Reformat hard drive under XP?

Category: Windows

I have Windows XP and the system has gotten very slow and flaky. I would like to learn how to reformat the drive. Can you teach me in simple English how to completely format the drive and then re-install the operating system? Yes, but... you might want to think about some alternatives first.

Do You Really Want To Format That Hard Drive?

Be forewarned, formatting a hard drive is MUCH different than formatting a Word document. The format will erase *everything* on the disk (the operating system, your programs and data files) and leave you unable to even boot up the PC. About the only thing you can do with a freshly formatted drive is install an operating system from CDROM.

I know... that's exactly what you said you wanted to do. But that *may* be a bit drastic. After re-installing Windows XP, you will need to reapply all the patches and fixes from Microsoft, then reinstall all the software packages you previously had. It could take many hours just to download the Windows Update files.

I'm guessing you're considering this move because your PC has been infested by a bunch of spyware and/or viruses, and is now acting sluggish and flaky. But before you go all samurai on your hard drive, I recommend you follow all the steps in my Make Windows Run Faster! article. It's my special recipe to clean gunk out of your computer's pipes, so Windows will start quicker, run more reliably, and go faster on the info-superhighway.
reformat hard drive xp

If you really want to format your hard drive...

You can't... at least not while you're running Windows. You'll have to reboot from the Windows XP installation CD, because you can't format the drive on which Windows is running. But first you'll probably want to back up your hard drive, or at least part of it. For help with that, see Backing Up Your Files and explore the various options for backing up your personal files.

Okay, back to reformatting... when the install disk boots up, press ENTER at the "Welcome to Setup" screen. If prompted to do so, press F8 to agree to the license. Next, you’ll see a message asking if you want to repair your existing installtion. You don't, so press ESC to bypass the repair option.

Now select the partition where Windows is installed, then press D to delete it. Press L to confirm the delete. Okay, it's time to create and format a new partition. Select the unpartitioned space and press C to create a new partition. Allot the maximum amount of space available, then press Enter.

Now select the partition you’ve just created, and format it. Choose the NTFS option, go for the "quick format" then sit and wait. When the new partition is formatted, you're ready to (re)install Windows. Depending on your hardware, you may also need to re-install some software drivers to support a modem, router, printer or other devices. Make sure that you have the driver CDs handy in advance. Don't forget to reinstall your anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and be sure to visit Windows Update as soon as possible to ensure that you have all the latest security fixes.

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Most recent comments on "Reformat hard drive under XP?"

(See all 117 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Gary Gilmore
28 Jul 2009

Read all the comments. This one not addressed. In reformatting XP, first blue screen, I pressed Enter. Then comes the message that no hard drives are found, press F3 to quit. In my Bios, on the Main tab there are no IDEs listed, in the Boot tab my IDE is listed. So I can start XP, and reboot, no prob. Just can't reformat. How can I get the Bios Main to see my harddrives. I have never had the CPU open, never bothered the connections.

Posted by:

20 Aug 2009

I tried but when I chose "delete primary partition" It will not let me. So all it will let me do is re-install windows xp. I want a clear hard drive, but it wont let me....

EDITOR'S NOTE: Are you sure you booted from the Setup CD? Windows will not let you delete the partition that it was booted from. So if you booted up from the hard drive, that would explain the problem.

Posted by:

Barbara Ferriol
15 Sep 2009

I reformatted my computer which I have done a thousand times on other computers exactly the way you directions said but when I started reformating it, the 'D' drive had all the space instead of the 'C'. The "C" drive for some reason said it had the system recovery on it which is usually on the 'D') and not enough space to put the operating system on it. So, I put it on the 'D' drive.
Everything is on the 'D" now and so far I only find a couple of problems that some programs can't access on the “D”. Is there is way to reformat again and put the operating system back on the “C”?

Posted by:

19 Oct 2009

I keep loosing disk space all the time. I don't have enough space on hard drive to defragment. Any suggesstions? I have a 4.00 GB hard drive and only 2 MB left on hard drive, but I have deleted so many programs. Shows in the add/remove programs that I have only 89.22 MB used space. Will reformating hard drive solve problem?

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you really meant to say 4GB hard drive, then that's TINY by modern standards -- just barely enough to run Windows XP. I think you would be best served by adding a second drive, or replacing the current one. You can get a 1 teraybyte drive (1000 GB) for under $100 now.

Posted by:

29 Oct 2009

Yay!!! Thank you for the clear and easy instructions! It worked beautifully! A side note, I had to go to a different search to understand how to change my BIOS options so that my windows cd would actually boot first! When you are rebooting your computer, you must press ESC at the beginning to access your BIOS boot options...Changed it from floppy to cd-rom as first boot and voila!

Posted by:

25 Nov 2009

Thank you!!! I tried several different suggestions and FINALLY I tried yours and it worked!!!!

Posted by:

25 Nov 2009

I recently reformatted 2 laptops of mine and both of them are missing programs (despite my installing all the driver cd's). On my old Compaq Presario 2200, the driver for the wireless card is missing, and there are like 8 software products on the Compaq website under wireless drivers for my computer. On my Dell mini 910, I am missing Windows search (which is critical) and the Dell Webcam software (not so critical).

Posted by:

26 Nov 2009

hi bob,i have problem with my computer,i can run every program,play every game,but when i try to play music in winamp or windows media player my computer freezes,when i try to open system restore nothing happens,i run anti virus scan had only one virus but it didn't help,and last night i did disc defragment with smart defrag,since that i have this problem...i don't want to reinstall windows if i don't need to...can you please help me...?

Posted by:

24 Dec 2009

how do i reformat my hard drive from the plugs on it i dont remember how to do it

Posted by:

05 Jan 2010

Dear Bob, from one geek to another: I just need to mention something about the process or reformatting. you had stated something that is partially correct, but not completely. You CAN (with a retail copy of XP and not a preinstalled factory CD) use the "upgrade" style to do a new install from within windows, which does at that point allow for formatting, just not through the command prompt since windows is using it and trying to protect it from accidental deletion.

Here is my trick, if you are not comfortable/unable to boot from your xp cd, boot into windows, insert the CD, run setup from there which will somehow magically allow a format with no problem, and you can use this "upgrade style" option to do a fresh install also. It will work, as I've done it numerous times with excellent results.

Take care all, Jason.

Posted by:

willie gonzales
09 Feb 2010

bob,...i have this problem with my computer that's been troubling me for quite some time now....folders on my desk top are corrupted,some games i have downloaded and some programs i can not open.i don't know what is causing this...can you pls. help me? thanx...

EDITOR'S NOTE: That's hard to diagnose. If multiple files and folders are corrupted, it could be a hard drive failure, bad sectors due to a power surge, or some software gone awry. Have you tried running CHKDSK? See

Posted by:

16 Feb 2010

dear bob,
can you pls. teach me the elementary basics on how to reformat a hard disk...? thanx...willie

Posted by:

29 May 2010

For all who want to format a hard disk you should backup ur data with an online storage software ,like , after this follow this steps:
-Place bootable windows disk in cd-drive
-follow the steps to reach instalattion
-delete all partitions and make new ones
-choose the partition to be installl and format it

Posted by:

31 May 2010

Hi Bob, I use Windows XP Professional. I created 4 partitions (C, D, E and F; C for running the system). I recently installed Windows 7 Ultimate on the F. But I had some trouble with some of the programs I use, so I wanted to uninstall it. As far as I know, the only way to do this is to reformat the partition on which the OS is installed. But when I opened disk managament, the option to reformat the partition is just grayed out. How do I work around this? I want to remove 7 without affecting XP. I have a lot of data on the other partitions.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The problem is that you cannot format the active partition -- the one you booted from. Boot from a different partition and you should be able to delete the F: partition.

Posted by:

20 Jul 2010

I am trying to reformat my hard drive with windows xp but when I boot from CD, it starts to load files and when it gets to "setup is starting windows" I get the blue screen of death and it tells me that a problem has been detected and windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer. I'm not sure if this matters, but I believe I am trying to install an older version of windows xp (previously I sent my computer to the shop and I think they put a newer version on it). Please help. Thanks,

Posted by:

01 Aug 2010

Formatting a hard drive is not that complicated but before any procedures are carried out, you should backup all important documents and files. Either backup to a cd/dvd or use an external storage drive. Why? Because formatting your hard drive will erase all your files and settings. You can use tools such as Mozilla backup to save any browser settings, favourites or thunderbird settings and there are plenty of such tools for Outlook and Internet Explorer. One recommendation I would make is to either have two hard drives in your system and dedicate one to the operating system and one to your data and files. This makes future operating system upgrades or re-installs a breeze. If you don't have the luxury of two drives you can always split the partitions into two. Make one partition at least 50GB for the operating system (I usually make mine 74GB) and make the rest for your data. You can create partitions during the installation of your operating system as Windows gives you this option.

Posted by:

22 Dec 2010

You can format all the harddisk except for the one with windows in it. By setting virtual memory to "no paging file" on the hard disk you wanted to format.

Doing that by open "hardware manager" under "Advance" tab, Performance, setting, Advance tab, then click "Change" Then has to restart.

Hope this help also don't forget to change it back after formating. It kinda amaze me that noone mention this technic before : )

Posted by:

16 Apr 2011

Greetings to you Bob, I had Erased my western digital external hard drive and was was trying to re install it, but it's a plug and play How do i get XP Pro to see it and get it to work??
Thank you..

Posted by:

24 May 2011

These directions don't correlate with the OS system CD I used. It doesn't give me any of these options and tells me I can't reinstall b/c the version of XP I'm running is "newer" (aka has been updated) than the one on the CD....

Posted by:

04 Sep 2011

Ok, when I turm my computer off and set it to reboot from cd, it loads up like it allways does. Its like it wont read the disk or something. Could you pleas help me or give me some advice?

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