What’s the Difference between a Quick and a Full format?

It’s one that can crop up at any time. For instance you could find yourself with an old computer that’s running slow that you just want the hard drive from. Or you could discover an old USB drive that you no longer need the data for. This is also good to know if by some unfortunate chance your USB drive was to corrupt.

Before we discuss the long and short of it (or the quick and full of it), lets take a look at what exactly a format is. First, low-level formatting is essentially dividing up your hard drive or USB into separate spaces. Your computer will essentially ring fence a part of your hard drive and be able to access it when needed.

Secondly, high-level formatting is the writing of a file system to your hard drive disk. For example when you’re installing an Operating system, the Windows (or Mac OSX, Linux) files will be written to the boot sector first, with empty space being written across the rest of the disk.

So now we know what formatting is, lets take a look at quick and full formats. A quick format will write 0s over the existing file system structure, basically overwriting and deleting your Windows installation. A full format, however, will write zeros to the full disk. As there is much more of a surface area to be covered, it naturally takes longer for a full format. So if you’re keeping your hard drive I’d recommend a quick format if you need to format at all.

If you’re giving your hard drive away though, for instance if you’re selling your computer, then it’s best to give your hard drive a full format. Otherwise there could still be some recoverable data of yours on the computer’s hard drive.

So, if you’re keeping your hard drive or computer, a quick format is fine. If, however, you’re giving your computer away, best to give it a full format just in case.