A clean installation of an OS proceeds as if the disk were brand new. No information that is currently on the hard drive is preserved. The first phase of the installation process partitions and formats the hard drive. This process prepares the disk to accept the new file system. The file system provides the directory structure that organizes the user’s operating system, application, configuration, and data files.
Windows operating systems use one of these file systems:
- New Technology File System (NTFS) - Supports partition sizes up to 16 exabytes, in theory. NTFS incorporates more file system security features and extended attributes than the FAT file system.
- File Allocation Table, 32 bit (FAT32) - Supports partition sizes up to 2 TB or 2,048 GB. The FAT32 file system is used by Windows XP and earlier OS versions.
The preferred file system type for a clean installation of Windows is NTFS. Security is one of the most important differences between FAT32 and NTFS. NTFS can support more and larger files than FAT32 and also provides more flexible security features for files and folders. Figure 1 is a comparison of the Windows file systems.
To use the extra security advantages of NTFS, you can convert partitions from FAT32 to NTFS using the CONVERT.EXE utility. To make an NTFS partition a FAT32 partition, back up the data, reformat the partition, and restore the data from a backup.
CAUTION: Before converting a file system, remember to back up the data.
Windows 7 and Windows Vista automatically create a partition using the entire hard drive. If a user does not create custom partitions using the New option, as shown in Figure 2, the system formats the partition and begins installing Windows. If users create a partition, they will be able to determine the size of the partition. In Windows 7 and Windows Vista, there is no option to select a file system. All partitions are formatted with NTFS.
Before users can install Windows XP, they must create a new partition. When a user creates a new partition, they will be prompted to choose the size of the partition. After a partition has been created, Windows XP provides users with a choice of formatting it with the NTFS or FAT file systems. A technician should also be familiar with the following multimedia file systems:
- exFAT (FAT 64) - Created to address some of the limitations of FAT, FAT32, and NTFS when formatting USB flash drives, such as file size and directory size.
- Compact Disc File System (CDFS) - Created specifically for optical disk media.
Quick Format versus Full Format
When installing Windows XP, you can format a partition using a quick format or full format, as shown in Figure 3. The quick format removes files from the partition, but does not scan the disk for bad sectors. Scanning a disk for bad sectors can prevent data loss in the future. For this reason, do not use the quick format for disks that have been previously formatted. The quick format option is not available when installing Windows 7 or Windows Vista.
The full format removes files from the partition while scanning the disk for bad sectors. It is required for all new hard drives. The full format option takes more time to complete.