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Formatting a drive that is showing as unformatted can be done directly in a USB enclosure.

Hi, Leo, I've taken a 1-terabyte drive out of an old USB enclosure. It's the type that just sits in an open slot. I want to format it so that I can use it as an internal or ordinary drive. Could you please explain how I format it? I Googled the question but after following the instructions, I put the hard drive into the PC, but the error message told me it was formatted wrong. Can you help?

In this excerpt from Answercast #82, I look at ways to format a drive that is not showing up correctly when installed.

Formatting an unformatted drive

Well, it's difficult to say for certain exactly what you've done; the steps you've specifically taken. But in general, the easiest thing to do is format the drive before you take it out of the enclosure.

While it's in that external enclosure, you can connect it up to your computer and you should see the drive in Windows Explorer. You can right-click on that drive letter (that represents your external drive) and there will be a format option.

You can then just format the drive; then you can remove the drive from the external enclosure.

Later, plug the drive into your machine and it should (in theory) just work.

Format after installing

The other approach (and this actually applies for both scenarios) is to install the drive in the case where you've got it now - in the machine where it's showing up as unformatted.

What you'll probably need to do is fire up Disk Management. Normally, that's a right-click on My Computer and select Manage. In there is the disk management tool.

Using that tool, you can locate the drive, right-click on it, and select Format. That will actually format an unformatted drive that won't show up in Windows Explorer. Disk management is the tool you want to use for that. That should allow you to format the drive into whatever system, or whatever format, you want it to be.

Proper installation

I will caution you that another problem that could cause the drive to either not format or appear as unformatted is if you have it installed incorrectly.

In other words, if things aren't plugged in properly - and potentially if your BIOS isn't configured to recognize the extra drive.

That's one of the reasons I suggest formatting it outside of the machine - where you've got it in the USB enclosure where it's known to work. That eliminates formatting issues as part of the diagnostic steps you might have to take later after installing the drive into the machine.

But bottom line, go have a look at the disk management tool that you'll find in My Computer: right-click on that, right-click on My Computer, and select manage to find the disk utility. That should allow you to format the unformatted drive.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Article C6177 - December 26, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

December 30, 2012 9:03 AM

I had a similar issue with a "new" factory refurbished drive I purchased. I could never get it to show up and be usable. I finally discovered that it needed partitioning and I did so in the disk management tool Leo mentioned. No special partition scheme, just one for the whole drive.

Texas Mike
December 30, 2012 9:05 AM

It's been (a LOT of) years since I've installed an extra internal hard drive, but back then, there was a jumper clip to designate the drive as a Master or Slave (primary or secondary). If that's still the case, then it should have been included in any instructions, but maybe it got skipped as "inconsequential." It's very consquential.

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