Formatting a Hard Drive

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Formatting a Hard Drive

The process of formatting a hard drive prepares it for use. The process involves the creation of an empty file system as also the creation of new partitions or reorganization of the existing ones. It is often the solution to get away with problems ‘infecting’ it. Read on to know more.

It goes without saying that computer technology has changed the world in many ways, but it is also true that it has given a new meaning to many age-old concepts that meant something very different from what they mean today. Perhaps, the best example of this drastic change in meaning is the mouse! The word ‘mouse’ that once referred to a small mammal that belongs to the rodent family, is today, used to refer to the very popular pointing device used in computers.

An Introduction to Formatting a Hard Drive

A similar example is that of the word, ‘format’. It has acquired a new meaning in context of computers. It actually refers to the organization of information according to specific design, and it is a noun. I felt the need to mention this, as ‘format’ seems to have begun losing its ‘noun character’. It has become an ‘action word’ that refers to the act of dividing a disk into sectors, mostly after erasing it. Formatting a hard drive is the process of dividing a computer hard disk into marked sectors in order to prepare the disk surface to accept and store data. The process involves the erasing of computer data and is often employed to remove errors and bring the computer back to its original settings. Formatting removes trojans and viruses from the hard drive and solves other data storage problems. The process of formatting includes the setting up of an empty file system and the re-installation of the operating system to recover it from its corrupted state.

Formatting consists of two processes. The first one, also known as low-level formatting, involves the formatting of disk surfaces and assignment of sector numbers visible to the disk controller hardware. It creates the physical structure of the hard drive. It involves partitioning, which reserves a physical portion of the hard drive space. The process of partitioning creates disk volumes, which are logical partitions/logical drives. The other process, known as high-level formatting, includes the setting up of a file system and installing of a boot sector. It also includes defining the logical structures on the partition and placing the operating system files at the start of the disk. The disk is scanned for defects as a part of this process. When a hard drive is formatted, the operating system erases the bookkeeping information stored on the disk, tests the disk for reliability of all its sectors, marks the damaged ones and creates address tables that are used to locate information. It should be noted that a simple hard drive format does not erase the disk data permanently.

Reasons to Format

Before formatting your computer’s hard drive, determine why you want to format it. You might want to reinstall the operating system or only erase all the data from the hard drive. In the first case, you need to remember that the procedure for formatting a hard drive using Windows XP is different from that using Linux. In case you are formatting the hard drive to remove sensitive data from your computer, you can choose the standard formatting procedure and skip the steps for reinstalling the operating system. Reformatting the hard drive is often considered as the ‘last and best’ solution to get rid of malicious programs or any other technical problems. Be very particular about erasing your computer data if you are planning to dispose off or sell your hard drive. For this, you can either buy software that enables you to erase computer data or hire one of the companies offering this service. The software used for the process of erasure overwrites the data with ‘0’ (computer data is ‘zeroed down’ in the literal sense of the term!) or ‘1’.

Formatting in DOS

Writing about computer hard drive formatting reminds me of the ‘format’ command we learned in school. Let’s revise what we learned about formatting a hard drive in DOS. Well, format is a command line utility which comes with DOS, OS/2, and Microsoft Windows. With this command, the boot record is placed in the location given by the partitions table, which consists of the descriptions of all the primary partitions of the data storage space of a computer. All the entries in the file allocation table are cleared, the root directory is cleared and each cluster is marked as good or bad.

The syntax of the format command is, FORMAT drive: parameters. Here, ‘drive’ specifies the volume to be formatted and the parameters provide different options for formatting the hard drive. Typing, ‘format /?’ on the command prompt will give you a list of the different formatting parameters available with your operating system. Generally, the formatting does not start right away; the format program asks you for confirmation, so that accidental data erasure is prevented. However, some versions of DOS have an /AUTOTEST option, wherein the confirmation step is skipped. Also, the /U parameter of FORMAT executes an unconditional format, wherein the hard disk data is overwritten and data recovery becomes impossible. So, it is advisable to perform a backup of computer data, before you begin formatting the hard drive.

Formatting using Windows XP

To format a hard drive using Windows XP and reinstall Windows on your computer, the first step is to go to your BIOS and set the boot priority to start with CD-ROM. Next, insert the Windows disc in the CD drive and restart your computer. While following the boot steps given by the CD, you will be offered two options; one, of installing a fresh copy of Windows, and the other of refreshing the operating system. The former will allow you to format your computer’s hard drive, while the latter won’t. You will be indicated of the loading of various files after which you will be prompted to select the option of setting up the operating system. After selecting the option of setting up windows, you will be prompted to delete old partitions and create new ones, while also allowing you to decide the partition sizes.

Formatting with Linux

If you have are planning to install Linux, remember that the procedure is slightly different, but not difficult as the installation CD or DVD will guide you through the entire process. When you are asked to select the type of installation procedure, choose the option, ‘graphical mode’. Then, you will be asked to enter your name and the license key, after which you will be prompted to partition the hard drive. Following the process of partitioning, you will be required to enter your time zone and you will soon have Linux on your desktop, interfacing between your computer hardware and you!

While understanding the computer hard drive formatting process, I began to relate formatting computer memory with the concept of formatting human memory. If only, the concept could materialize! Then we would have people forgetting known names, familiar faces, and important appointments with the excuse of having formatted their ‘hard drives’. But I wonder if they would ‘remember’ that they had ‘formatted their own memory’.

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