Format backup drives with NTFS

Published: September 7, 2006

Backing up your important files regularly is the key to recovering from a serious system failure. And, with Microsoft Windows XP, the most effective way to back up your computer is to copy your files to an external hard drive using Windows Backup. Before you back up your computer for the first time, you'll want to be sure your external hard drive is formatted with the New Technology File System (NTFS).

There are two ways to enable NTFS on your external hard drive: you can format it or convert it. If you have not yet copied any files on your external drive, you should format it with NTFS. Formatting is preferable to converting because it will make the drive run faster, among other benefits. Formatting a hard drive permanently removes all files, so you should not format the drive if you have saved anything on it (without making a copy of the files first). If you don't want to overwrite the data, you should convert the drive to NTFS instead.

Note: File systems define how your computer writes (or saves) files to a hard drive. Windows XP supports two file systems for external drives: FAT32 and NTFS. External hard drives typically come formatted with the FAT32 file system because it is compatible with earlier versions of Windows. However, the NTFS file system is superior to the FAT32 file system in many ways. Most importantly, NTFS can support files larger than 4 GB in size, which provides plenty of room for your backups.

Format a backup drive with NTFS

Before you begin, connect your external hard drive.

To format the drive with NTFS


Log on to your computer as an administrator.


Click Start, right-click My Computer, and then click Manage.

Start menu with My Computer selected and then Manage selected on My Computer shortcut menu


Under Storage, click Disk Management.

Computer Management window with Disk Management selected


If the Initialize and Convert Disk Wizard appears, click Next. If the wizard does not appear, skip to step 8.

Welcome to the Initialize and Convert Disk Wizard page with Next selected


On the Select Disks to Initialize page, click Next.

Select Disks to Initialize page with Next selected


On the Select Disks to Convert page, click Next.

Select Disks to Convert page with Next selected


On the Completing the Initialize and Convert Disk Wizard page, click Finish.

Completing the Initialize and Convert Disk Wizard page with Finish selected


Right-click your external drive (which will probably be drive E or drive F), and then click Format.

Computer Management window with Format selected on an external drive’s shortcut menu


In the Format dialog box, type a name for your external hard drive, such as Backup Drive. Then, click OK.

Format dialog box with drive name entered and OK selected


Click OK again.

Format warning message with OK selected

Windows XP formats your external hard drive. Within a few minutes, your drive will be ready for you to use.

Convert a backup drive to NTFS

If you have already copied files to your external hard drive, and you don't want to delete them, you can convert your hard drive to NTFS.

To convert an external drive to NTFS


Log on to your computer as an administrator.


Click Start, right-click My Computer.

Start menu with My Computer selected


In the My Computer window, make a note of the drive letter and label assigned to your external drive. Usually, the drive letter will be E or F. The drive letter will not be C (that's the hard drive inside your computer). The label is the word between the drive picture and the drive letter. Some drives may not have a label.

My Computer window with drive label and drive letter highlighted


Click Start, click Run, and then type convert drive_letter: /fs:ntfs

For example, if your external drive is drive E, you would type convert E: /fs:ntfs

Then, click OK.

Run dialog box with convert command line entered and OK selected


A command window appears. Type the label for your external drive, and then press ENTER. If your drive does not have a label, just press ENTER.

Convert.exe command window


If a message warns you that the volume is in use by another process, close any other open windows. Then, press Y and then ENTER.

Convert.exe command window with warning message and Y entered in command line

Windows XP converts your external drive to NTFS. When the conversion is done, the window automatically closes. Your drive is ready for your backups.


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