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[ The PC Guide | Procedure Guide | Setup and Inspection Procedures ]

Hard Disk Partitioning and Formatting Procedure

This procedure describes how to set up a new, empty hard disk so that it is ready for an operating system to be installed on it. This process includes partitioning and formatting and results in a bootable hard disk. The procedure covers configuring the hard disk as a single large partition or splitting it into multiple, smaller partitions. The procedure provides specific instructions for using the FDISK program and is based on the Windows 95 OEM SR2 (Windows 95B) FDISK version with FAT32 support.

Warning: This procedure is intended to be used for setting up a new hard disk containing no information on it. Do not follow these steps if your hard disk has already been partitioned and formatted, or data loss will likely result.

Procedure Overview:

  • Difficulty Level: 2 (Low).
  • Risk Factor: 1 (Very low). This assumes that the hard disk has no data on it.
  • Hardware Required: None.
  • Software Required: Boot disk containing the FDISK.EXE and FORMAT.COM programs.
  • Time to Perform: 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the size and speed of the hard disks.
  • Preparation / Warnings:
    • To be safe, always run FDISK from DOS only.
    • Be extremely careful when using the FDISK program, as one incorrect keystroke can result in major data loss. In particular, in a system with multiple hard disk drives be careful to make sure you are working on the right physical disk or you may accidentally end up disturbing the contents of the wrong drive. Beware that DOS drive letters can change after creating or deleting partitions, and that with multiple hard disks the partitions may be lettered in an unexpected sequence. See here for more details on this.
    • Do not perform this procedure until the system is in good working order. Resolve any hardware conflicts or other issues before commencing.
    • I assume that the system has been turned on and booted from the floppy disk.
    • FDISK uses binary megabytes when displaying drive and partition sizes, not decimal megabytes. See this explanation of the difference for details.
    • All commands in DOS or within FDISK require you to press {Enter} to select them; I'm not going to repeat it a zillion times within the procedure below.

Procedure Steps:

  1. Check Version Number: At the DOS prompt, enter the following command: "ver". The system will respond with the version of DOS/Windows you have booted. Make sure that this matches whatever you want to install on the hard disk. For Windows 95 OEM SR2 the version number will be "4.00.1111".
  2. Plan Partitions: Decide how you want to partition your hard disk. In particular, for large hard disks under Windows 95 OSR2, decide if you want to set up your hard disk with a single large FAT32 partition, or several smaller FAT16 partitions. (You can of course mix these). I provide instructions for doing either of these, but cannot tell you how to set up your system. You must decide based on what makes sense for you. For assistance in making this decision, and more general information on partitioning, cluster sizes and related issues, refer to this section. Most people today prefer to set up a new system using a single FAT32 partition.
  3. Run FDISK.EXE: From the command prompt, enter the command "fdisk". If you have a disk large enough to warrant the use of FAT32, you will be asked if you want to enable "large disk support". Enter "Y" if you want to enable FAT32, or "N" if you do not want to enable FAT32. If you do enable this, any partitions over 500 MB that you create will be FAT32. Note that if you do not enable FAT32, you will not be able to put your entire hard disk into one partition if it is greater than 2 GB in size.

If you decided to place your entire hard disk into a single partition, then follow this step:

  1. Partition Hard Disk (Single Partition): Follow these steps to set up your hard disk:
    1. Select from the FDISK menu "1. Create DOS partition or Logical DOS Drive".
    2. Select "1. Create Primary DOS Partition". FDISK will verify drive integrity. Then it will ask if you want to use the maximum available size of the disk for the primary partition and set it active. Enter "Y". The system will allocate the whole disk to the partition, and that's that.
    3. Press {Esc} to exit FDISK.

If instead you want to set up your hard disk with multiple partitions (or if you don't have Windows 95 OEM SR2), follow this step. In order to make the process easier to follow, I am going to use an example below. In the example, a 3100 (binary) MB hard disk is being partitioned into four partitions of 1000 MB, 800 MB, 700 MB and 600 MB respectively:

  1. Partition Hard Disk (Multiple Partitions): Follow these steps to set up your hard disk:
    1. Select from the FDISK menu "1. Create DOS partition or Logical DOS Drive".
    2. Select "1. Create Primary DOS Partition". FDISK will verify drive integrity. Then it will ask if you want to use the maximum available size of the disk for the primary partition and set it active. Enter "N". The system will show the size of the entire disk in MB.
    3. Enter the size of the primary partition. In our example, this would mean entering "1000". The system will tell you that it has created the primary partition, and will assign it the drive letter "C:".
    4. Press {Esc} to return to the FDISK menu.
    5. Select "2. Set active partition". Select partition 1. FDISK will report that it has set partition 1 active.
    6. Press {Esc} to return to the FDISK menu.
    7. Select from the FDISK menu "1. Create DOS partition or Logical DOS Drive".
    8. Select "2. Create Extended DOS Partition".
    9. When prompted, press {Enter} to select the entire remaining area of the disk for the extended DOS partition. FDISK will report that it has created the extended DOS partition.
    10. Press {Esc}. FDISK will automatically prompt you to create your first logical DOS volume within the extended DOS partition.
    11. Enter the size of the first logical partition (the second partition overall). In our example you would enter "800". FDISK will create the partition, label it "D:", and then say "Logical DOS Drive created, drive letters changed or added". Don't touch anything, just wait, and FDISK will prompt you for the next volume.
    12. Repeat the previous step for the remaining partitions (in our example there would be two more partitions to create, the 700 MB and 600 MB ones). When all of the partitions have been created, FDISK will report "All available space in the Extended DOS Partition is assigned to logical drives".
    13. Press {Esc} to exit FDISK.

Continue with the procedure:

  1. Reboot: Reboot the system using either the Reset button or the "three-fingered salute" ({Ctrl}+{Alt}+{Delete}). Make sure the floppy disk is in its drive, since you still need it. Note that you may get "Invalid media type reading drive C" errors while rebooting. This is normal at this stage.
  2. Format Primary Partition: From the "A:" DOS prompt, issue the following command: "format c:/s". Do not forget the "/s", as this is what will make your C: drive bootable. You will get a "scary" warning message such as "WARNING, ALL DATA ON NON-REMOVABLE DISK DRIVE C: WILL BE LOST. Proceed with Format (Y/N)?". Since of course there is no data presently on drive C:, just enter "Y" and the system will format the hard disk. The program will show you its progress as it formats and at the end will prompt you for a volume label. Enter one if you wish.
  3. Format Additional Partitions (if necessary): If you set up multiple partitions, format the additional partitions now. This is done in almost the same way as formatting the primary DOS partition, except that you leave off the "/s". So normally you would be entering "format d:", "format e:" and so on, until all the partitions have been formatted. The prompts should be the same as in the preceding step.

Warning: If you have a second hard disk in the system and it has a primary DOS partition, that partition is probably assigned D: because DOS assigns letters to all primary partitions before any logical partitions. Be careful of what you format.

  1. Remove Boot Floppy: Eject the boot floppy from the floppy disk.
  2. Reboot: Reboot the system using either the Reset button or {Ctrl}+{Alt}+{Delete}. The system should boot up from the hard disk this time, and stop at the "C:" prompt. Note that if you get an error such as "NO ROM BASIC, SYSTEM HALTED" or "No boot device found" at this stage, this means you forgot to set the primary DOS partition "active". Reboot from the floppy, run FDISK again and use option 2 to set the primary partition active, then reboot. If you get an error like "No operating system", this means you probably forgot the "/s" parameter when formatting the C: drive. Put the floppy disk back in the drive and then return to step 5. See the Troubleshooting Expert for more help with any errors you may encounter.

Next: CD-ROM Driver Installation Procedure

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