Formatting a solid-state drive (SSD) only takes a few seconds through File Explorer. But how exactly do you do it, and what file system should you choose? Here’s what you need to know.
Format an SSD In File Explorer
There are a few ways to format a solid-state drive (SSD) in Windows 10. Most of them — like the Disk Management tool — are overkill for your day-to-day needs. The simplest way to format an SSD is through File Explorer.
In most cases there will be an icon on your desktop named “This PC.” Don’t worry if it isn’t there; you can get it back. In the meantime, open the Start menu, type “File Explorer” into the search bar, and then hit Enter or click “Open.”
Alternatively, you can click the “Documents” or “Pictures” icon on the left side of the Start menu.
Look at the left-hand side of File Explorer and click “This PC.”
This PC will list all of the storage devices attached to your computer, including internal and external hard drives and SSDs, USB flash drives, CD, DVD, or Blu Ray drives, and some network devices.
You need to identify the drive you wish to format. Take your time doing that, you don’t want to accidentally format the wrong drive — once you format the drive, the odds of recovering any data from it are quite slim.
Make sure there isn’t any important data on the drive, then right-click it and hit “Format.”
The format screen contains a few notable options. Generally, there are really only three you should worry about: “File System,” “Volume Label,” and the “Quick Format” box. You can name the SSD whatever you want by filling out the “Volume Label” box, though something descriptive is always good. Three drives named “asdhjkb,” “dhfjshi,” and “quiwehnsd” might result in some confusion later.
File System for an Internal SSD
You’ll definitely want to pick NTFS as your file system if you’re formatting an internal drive that will only be used on Windows 10. NTFS — or New Technology File System — has been the standard file system used by Windows since Windows 3.1.
Note: If the drive is new, it might not show up in “This PC.” That is most likely because some drives must first be initialized before Windows will allow you to use them. Fortunately, initializing a drive is pretty easy.
File System for an External SSD
If you’re formatting an external SSD, you have more file system options. NTFS is a reasonable choice if you only ever plan on using the external drive with Windows or Linux. MacOS can also read from an NTFS drive, but doesn’t natively support writing to them, though you can if you’re willing to do some work.
Other formats are more universally supported and are probably better choices if you plan on using the external SSD with a lot of different devices. FAT32 and exFAT are both supported by every modern operating system and game console, though FAT32 cannot handle files larger than four gigabytes.
If you don’t have any specific use in mind, you should probably pick exFAT. It is lightweight, widely supported, and doesn’t have any practical file or volume size restrictions to worry about.
Using Format to Wipe Data
Don’t use the “Full Format” option for SSDs. It is unnecessary because Windows will automatically clear deleted files from the SSD if TRIM is enabled, and it reduces the usable lifespan of your SSD. If you want to clear the data, a quick format is perfectly adequate.
Note: External USB SSDs do not support TRIM. You will want to use Full Format to wipe external SSDs before disposing of or getting rid of them. The Full Format will ensure your deleted data is not recoverable. This does not apply to internal SSDs, where TRIM will handle removing the data.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Full Format
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away — a whopping ten years ago — you actually needed to use the full format option to ensure that all of your data was erased from your hard drive. Regular hard drives still need that treatment. Full Format actually writes 0s over every possible location on the hard drive, erasing all of the content. It isn’t ‘t perfect, and a diligent forensics team can probably restore some of the data, but it is sufficient to keep your information safe from the average person who might pick up your discarded hard drive.
Modern solid-state drives still store data as 1s and 0s, but the underlying physical mechanisms are extremely different. Hard drives stored those 1s and 0s on a magnetic platter, but solid-state drives store them in “cells” that are either charged or discharged to represent a 0 or 1, respectively.
One of the downsides of solid-state storage is that each cell can only be written to a certain number of times before it becomes unusable. A modern SSD can easily survive several hundred gigabytes of data written per day for years before failure, but it is still best to avoid writing to it unnecessarily — which is why you should not use the full format option on SSDs.