By Tim Miller
Last updated on

If you’re adding an external hard drive to your computer, it probably needs to be formatted. You may also want to do a format if you connect the drive to a different computer or use it as external storage, in which case you would want to choose the format as FAT32.

If you need to reformat an external hard drive, there are a few things you should know — mainly whether it’s worth doing a quick format or a full format.

Quick Format and Full Format Comparison Table

Quick FormatFull Format
AdvantagesIt can complete the formatting process within several minutes.It makes sure that the sectors on your disk are all readable and can function as they should.
DisadvantagesThere is no guarantee that all the sectors are readable.It takes longer than a quick format because it verifies every block of the storage device to make sure that it is ready for use.

Quick Format

A quick format is the same as a full format except that it does not verify whether the disk volume has been prepared or not. It can complete the formatting process within several minutes, even though it doesn’t verify every block for bad blocks/deterioration. The advantage of this is that it does not take too long to do.

A quick format deletes the directory structure (folder structure) and does not check for bad sectors. The quick format leaves the drive usable right away but it will increase the access time due to the lack of a directory structure.

A quick format is a fast way to overwrite all data without actually removing it. So if there is an existing file or folder that has been deleted, the formatting process will not take care of this — they could still be recovered with the right software.

When you’re in a rush, opt for a quick format. The quick format is a great option for when you need to get the drive back up and running as soon as possible.

Full Format

A full format guarantees that the storage device you are formatting is completely initialized and ready for use. If it is not, a full format will take care of the problem. A full format is also known as a low-level format.

A full format of an external hard drive will completely erase all data on the drive. Doing a full format ensures the hard drive performs optimally and prevents file system corruption.

A full format will take significantly longer to perform since it checks for bad sectors in addition to creating the directory structure.

A full format is a good option if speed isn’t an issue. A full format is a safe and secure way to keep your data protected.

A full format is recommended when a disk is brand new or has been physically damaged. The process is similar to reformatting when purchasing a new computer since it erases files from the hard drive, changes (or maintains) the file system, and checks for bad sectors.

HDD & SSD: 12 Commonly Asked Qu...
HDD & SSD: 12 Commonly Asked Questions About PC Storage

A full format is a complete scan of the hard drive surface and is designed to ensure a drive is operating in top condition.

On older hard disks, performing a full format can help the disk fit more data rather than using legacy allocation systems used in its initial installation. A full format can reduce problems caused by basic errors in the layout of a disk, such as remnants of deleted files.

What is Low-Level Formatting?

Low-level formatting is the process of preparing a hard drive for use as storage media. It is also known as Low-Level Erase when talking about hard drives.

The process of low-level formatting overwrites every sector on a storage medium with binary zeroes, and marks an additional “reserved” area at the beginning of each disk (hard drive, floppy, or diskette) – this means that the mechanical part of the drive actually reads and writes data in the reserved area.

Low-level formatting isn’t just a reinitialization of tracks and sectors.

The process is much deeper and involves creating directories, allocating clusters to data blocks, marking valid/invalid areas, and building FAT or MFT which automatically allows operating systems dialogs to display accurate hard disk size and remaining capacity of used space.

It also means that low-level formatting is not reversible, unlike high-level formatting, which just fills the reserved area with binary zeroes.

How to Format an External Drive?

When you connect a hard drive to your Windows PC, it automatically shows up in My Computer a short time later. This lets you know that your drive is ready to be used for storage purposes.

But if you’re planning on using the external hard drive as a backup of your data or using it to download movies and other media content, formatting the hard disk can be necessary to make it readable by most operating systems.

There are two main ways of formatting an external hard drive on a Windows PC: using the Disk Management tool and with the Format option in Windows Explorer.

The advantage of using Disk Management is that it’s available in every version of Windows. If you go this route, you can also change advanced formatting options that are simply not available in Windows Explorer. Both methods will erase your existing data, however.

Does a Quick Format Erase All Data?

A quick format is a standard formatting process that appears as the default operation in Windows. It is often referred to as a quick format that keeps the drive intact but wipes out all data with no traces of previous owners and users.

The process keeps the file directory intact so that you are able to see what was formerly there on a drive. However, it does not eliminate the presence of deleted files on your hard disk.

This means that even after a Quick Format, you should use an effective file recovery tool to ensure complete data erasure and wipeout of all deleted files from your computer’s hard drive.

Will Quick Format Delete Viruses?

Most viruses can be removed from an infected computer by using a quick format. However, if the infection was caused by a rootkit that has managed to hide itself from the operating system, then it might still be on your computer after a quick format.

Also, if the virus has succeeded in modifying parts of the hard drive, or has encrypted the data on your hard drive, then formatting won’t help at all.

A full format (also known as a low-level format) can solve these kinds of problems and is something you should consider instead of just using a quick format.

How Long Does Quick Format Take?

A quick format occurs in a matter of seconds. Quick formatting does not clear out bad clusters from the partition or disk or perform a scan for bad sectors.

A quick format simply marks the partition as ‘clean’, prepares the disk, and divides it into one or more volumes.

Does Formatting a Hard Drive Make it Faster?

Formatting a hard drive can be an effective way to improve performance on your computer. Your computer uses a hard drive to store and retrieve information needed for everyday use.

However, over time files and data stored on the hard drive can become corrupted or will slow down your computer when accessing data.

By formatting a hard drive you can delete all of this information and reinstall the operating system from scratch to return the computer to peak performance.


Although quick format does not give you the guarantee that all sectors on your storage device are readable, it is often the most popular choice of format for a variety of reasons.

Although full format takes longer to complete than a quick format and is thus sometimes considered inefficient, it gives you the guarantee that every sector on your hard drive can be read by your computer.

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