How To: Configure SATA Hard Drive

In this guide, we’ll be walking you through the process of configuring a new hard drive in Windows. We’ll be approaching this from the angle of installing an additional (i.e. second, third or even fourth) hard drive. This means you already have a main hard drive in your computer with Windows installed on it and you’re adding an additional drive.

Configuring A SATA Hard Drive In Windows

If you have not yet physically mounted and plugged in the new drive, please refer to our first guide in this series: How To Install a SATA Hard Drive.

Warning: Some of the steps in this guide have the risk of wiping the data on your current hard drive. Please ensure you do not skip any of the below steps. Complete them in order with care. 

We pick up right where we left off in our previous guide – at this stage you should have just installed your new drive and reassembled your computer case. Plug it back in to power once you’ve put it all back together, and we’re ready to go.

Our screenshots below were taken using the Windows 8 platform, but many Windows versions (XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10) will be quite similar.

Step 1 – Turn on Your PC & Backup Data

Turn on your computer.

Note: It is good practice to already have a backup of your data on any existing hard drives. This is always good practice in case something goes wrong (unlikely, but still possible). If you haven’t taken one previously, now is a good time to do so before continuing with the next steps.

 

Step 2 – Open the Disk Management Tool

Open the Windows tool called “Disk Management”.

There are a number of way to find and open “Disk Management” and the shortcuts are in different places depending on your version of Windows. For example, it can be found by opening “Computer Management” by right click on “Computer” and browsing to the Disk Management section. Similarly, it can be found in “Computer Management” in the Control Panel under “Administrative Tools”.

Fastest Method to open Windows Disk Management

One way the works on just about any version of Windows is to open “Disk Management” directly from a “Run” command. To do this, hold down the Windows key on your keyboard and tap the letter “R”. This will open up the Run command dialogue.

runcmd

Type in “diskmgmt.msc” and press “OK”.

Alternatively, simply searching for disk management in the start menu should return a shortcut.

Step 3 – Identify the Right Drive To Configure

Now that you’ve got disk management open, you’ll need to identify your newly installed hard drive. 

It is critical that you identify the correct drive as later steps will erase all data on the drive selected.

Disk manager may pop up with a message stating that a disk needs to be initialized before it can be used. This is a good indication that Windows has detected the new drive. To be safe, we’ll hit cancel on this message and start the initialization manually – this way we can be sure we’re working on the correct drive.

Look for a disk that is marked with “Unallocated Space”, represented by a black bar.  If you’ve only just installed the drive, it will usually be at the bottom of the list (usually but not always).

On some systems the disk may show as “offline” initially – you can simply right click on the disk name section and select “online” to allow you to work with the disk. It should also show a status of “Not Initialized” in the left column if you chose to cancel the initialization pop up as we suggested. 

offline-disk

 

Not-Initialized-disk
Check as many factors as you can to ensure you’re looking at the correct drive. Check the size of the drive and ensure it represents the drive you just physically mounted in the computer.

For example, if you’ve just mounted a 120GB hard drive you should find a 120GB drive with 120GB of unallocated space, usually at the bottom of the drive list.

disk-size

 

You can also view the Drive’s make and model by right clicking on the Disk number in the left column and choosing “Properties”. Compare the model to the drive you’ve just installed and ensure they match.

Our screenshots below were taken from a ‘VMware virtual machine’ which is why it shows a VMware virtual disk – typically this would appear as the manufacturer of your hard disk such as ‘Western Digital’ for example.

disk-properties

disk-properties-screen

 

Once you’re confident you’ve identified the correct drive, proceed to step 4.

Can’t See The Hard Drive At All?

If you can’t see your new drive you can perform a “Rescan” followed by a “Refresh” to identify new disks in Disk Management. This can be accessed from the “Action” dropdown menu in the Disk Management toolbar.

diskmgmtrescan

If you’re sure the Hard Drive isn’t being recognized by Windows then you’ll need to shut down the computer and double check that everything is connected correctly. Refer to our earlier blog post about this.

Once you’ve verified that everything is connected correctly you can then check if the drive shows up in the BIOS / UEFI. If it shows up here but not in Windows then there may be some sort of compatibility issue with the hardware.

Step 4 – Format the Drive

Again, it is critical that you identified the correct drive in the previous step before continuing as the following steps will erase all data on the drive selected.

We now need to “Initialize” and “Format” the drive. As part of this process we’ll select a partition style and file system.

Right click on the disk name in the left column and choose “Initialize Disk”.

initialize-disk
The system will now ask you to choose a partition style. Review the below information on the different partition styles. (Hint: You probably want GPT).

Partition Styles

‘Partition style’ refers to the exact method that Windows uses to organize available hard drive disk space in order to store your data. There are two options here, GPT and MBR and we’ll take a brief look at the differences between them:

GPT (GUID Partition Table)

Most of the time, you’ll want to select GPT (GUID Partition Table). This is a much more modern, robust and future proof method of partitioning. Almost all modern operating systems support GPT and all motherboards that use UEFI support booting from a GPT disk.

MBR (Master Boot Record)

MBR is the old way of partitioning. You can only format disks up to 2TB in size and create 4 primary partitions. There are ways of adding more partitions but it gets messy.

The only reason you would ever choose MBR these days is if you use an old operating system (e.g. Windows XP) or your Motherboard uses a traditional BIOS which doesn’t support the more modern UEFI. Without UEFI the motherboard won’t be able to boot from a GPT disk but you can still use it as a secondary drive.

Choose a partition style and hit “OK”.

initialize-disk2

Review your disk, you should now see that it simply says “Online” rather than “Not Initialized”. The partition will still be “Unallocated” in the right section at this stage. 

initialize-disk-3

Right click on the “Unallocated” section of your new disk and choose “New Simple Volume”.

new-simple-volume

Hit “next” in the Wizard’s welcome screen and you’ll be presented with the “specify Volume Size” section. By default, this will be set to the size of the entire disk which is fine for most people.

You can optionally slice the disk up into several small partitions, each with their own drive letter in Windows. This is a fairly simple task but it’s outside the scope of this walk through.

Leave the “Simple volume size in MB” set to the maximum for the disk and hit “Next”. 

new-simple-volume3

The next screen asks you to chose a drive letter or NTFS mount point. Unless you have a very specific use case, you’ll want to assign a drive letter.

Choose whatever you like here, Windows will only allow you to choose unassigned letters.

We would advise against choosing the letters A or B however, as these were traditionally used by Floppy drives and may not detect correctly in very old programs. 

assign-drive-letter

 

Next comes the “Format Partition” section. Here we’ll choose the file system type, allocation unit size and volume label. Check the below before proceeding. 

Format-drive

Again, let’s take a quick look at each of the options you’re presented with here:

File system

You’ll get the chose of NTFS, FAT32 or ExFAT. Without going into too much detail, you’ll usually want to choose NTFS for a regular hard drive. FAT32 and exFAT can be useful if you need to move the hard drive to a machine that uses a different operating system later. FAT is more often used on USB memory sticks and the like these days.

Allocation Unit Size

It’s fine to leave this as Default. You can set a custom Allocation unit size to help optimize the performance of the drive and balance wasted space but this is only really needed in extreme example. If you’re looking to store only very large files on this drive, such as video files, you could chose a larger Allocation Unit Size such as 64K to help optimize performance however it’s unlikely you’ll notice any difference.

Volume Label

This is the name of the new drive as it appears in Windows. For example, Windows names the first disk in your system “Local Disk”. Give the new drive a descriptive name so you know what it is later.

Perform a Quick Format

If this is the first time the drive is being used it’s fine to choose quick format. If you’re reformatting an old drive and you want to ensure the old data is completely destroyed before writing to this drive or if you’re unsure on the condition of the drive you can uncheck this option.

Enable file and folder compression

With the low cost of hard drive space we recommend against using file and folder compression in Windows. The performance hit and other complications are not worth the space savings in our opinion.

Choose your desired file system type, allocation unit size, volume label and hit next. Review your config on the final screen, then press “Finish”.

 

Format-drive2

 

Step 5 – Check Your Work

Check the disk management screen again. After the disk is finished formatting (this should be almost instant if you chose quick format) you should see a drive letter associated with your new hard drive. E.G “MyData (E:)”. This is how your new drive will be identified by Windows from now on.

formatted-drive-complete

Open up Computer or Explorer from the start menu and check out the new drive. Try copying some files onto the drive any ensure everything is operating as expected.

formatted-drive-complete2

 

That’s it, you should now have successfully added and formatted your new hard drive!

If this guide has helped you out or if you think it’s missing something, please let us know in the comments section. Also let us know if you have any requests for walk though guides, and we’ll do our best to accommodate them!

2 Comments

    • Hi Firao,
      If you go through our guide here it will walk you through step by step in detail, but the brief steps are:

      a) Open Windows Disk Manager (Run -> “diskmgmt.msc”)
      b) Identify the new hard drive that you want to format in the list
      c) Right click on the new hard drive and select “Initialize”
      d) Follow the prompts through the formatting process

      If you need any more details (including what options you should select in the prompt windows), please check through our post again as you may find the information you are looking for there. Otherwise just drop us another comment if you get stuck!

      Good luck!

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