How Long Does it Take to Format a 2TB Drive?

To do a ‘full’ format on a 2 terabyte hard disk drive in Windows, it will take a long time.  In the computer, permanently (or temporarily) connected to a SATA cable, budget 5-7 hours.  Over a USB 2.0 connection, my drive took about 26 hours.  It takes so long because the computer is looking at every. single. sector. and thinking about them all.  This requires time, and no two ways about it.

A ‘quick’ format will take only a few minutes, but for a new drive I would not recommend saving the time.  It is an unfortunate fact of life that a HDD you get brand-new from the manufacturer has a non-zero probability of dying immediately or within a few hours of use.  Make those few hours during testing, instead of during use.  Don’t transfer all your family photos and then watch it (figuratively) go up in smoke.

In fact, my usual testing for new hard disk drives is as follows:

  • Install the drive in a ‘kick around the shop’ spare computer and apply power, listening closely for bad noises
  • Boot to the Ultimate Boot CD, which has a zillion useful tools built-in, including everything (but Windows) I discuss below:
  • Fire up Parted Magic and look carefully at the SMART data in GSmartControl (the Disk Health icon on the desktop)  Any reallocated sectors at all, and the drive is rejected for any critical applications
  • Still in the GSmartControl program, run a SMART Short Self Test and Conveyance Test.  If both these pass, run a Long Self Test.  So far we are from one to three hours into testing.  I have seen many drives pass short and fail long tests, so yes I do both. (update: I ran the Long test on a pair of SATA-connected 3TB HDDs and they each took about 8 hours)
  • Load Darik’s Boot and Nuke and “autonuke” the drive.  This writes to each location where data can be written on the disk at least three times, and reads it to verify each time.  Any failures are announced in the program.  This takes anywhere from three to FIFTY hours or longer.  Bigger drives take longer.  Sixty gigabytes will be a few hours.  Two terabytes will take two-ish days, roughly.  The DBAN procedure erases all data on the drive and makes the disk useless until other steps are taken – and any viruses, including very sneaky ones, are VERY deleted.
  • Launch Parted again and re-examine the SMART data.  If any of the more worrisome numbers increases, that’s a problem.  GSmartControl conveniently highlights these in pink-to-red tones depending on severity of failure.  If you suddenly have a bunch of reallocated sectors, the drive is going to fail soon.
  • Re-run the SMART Short Self Test.  This should pass with flying colors if DBAN was successful in wiping the drive.
  • Install the hard drive as a secondary drive in a computer that already has a known-clean working Windows installation, and format the new drive.  Make this a Full format and just leave the settings on their defaults.  This step takes a long time, and when you are done you will have a drive ready to use and worthy of your trust.

So now, very nearly a week later, you will be ready to use your multi-terabyte drive.  Congratulations.  If you really didn’t need to read this post, you may be interested in using GParted and Clonezilla to copy your old drive’s data over to the new drive, and they are also both built in to the Parted Magic operating system which can be launched from your USB thumb drive or a CD/DVD appropriately loaded with the UBCD.

If I thought this were overkill, I wouldn’t do it.  How much fun do YOU think it is, diagnosing and then replacing a failing hard disk drive in your computer?  I’d much rather replace my drive because it is full, than replace it because it makes my computer crash when it corrupts my data.
The Ultimate Boot CD is a very useful thing, but their website must be navigated with care, because it is unfortunately possible to accidentally click a wrong-link which will download unwanted-but-likely-harmless software to your computer if you click the wrong ‘download’ button!  It’s free, though, so caveat emptor and good luck!


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