Updated: Jul 01, 2020

What Happens When A Hard Drive Is Formatted?

The formatting process turns empty storage media into a usable drive by creating a Windows-compatible file system and directory. Without these simple tools in place, new directories and files cannot be stored and accessed. Macs, Linux and Windows PCs use a different file system, so moving a drive from one to the other may make it necessary to reformat the drive.

Changing your hard drive format makes old data inaccessible. Because the basic file system changes, files that were present on the drive can no longer be accessed. However, up to 90% of that data may still be recovered, even after you format a hard drive in Windows 10.

How To Format A Hard Drive In Windows 10

To format an external hard drive in Windows 10, follow these steps:

  • Open “This PC” by using Windows search or desktop icons.
  • Right-click on the drive you want to reformat in the list that opens, choosing “Format.
  • In the formatting menu, there are several options for erasing the drive, naming it, and choosing a file system. Be aware that choosing the “Quick Format” option is less secure and does not fully erase all the files on the drive.
  • Press Start to begin the format process.

You can also format a hard drive in Windows 10 via the “Disk Management” menu. Right-click on the appropriate drive or partition and choose “Format.”

How To Format A Hard Drive That Is Your Boot Drive

It might go without saying that you can't reformat the main drive of your PC through these menus because you need the operating system to complete the process. For most home computers, if you want to wipe the drive and start fresh, you will use the “Reset this PC” option. During this process, you will be asked if you want to save your files and downloaded apps.

IT professionals and company-owned PCs can have their hard drives formatted externally and are usually “re-imaged” to a known secure setup state where all sensitive data has been destroyed. Secure data management protocols manage the way in which defective or obsolete hard drives are wiped clean of customer or proprietary data before destruction, disposal, or donation.

Can Data Be Recovered After A Hard Drive Is Formatted?

Immediately after a reformat, all of the data can be recovered from a drive, except for the 5% of the drive that was rewritten for the file system. Over time, as the drive is used, the remaining data is slowly overwritten and becomes impossible to restore. This is good news if you have accidentally formatted a drive that contained important data, but not very reassuring if the purpose was to erase data before disposing of old equipment or returning a defective drive to the manufacturer.

In order to completely overwrite data with random information and meet the data security standards of government agencies and international organizations, specialized data destruction software is needed. WipeDrive from WhiteCanyon Software, securely destroys data from computers and enterprise data centers, with the highest level of certification possible.

WhiteCanyon Software has the right solution to securely wipe any data storage device. Contact us today at 801.224.8900 for more information.