Formatting a solid-state drive (SSD) only takes a few seconds via File Explorer. But how exactly and which file system to choose? Here’s what you need to know.
Format SSD in File Explorer
There are several ways to format a solid-state drive (SSD) in Windows 10. Most of them, such as the Disk Management tool, are overkill for your day-to-day needs. The easiest way to format an SSD is File Explorer.
In most cases there will be an icon on your desktop called “This PC”. Don’t worry if it’s not there, you can get it back. In the meantime, open the Start menu, type “File Explorer” in the search bar and 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 on “This PC”.
This PC lists all the storage devices connected to your computer, including internal and external hard drives, solid-state drives, USB flash drives, CD, DVD, or Blu-ray drives, and some network devices.
“This PC” window with hard drives, network locations and some user folders.
You need to identify the drive you want to format. Take your time with this, you don’t want to accidentally format the wrong drive – once you’ve formatted the drive, the chances of recovering data are pretty slim.
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Make sure there is no important data on the drive, then right click and click “Format”.
The layout screen contains some interesting options. In general, there are only three you need to worry about: “File System”, “Volume Label” and the “Quick Format” box. You can name the SSD whatever you want by filling in the “Volume Label” field, but a descriptive name is always good. Three drives named “asdhjkb”, “dhfjshi” and “quiwehnsd” can cause confusion later on.
The format window with file system, volume label and quick format is displayed.
File system for an internal SSD
If you are formatting an internal hard drive that will only be used in Windows 10, you should definitely choose the NTFS file system. NTFS – or New Technology File System – is the default file system used by Windows since Windows 3.1.
File system for an external SSD
Formatting an external SSD gives you more file system options. NTFS is a reasonable choice if you plan to use the external drive only with Windows or Linux. MacOS can also read an NTFS drive, but doesn’t natively support writing to such drives, although you can if you’re willing to put in 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.
If you don’t have a specific use in mind, you should probably choose exFAT. It is lightweight, widely supported and has no practical file size or volume limitations.
Use format to erase data
Do not use the “Full size” option for SSDs. It is not necessary because Windows automatically erases deleted files from SSD when TRIM is enabled, and it shortens the life of your SSD. If you want to erase the data, a quick format is fine.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Full Formatting
Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away – ten years ago – you had to use the full format option to make sure all your data was erased from your hard drive. Ordinary hard drives still need this treatment. Full formatting writes zeros to all possible locations on the hard drive and erases all content. It’s not perfect, and a diligent forensics team can probably recover some of the data, but it’s enough to protect your information from the average person who might pick up your discarded hard drive.
Modern hard drives still store data as ones and zeros, but the underlying physical mechanisms are vastly different. Hard drives used to store these ones and zeros on a magnetic plate, but solid-state drives store them in “cells” that charge or discharge to display a 0 or a 1, respectively.
One of the drawbacks of solid-state storage is that each cell can only be written to 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-size option on SSDs.