How to Format a USB or External Hard Drive

Introduction

USB drives are great for carrying or backing up data and transferring data between devices. In order for the data to be read from a USB drive, the USB drive has to be formatted so that the computer or device is able to recognize it. Formatting a USB drive can also be performed when you wish to erase all contents contained on it. USB drives can be formatted with different file systems, such as NTFS, FAT, HFS, APFS, EXT, etc. The type of file system that is needed on your USB or external hard drive will vary depending on the type of device it is being plugged into or used with. Unless a device offers to format a USB drive to the necessary format when connected (if necessary), having a computer will be necessary in order to accomplish this process.

While most devices will alert you if you connect a USB drive with an incompatible file system that needs to be formatted, refer to your device's documentation for more information about what file systems are compatible with your device.

While USB drives may come in different physical forms, the process to format them is the same:

  • USB flash drives
    USB Thumbdrives.
  • USB external hard drives or solid state drives
    USB external drive.

1 OS Choice

There are 2 main Operating Systems for personal computers currently available, Windows and macOS.

Windows
Windows runs on computers produced by multiple companies, such as Lenovo, Asus, Dell, Toshiba, Hewlett Packard, Acer, and Sony.Windows 10
macOS
Apple is the only company that makes macOS computers.macOS Mojave

? What type of computer are you using?

  1. Windows
  2. macOS

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USB drives are great for carrying or backing up data and transferring data between devices. In order for the data to be read from a USB drive, the USB drive has to be formatted so that the computer or device is able to recognize it. Formatting a USB drive can also be performed when you wish to erase all contents contained on it. USB drives can be formatted with different file systems, such as NTFS, FAT, HFS, APFS, EXT, etc. The type of file system that is needed on your USB or external hard drive will vary depending on the type of device it is being plugged into or used with. Unless a device offers to format a USB drive to the necessary format when connected (if necessary), having a computer will be necessary in order to accomplish this process.

While most devices will alert you if you connect a USB drive with an incompatible file system that needs to be formatted, refer to your device's documentation for more information about what file systems are compatible with your device.

While USB drives may come in different physical forms, the process to format them is the same:

  • USB flash drives
    USB Thumbdrives.
  • USB external hard drives or solid state drives
    USB external drive.

There are 2 main Operating Systems for personal computers currently available, Windows and macOS.

Windows
Windows runs on computers produced by multiple companies, such as Lenovo, Asus, Dell, Toshiba, Hewlett Packard, Acer, and Sony.Windows 10
macOS
Apple is the only company that makes macOS computers.macOS Mojave

Any and all data on the USB drive will be destroyed during this process. Make sure the drive is blank, or copy the data to a safe place before proceeding.

  1. Insert a USB drive into your USB port.
  2. Open Windows Explorer.
    Windows Explorer.
  3. In the left-hand pane, locate your USB drive under This PC.
    Explorer left-pane with USB Disk highlighted.
  4. Using your right mouse button, right click on your USB drive. A menu will open up.
    USB Disk Right-Click menu.
  5. Select Format...
    USB Disk Right-Click menu with Format highlighted.
  6. Select the File system you'd like the drive to have and type in a name for the Volume label.
    Format dialog with File system and Volume label highlighted.
  7. Select Start.
    Format dialog with Start button highlighted.
  8. A message will open, reminding you that any and all data will be lost. If you are sure this is okay, select OK.
    Format warning dialog with OK highlighted.
  9. Once the drive is done formatting, a message will open to tell you it is complete. Select OK.
    Format Complete dialog with OK highlighted.

Any and all data on the USB drive will be destroyed during this process. Make sure the drive is blank, or copy the data to a safe place before proceeding.

  1. Insert a USB drive into your USB port.
  2. macOS will recognize the drive and show its icon on the desktop.
    macOS desktop showing USB Disk connected.
  3. Launch Disk Utility.
    1. Select Search in the top-right corner.
      Spotlight icon highlighted.
    2. type in "Disk Utility". Select the Disk Utility search result.
      Disk Utility search in Spotlight.
  4. Select your USB drive from the list on the left.
    Disk Utility with USB Disk highlighted.
  5. Select Erase at the top.
    Disk Utility with Erase highlighted.
  6. Type in a Name for the drive, then select a Format.
    Erase dialog with Name and Format highlighted.
  7. Format types to select from are shown below.
    macOS drive format types.
  8. Select Erase.
    Erase
  9. A progress bar will open. Wait will the drive is formatted.
    Erase
  10. Once complete, select Done.
    Erase
  11. Quit Disk Utility. Select the Disk Utility menu at the top, then Quit Disk Utility.
    Disk Utility menu with Quit Disk Utility highlighted.
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