Formatting a hard drive is usually simple, because most operating systems come with software that helps you format the drive. If your computer does not yet have an operating system, most operating system installation programs have functions that will format a hard drive. On Mac OS®, you format a hard drive using the disk utility function. You format a hard drive on the Windows XP® operating system using the disk utility function, which is located in the computer management menu. Before formatting a hard drive, you should always back up any important data on a separate form of storage media.
To perform disk functions like formatting in the Windows 7® operating system, you need to be logged in as an administrator. This is the password that you assigned when setting up the Windows 7® operating system, and may be the password you use to log in to the Windows® operating system. From the start menu, open the control panel, then the system and security menu, then administrative tools. Choose computer management by double clicking, then storage, located on the left. Click disk management, then right click the disk that needs to be formatted. Click format to access the menu that allows you to choose your formatting settings, then click OK to proceed.
On a Mac®, from the disk utility menu, select a drive, then select partition. From the partition menu, you can choose the number of partitions you want the drive to have, name the drive, and select the type of formatting you want to use on the drive. After setting these parameters, click the apply button to format the drive. This process is essentially similar on both Tiger® and Leopard® operating systems for Mac®.
Windows XP® users seeking to format a hard drive should start by right-clicking "my computer" and selecting manage. Click the storage menu, then select disk management. Delete each partition on the drive you wish to format by right clicking the partition within the drive and selecting delete. Right click on the now-empty drive and select new partition. Proceed through the new partition manager to format and repartition the drive.
If you cannot format a hard drive from within the operating system due to errors or other problems, you can try formatting the hard drive using the operating system installation programs. The installation programs for operating systems like Windows XP® often give the user the option to format and repartition hard drives before installing the operating system. These programs can also be used to format the drive without reinstalling the operating system.