When you buy a desktop or laptop that comes with Windows 10, or any other version of Windows pre-installed a lot more goes into setting it up a part from installing the OS. For one, the system’s hard drive or SSD has been set up. This is something that you normally only have to do once. You can do a fresh install of Windows over and over, and you will never have to set up the hard drive again, unless you accidentally or purposely change the partitions. If you’ve done that, you will have to set up the hard drive again before you can install Windows 10. Here’s how.

There are multiple ways to set up a hard drive for installing Windows 10 however, we’re assuming that you have a hard drive with no OS installed and you’re trying to install Windows. Even if you aren’t trying to install Windows, these methods will still work but you’ll need to installation media for Windows. With that in mind, there are two ways to set up a hard drive.

If you plan on installing a Linux distribution, check out our guide for partitioning a hard drive on Linux.

Install Disk

A few years ago, before Windows 10 was developed and Windows 7 was the popular version of Windows the OS was installed via an installation disk i.e. a CD. If you happen to have one of those CDs lying around and your system has a DVD or CD drive, you can use it and it will set up the hard drive for you as part of the installation.

Of course, this is a very long shot and even if you have one of those old disks lying around, they may no longer work or your system might not have an optical drive. If that’s the case, try the second method.

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Windows 10 USB Disk Diskpart

You’re going to need to create installation media for Windows 10. It’s pretty easy to but you will need access to a working PC to do this. Download the Media Creation Tool from Microsoft’s website, and use it to create a USB disk to install Windows 10 on a different system.

Connect the USB to your laptop and click the ‘Repair this computer’ option when you see it. On the repair options screen, you will see an option to open Command Prompt. Select it.

Once you’re in Command Prompt, run the following command;

diskpart

This will open the Diskpart utility. Next, enter the following command and tap the Enter key.

list disk

This will list all the disks on your hard drive. You will likely see one very small drive that’s only a few MBs in size, and one large drive. You may see more than one large or more than one small drives. If you do, don’t worry about it. Check that each drive, especially the one that’s the biggest and that you want to set up, it’s space is reported in the ‘Free’ column. If there is no space shown for  the drive in the Free column, run the following command.

Clean

Run the following command again.

list disk.

Now, what you need to do is look closely at the list of disks and note down the number that is allotted to each one. Start with the largest drive. Let’s assume that the drive is allotted the number 0. Enter the following command.

select drive 0

If your drive has a different number, replace the 0 in the above command with that number. This will select the drive and all commands you run will be executed on it. It’s time to create a partition. Run the following command but replace the X with the size of the disk that was reported when you ran the list disk command. Do not worry about the size being in MB or GB. You only need to include the numerical value of the disk size and not the units it’s measured in.

Syntax

create partition primary size=X

Example

create partition primary size=465

This will turn the entire disk into a primary partition. It may, understandably be too large but once you install Windows 10 or any other OS, you can shrink the partition down and make a second one. Almost all popular operating systems come with a disk management utility which has a graphical user interface and it is much easier for end users to work with than the Command Prompt and the Diskpart utility.

Now that the disk has been partitioned, you need to create volumes and format the disk. Enter the following command;

list partition

This will list all partitions available on the current disk. Determine which is the largest one, and then select it with the following command. Replace the 0 with the number of the partition that you want to select.

select partition 0

Now that you’ve selected the partition, it’s time to format it. We’re going to do a quick format, and format the drive on the NTFS system.

format fs=ntfs quick

This will create volumes, and they ought to automatically be assigned a letter. Run the following command to view the volumes.

list volumes

If the volumes have not been assigned a letter, you can assign it with the following command. First select the volume.

select volume 0

Next, assign the letter;

assign letter=C

Take care you do not use a letter that is already in use. Repeat for all unassigned volumes. Now enter the following command to set the partition as active.

active

That’s all. You can close the command prompt window, and install Windows from the USB.

Other Tools

Diskpart may seem intimidating for users who have never tinkered with the command prompt. If you’re uncomfortable using it, you can find other tools that allow you to burn an app to a USB. The app can be accessed by simply connecting the USB to your system. It will load even if you do not have an OS installed and you get a GUI to do everything you just did with diskpart. The apps may or may not be free. Search for a partition tool, and make sure you check the reviews before you use it.