Computer Format

Computer Format

What is a computer format?

Ok, so you heard this term before, but you never really knew how to do it right?

Basically, a computer format is when you "empty" your hard disk of all its data, so you can start fresh. The word "empty" is quoted because some formatting modes actually delete the file system, and not the actual files.

Why would you ever want to delete all your files? Well, there are several reasons:

  • You want to get rid of a virus
  • Your hard disk is full of things you don't want anymore
  • You want to upgrade to another operating system

In this page i will explain to you, step-by-step, the total process to do a full computer format and Windows 7 installation.


Step 1 - Backing up your data

Before you begin the process, you should back up all your important data. This is done because a computer format will actually delete everything from your hard disk. There are many ways you can do this, but I'm going to list my favourite methods in order of preference:

1 - Using another internal hard disk

This is my preferred method. All that is involved is basically installing another hard disk in your computer, and using it only for this purpose. Hard drives today are pretty cheap, so getting a 1 to 2 terabyte disk is recommended depending on your needs. I have listed a sample hard drive below, but you can search their site for another:

Western Digital Internal Hard Drive

Western Digital - "Caviar" 1TB Hard Drive

2 - Using an external hard disk

This is similar to the first method, but differs in the fact that your backup data can be stored in a different location. If for example, you want to store your backup data in another place other than your home (for security reasons), you could use one of these hard drives. For maximum security and efficiency, you could use both an internal and an external hard drive.

Western Digital External Hard Drive

Western Digital - "My Passport Essential" 1TB External Hard Drive

3 - Using an online storage option

Online storage options are becoming increasingly popular. What these services offer is basically a backup of your data on their servers. The files can then be accessed everywhere and anytime (by you or an authorized person) from the internet. This can also be used to share files with another person. Find below a free trial from a service I have used before, and recommend you give it a try:

ElephantDrive Online Storage

ElephantDrive free trial.

4 - For small data, re-usable media like blu-ray, DVD, pen drives etc can be used

For small data, such as a collection of photos, or some music files, small-scale, reusable storage options can be used. One your computer format is done, you simply copy the data back to your computer from whichever medium you chose.

Pen Drive

Tribeca - "Swivel Virginia Tech" 4GB Pen Drive


Step 2 - The format

For the actual computer format, you need only a couple of things:

  • The windows operating system disk
  • The driver disk/s
  • Optional: your backup (so you can restore later)

The drivers should have been supplied with your computer, and the backup was explained above. Not all computers come with a windows dvd, so if yours didn't come with one, you can get it here:

Windows 7 Home Premium

Windows 7 - Home Premium

Now that we got that out of the way, its time to format the computer. Please note that this procedure is for Windows 7, but previous versions of Windows use a similar process.

1 - Insert the Windows DVD in the computer, and restart

Your computer should automatically detect the Windows DVD and boot from it, but if it doesn't, please refer to your motherboard manual on how to change the boot sequence from your bios.

DVD was detected

This means the DVD was detected.

After it boots from the dvd, you will be presented with this:

Windows is loading files

Wait for it to load the required files.

Starting Windows

Files are loaded and it will start soon.

2 - The install process

After it boots and loads everything, the installer will ask you some details and then it will start the computer format. Below is a screenshot guide on the process.

Language and Keyboard settings

Language, currency, and keyboard settings. Choose yours and hit "next".

Install Screen

The next screen that shows has some options related to repairing your old windows installation, but we wont need that now so click "Install Now".

Windows license terms

Next screen is the licence agreement. Read it and hit next.

3 - Installation options

The next part will ask you what type of installation you want. The first option is to upgrade your existing Windows to a new version (like from Vista to Windows 7), and the second option is to do a computer format and install a fresh copy of windows. Since we are formatting our computer, select the second option.

Windows installation type

Select the second option.

The next screen will show you the partitions currently available on your computer. Make sure you know which one you have windows installed on before you proceed. After you select the right drive, select "Drive Options (Advanced)" and click "Format". A warning box will come up asking you to confirm.

Please note that a 100mb partition will be shown if you previously had windows installed. This is just something Windows uses and you don't really need to touch it, but if you want to delete it, you can do that from the same menu we selected "Format".

Windows partition format

Format the partition.

After you have formatted the partition, click "Next". The installation process will not start. You don't have to do anything in this stage, you just wait for it to finish, after which it will automatically restart.

Windows instllation

This process can take up to an hour on some computers.

Once the installation is done and the computer has restarted, make sure you don't boot from the DVD again (ie. when it asks you to "Press any key to boot from DVD", don't press anything). Windows will start up for the first time and configure itself.

Windows fininshing configuration

Windows configuring itself for the first time.

3 - Final configurations

Windows will then restart again (and again, don't boot from the DVD). The last few steps will allow you to personalize your computer.

Windows name and computer name

Choose a name and a computer name.

Password and password hint

Choose a password and password hint.

Product key

Enter your product key.

Windows protection

Select the first option.

Time and time settings

Select your time settings.

Network settings

Select the first option.

Congratulations, you have successfully done a computer format and windows installation.


Step 3 - Restoring Functionality

Now that the format is done and windows is installed, we need to install the drivers so that we can start using it again. Now i cant go into great detail about this step as it varies depending on your computer hardware, but you can get drivers for your hardware by:

  • Finding the driver CD that came with the computer
  • Going to the manufacturer website

The last step is optional, but if you want to restore your backup to this computer, you can do so copying back whatever files you need.

Thanks for reading.