Formatting Your Hard Drive

By now you should have accomplished the following:

  • You have made a decision whether you were going to use a FAT 16 or FAT 32 file system for your hard drive. Remember, FAT 16 has a 2 gigabyte partition size limitation! Not sure what "FAT" is all about? Here's an explanation that may help you, just follow this link.  Tell me about FAT

  • Then you partitioned the hard drive, and most importantly, made that partition active!

Now let's review the procedures and format the hard drive!

The Format command is called from an MS-DOS prompt and has several options or switches that can be used with it during the format process. Some of these options or switches are for formatting any type of disk regardless of whether it is a floppy disk or a hard drive. A few of them are for removable media (floppy disks) only. Here, we will only be focusing on those switches or options you will use to Format a hard drive. Many times it is difficult, when viewing a web page, to determine where spaces are between characters (letters) and words. We will demonstrate what is referred to as MS-DOS syntax by showing you the correct way to call for the Format command and any switches and then show you the spaces between letters and words by inserting an underscore "_".

As an example, when you see: FORMAT C:

there is a space between the word FORMAT and the C: as in FORMAT_C:

The syntax, or the way this command is used from an MS-DOS prompt, along with any switches or options, is as follows:

FORMAT <drive:> [/V[:label]] [/B] [/S] [/C]

<drive:> refers to the drive letter of the drive being formatted.

[/V[:label]] refers to the label or name given the drive to be formatted.

[/B] is referred to as the "B" switch and is used to allocate space on the drive for insertion of system files.

[/S] is the switch used to transfer the system files to the newly formatted disk in order to enable it to be booted or started.

[/C] is the switch used to check and verify any clusters on the drive that have been previously marked as bad.

In most situations, there is only one switch that you will use, the /S switch, to transfer the system files to your freshly formatted hard drive.

As an example, at the MS-DOS prompt a:\>, your format command would typically look like this:

a:\>format c:/s

Note the space between the word format and the drive letter and switch c:/s as this is necessary!

In this instance, after you have partitioned the drive and made the "C" (or boot) partition active, you would then, with the Startup floppy in floppy drive, type the following:

a:\>format c:/s and then touch <enter>

Once the format command has started, you will see a number of messages on screen, such as:

Checking existing disk format

(This is a verification that the drive (media) is ready to be formatted)

Verifying xxxxx

(This is a verification of either the entire drive size or partition size depending upon how you have configured your hard drive)

xx Percent complete

(This counter will show you the percentage of completion as the format process takes place)

Format complete.

(This notification should be somewhat obvious, in that it informs you that the format process has completed. If, however, the format halts for any reason at this stage, it is normally an indicator that there is something wrong with the drive. If this occurs, and the drive is new, you should contact your supplier, and if the drive is beyond the warranty period, it may need to be replaced. Indeed, there are some procedures that can be performed to salvage a drive that refuses to be formatted normally, however a discussion of that procedure is beyond the scope of this information page)

System transferred.

(This is a notification that the system files, those files necessary to make the drive bootable or able to start on its own, have been transferred from the floppy to the hard drive)

Volume label (11 characters, ENTER for none)

(This enables you to name the specific partition or drive in order for you to identify it should you need to from within Windows. Let's presume for a moment that you had numerous hard drives in the system and numerous partitions, unless you label them, there are no certain methods to identify the drives and partitions unless they are labeled. As an example, if you had two 2 gigabyte hard drives with two 1 gigabyte partitions in each, the MS-DOS drive letter designations would make the first boot partition on the first physical hard drive "C". The first partition on the second physical hard drive would be "D". The second partition on the first physical hard drive would be "E", and the second partition on the second physical hard drive would be "E".

Obviously, unless you write all of this down, you'll need an excellent memory to keep track of which letter applies to which partition on which drive. An easy way would be to label the drives as you format them, such as drive1a, drive1b etc.

xxxxxx bytes total disk space

(This is a notification of the total disk (or partition) space in bytes)

xxxxxx bytes available on disk

(After accounting for space allocated to bad clusters on the drive as well as space allocated for system boot files, this informs you of the net available space in bytes that you can use)

xxx bytes in each allocation unit

(Depending upon how you have partitioned your hard drive and whether you have used FAT 16 or FAT 32, this will indicate the final number of bytes in the respective allocation unit. An allocation unit is a cluster)

xxxxxxx allocation units available on disk.

(This indicates the total number of allocation units or clusters across the entire disk or partition)

Volume serial number is XXXX-XXXX

(This is a random serial number designated by the MS-DOS format process)

How to use the switches or options

Let's presume for the moment that you wanted to (a) Format the drive, (b) label it, (c) Transfer the system files and (d) Check for bad clusters.

The proper syntax for this command would :

FORMAT C: /drive1a /S /C

So that you can distinguish the blank spaces between the letters etc, here it is again, but with an "_" underscore indicating where the blank spaces should be:


Note the label designation "drive1a" can be anything you wish, up to eleven (11) characters.

The simplest format would be:


As this would cause the drive to be formatted and the system files transferred from the floppy disk to the hard drive to make it bootable (able to start).

There it is, not all that difficult now is it? Go ahead and format your drive and then move on to installing the operating system!

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