISK. You will be asked if you want large disk support to be enabled; if you reply \”yes\”, the partitions that will be created are FAT32.


The file system used by Windows NT (NTFS) is incompatible with the FAT file system used by DOS and other types of Windows. Windows NT is the only operating system that can use NTFS; other operating systems cannot use a disk formatted with NTFS. NTFS is far superior to FAT. It is a robust system that includes file-by-file compression, full permissions control and attribute settings, transaction-based operation and many more features. It does not have the same problems with cluster and hard disk sizes as FAT and has many other performance-enhancing features such as RAID support. NTFS partitions are created from within Windows NT. Existing FAT partitions can be converted during Windows NT installation or afterwards using a conversion utility.


NTFS version 5 is an updated version of the NTFS used in Windows NT4. Windows 2000 uses NTFS5, but Windows NT4 can only read NTFS5 partitions if service pack 4 is installed. This raises some issues such as potential dual-boot problems. For example, if you wanted to dual-boot Windows NT4 and Windows 2000, you would have to update NT4 to SP4 before installing Windows 2000. Once this has been done, both operating systems would be able to access the file system. However, you would come across problems if you ever wanted to reinstall Windows NT4, as the setup would not be able to access the NTFS5 file system.

How To Complete A New Partition and Format Under Windows

To Format A New Partition

To create a partition or volume (the two terms are often used interchangeably) on a hard disk, you must be logged in as an administrator, and there must be either unallocated disk space or free space within an extended partition on the hard disk.
If there is no unallocated disk space, you can create some by shrinking an existing partition, deleting a partition, or by using a third-party partitioning program.
  1. Open Computer Management by selecting the Start  button. The select Control Panel > System and Security Administrative Tools, and then double-click Computer Management.
  2. In the left pane, under Storage, select Disk Management.
  3. Right-click an unallocated region on your hard disk, and then select New Simple Volume.
  4. In the New Simple Volume Wizard, select Next.
  5. Enter the size of the volume you want to create in megabytes (MB) or accept the maximum default size, and then select Next.
  6. Accept the default drive letter or choose a different drive letter to identify the partition, and then select Next.
  7. In the Format Partition dialog box, do one of the following:
    • If you don’t want to format the volume right now, select Do not format this volume, and then select Next.
    • To format the volume with the default settings, select Next.
  8. Review your choices, and then select Finish.

To Format An Exisiting Partition

  1. Open Computer Management by selecting the Start  button. The select Control Panel > System and Security Administrative Tools, and then double-click Computer Management.
  2. In the left pane, under Storage, select Disk Management.
  3. Right-click the volume that you want to format, and then select Format.
  4. To format the volume with the default settings, in the Format dialog box, select OK, and then select OK again.
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