STEP 20 : Prepare the Hard Drive(s)

Before we can install your operating system to your hard drive, that drive must be prepared for use. In order to use your hard drive, it must be partitioned and formatted. If you are building a system and putting a previously used hard drive into it, you may not need to perform this step. But, on any new hard drive or one you are just trying to start over with, you will need to do this. If you are installing Windows XP, all formatting, partitioning and installation work from the XP CD. You should have your first boot device be the CDROM already. Insert the disk and reboot the system. Windows Setup will begin. Then, skip down to the step on Windows XP Installation. If you are installing a legacy OS, then proceed.

Many retail hard drives come with their own utilities for setting up their hard drives. For example, Maxtor hard drives are packaged with a utility called MaxBlast. MaxBlast itself serves as a bootable disk for your system, and after booting the system up it will move directly into the first step of its wizard to set up your drive. These kinds of setup are very convenient and will walk you right through both partitioning and formatting the drives. If your hard drive came with such software, then I recommend you use that software and follow the manual that came with your drive. And, in that case, simply follow the manufacturers steps and you can proceed to the next step in this tutorial after doing so.

If you are using an OEM hard drive or one you happened to have around already, you may not have any software for it. So you will need to set your drive up the old-fashioned way. Here’s how:


Partitioning is done using the FDISK command. FDISK is a plain-jane, text-only utility that comes on most Windows/DOS setups. FDISK should be included on your system disk and when you use it, it will actually be run off of the floppy drive. If, for some reason, your system disk does not have FDISK.EXE on it, get one that does.

Take a little time to plan your partitions. Do you want one large partition for the entire drive? Or do you want to separate it into different drive volumes? If you have FAT32, it is very popular to create one partition for the entire drive. Otherwise, if you are using a drive larger than 2G, you will have to separate it into more than one partition. Also, keep in mind that smaller partitions lead to smaller clusters, thus less slack or wasted disk space. With almost any modern operating system (I’m thinking Windows here) you will want to use the FAT32 file system. When you go into FDISK, it will ask if you want to enable “Large Disk Support”, and you do if you’re using any OS Windows 98 or newer.

So, start.

  1. Type “fdisk” at the command prompt. If it does not work, it is because your hard drive is not attached properly or you may be missing FDISK.EXE on your system disk.
  2. It will ask if you wish to enable Large Disk Support, and in most cases, you will. Type “Y” and proceed.
  3. Next, you will see 4 menu options. If you already have partitions on this hard drive, you can choose option 4 to view the current partition setup and decide if you want to change it. For a brand new drive (which I’m assuming for the purpose of this tutorial), you’ll need to start from scratch.
  4. Some information: The first partition is your primary DOS partition. This is your C: drive and can’t be divided. This is also called the active partition. You can only have one active partition. The second partition is optional. It is called an extended partition. This is the space left over after the primary partition. Then, logical DOS drives are created within the extended partition, each having a letter by which you will refer to it.
  5. First you have to setup a primary DOS partition. Choose Option 1 (Create DOS partition or Logical DOS drive).
  6. Choose Option 1 in the next menu.
  7. Now you can make your entire hard drive the primary partition or only a part of it. Many people just make the entire drive one partition just to stay simple. If you want to break from this norm, specify the amount of drive you want to partition in either megabytes or percentage of total drive. If you are using a percentage, be sure to follow the number by a “%” or the computer will think you’re talking MB’s. As a tip, I generally like to have my operating system(s) stay on their own partition, so I like to assign 2 GIG or so to the primary DOS partition, allowing ample room for a few versions of Windows. That’s just me.
  8. Next, you’ll need to make this partition active. Return to the main FDISK menu and choose Option 2 (Set Active Partition). Follow the prompts.
  9. If you’re going to create an extended partition (and you probably will unless you’re only going to use C), choose Option 1 again, but this time choose Option 2 in the next menu (Create Extended DOS partition).
  10. Plug in the percentage of drive to partition for this one. You can use the remaining amount for simplicity. Do not make this partition active. Only one can be active.
  11. After you create an extended partition, you will be given the Create Logical Drives option in the extended partition menu. Follow the on-screen instructions to assign drive letters to your partitions D: through Z:.
  12. After all this is done, you can choose Option 4 (Display Partition Information) and check your work.
  13. After the drive has been partitioned and all looks fine to you, press to exit FDISK. You’ll be told you need to restart the machine and that’s what you’re about to do.
  14. Reboot the machine with the system disk in Drive A:. If you try to do anything on the C: drive, you may get an error about Invalid Media Type. Don’t worry about it. It’s because you haven’t formatted it yet.

Here’s how to format your newly created disk partition(s):

  1. At the A> prompt, type format c: /s. The “/s” tells it to make the disk bootable by copying some elementary system files to the C drive. If you booted from a CD and intend to install the OS right away, you do not need to copy system files, in which case you can leave the “/s” off.
  2. You will get a warning saying that this action will erase all data on the drive. This is normal, and since there is no data on the drive, just press “Y” and move on.
  3. It will show the status as it happens.
  4. If you created additional partitions on this drive, format those volumes now. Type “format d:” or “format e:”, where the letter corresponds to the volume you wish to format. Do not type the “/s” since you only want the C: drive bootable. Do this for all remaining partitions you created during the partitioning process.
  5. When you are complete, you should be able to do a directory listing to be sure it is formatted by typing “DIR C:” at the command prompt. You’ll likely get a FILE NOT FOUND message, but that’s normal. At least the drive is set up.

When you have done both procedures above, reboot the system. If you copied the system files over you can do so without the system disk in the diskette drives. If not, you’ll need to leave the system disk in Drive A. If using the C drive, it is supposed to boot normally and go to the C: prompt. If you get an error like “No boot device found” or “No ROM Basic”, you probably forgot to make the primary partition active. Run FDISK again and fix that. If you get an error like “No Operating System”, you probably forgot to make the disk bootable. Make sure you typed “/s” at the format command.