How to Format External USB Hard Drive

by Heather Lindsay

Formatting a hard drive configures the disk to be used with a particular file system and operating system. All hard drives, including external drives, must be formatted prior to their initial use. This allows for optimal use of the drive and all its features, including utilizing its full capacity and cache extensions in an efficient manner. Formatting an external USB hard drive is a simple point and click process that requires no technical knowledge.


Connect the USB hard drive to the computer with the USB data cord provided.


Open the "My Computer" dialog box to view a list of currently installed drives.


Right-click the icon for the external hard drive and select the "Format..." heading.


Enter a label into the text box located next to the "Volume label" heading. This step is optional and the computer will create a label if one is not entered.


Leave all other settings at their default values. These are set automatically by the operating system based on the hardware and operating system configuration.


Click the "Start" button in the bottom right corner of the format dialog box. This begins the formatting process, which will complete in as little as a few minutes or up to several hours, depending the on the speed and capacity of the hard drive.

About the Author

Heather Lindsay is a stained glass artist who holds a master's degree in library science, a bachelor's degree in anthropology with a minor in art, and has enjoyed working in special libraries with photograph collections.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera external drive image by Albert Lozano from