August 12, 2022

How to Format SSD on Windows 10

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Formatting an SSD drive only takes a few seconds via File Explorer. But how exactly do you do it and which file system should you choose? Here’s what you need to know.

Format SSD in File Explorer

There are multiple ways to format SSD in Windows 10. Most of them like Disk Management tool are overkill for your daily needs. The easiest way to format an SSD is to use File Explorer.

RELATED: What is an SSD and do I need one?

In most cases, there will be an icon on your desktop called “This PC”. Don’t worry if it’s not there; you can recover it. In the meantime, open the Start menu, type “File Explorer” in the search bar, then press Enter or click “Open.”

You can also click the “Documents” or “Pictures” icon on the left side of the Start menu.

Look on the left side of File Explorer and click “This PC”.

This PC lists all storage devices connected to your computer, including internal and external hard drives and SSDs, USB drives, CD, DVD or Blu Ray drives, and some network devices.

"This PC" window showing hard drives, network locations, and some user folders.

You need to identify the drive you want to format. Take your time doing this, you don’t want to accidentally format the wrong drive – once you’ve formatted the drive, the chances of recovering data from it are pretty slim.

Make sure there is no important data on the drive, then right-click on it and hit “Format”.

The format screen contains a few notable options. Generally, there are really only three you should care about: “File System”, “Volume Label”, and the “Quick Format” box. You can name the SSD whatever you want by filling in the “Volume Label” box, although something descriptive is always good. Three drives named “asdhjkb”, “dhfjshi”, and “quiwehnsd” might cause some confusion later.

RELATED: What is a filesystem and why are there so many of them?

The format window with file system, volume label and quick format shown.

File system for an internal SSD

You will definitely want to choose NTFS as the file system if you are formatting an internal drive that will only be used on Windows 10. NTFS – or New Technology File System – is the standard file system used by Windows since Windows 3.1.

To note: If the drive is brand new, it may not show up in “This PC”. This is probably because some drives need to be initialized first before Windows will allow you to use them. Fortunately, initializing a drive is fairly easy.

RELATED: Why Your New Hard Drive Isn’t Showing Up in Windows (And How to Fix It)

File system for an external SSD

If you are formatting an external SSD, you have more file system options. NTFS is a reasonable choice if you only plan to use the external drive with Windows or Linux. MacOS can also read from an NTFS drive, but does not support native writing to those, although you box if you are ready to do some work.

Other formats are more universally supported and are probably better choices if you plan to use the external SSD with many different devices. Both FAT32 and exFAT are supported by all modern operating systems and game consoles, although FAT32 cannot handle files larger than four gigabytes.

RELATED: What is the difference between FAT32, exFAT and NTFS?

If you don’t have a specific use in mind, you should probably choose exFAT. It’s lightweight, widely supported, and has no practical restrictions on file or volume sizes.

Using format to clear data

Do not use the “Full Format” option for SSDs. This is not necessary because Windows will automatically erase deleted files from the SSD if TRIM is enabled, and it reduces the useful life of your SSD. If you want to erase the data, a quick format is perfectly fine.

To note: External USB SSDs do not support TRIM. You’ll want to use the full format to erase external SSDs before you dump or dispose of them. Full formatting will ensure that your deleted data is not recoverable. This does not apply to internal SSDs, where TRIM will take care of deleting the data.

RELATED: How to Check if TRIM is Enabled for Your SSD (and Enable It If It’s Not)

Why you shouldn’t use the full format

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – ten years ago – you actually had to use the full format option to ensure that all your data was erased from your hard drive. Ordinary hard drives still need this treatment. Full formatting actually writes 0s to every possible location on the hard drive, erasing all content. It’s not perfect, and a diligent forensic team can probably restore some of the data, but that’s enough to protect your information from the average person who might salvage your discarded hard drive.

RELATED: What is binary and why do computers use it?

Modern SSDs still store data as 1s and 0s, but the underlying physical mechanisms are vastly different. Hard drives store these 1s and 0s on a magnetic platter, but SSDs store them in “cells” that are loaded or unloaded to represent a 0 or a 1, respectively.

One of the disadvantages of solid-state storage is that each cell can only be written so many times before it becomes unusable. A modern SSD can easily survive several hundred gigabytes of data written per day for years before failing, but it’s always best to avoid writing to it unnecessarily – that’s why you shouldn’t use the full format option on SSDs.


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