How-To Geek

Low-level Formatting

Low-level formatting is a hardware level process that marks the surface of the disk with a marker indicating the start of a recording block. This block is typically referred to as a sector marker and is referenced by the disk controller in order to read and write data to the disk.

Although the term “low-level format” is still widely used to refer to anything the user does to the disk before the partitioning and high-level formatting stage of disk preparation, it’s actually a bit of a misnomer when applied to modern hard drives. Historically, the end user could in fact perform a completely low-level format of their hard disk, but on modern hard disks, the true low-level formatting takes place at the factory during the assembly and testing process and anything the end user does after that point is, technically, a re-initialization of the hard drive back to the factory state and not a true low-level format of the disk.


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