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How To Format your Windows 7 Computer without CD

Posted by Anna Middleton on May 29, 2019

I know lots of people who still use Windows 7. Some businesses still use it because Windows 10 is expensive and they have software designed specifically for them in the OS. Other people just like that they know it and are sticking with it. With Windows 7 hitting end of life in January 14, 2020, some people are finally making the move. In preparation for that, how can you format your computer if you don’t have the original Windows 7 CD or DVD?

Usually when you format your operating system (OS) drive, you use the installation media to do it. You boot into the CD or DVD, use the tools on the CD to format the drive in preparation for the OS to be installed. If you don’t have the CD to use, how can you wipe the drive?

You have a couple of options depending on what you intend to do with the drive or computer. If you want to format the drive ready for Windows 10, there’s a method for that. If you want to format the drive to use as a backup instead of boot drive, there’s a method for that. If you’re selling your old computer for parts, there’s a method for that too.

Before you try any of these, make sure to copy anything you want to keep onto a different drive or removable storage. Formatting wipes the drive so any data is irretrievable without special tools.

Format a Windows 7 computer ready for an upgrade

If you’re preparing for an upgrade to Windows 10, you don’t need the installation media for Windows 7. The Windows 10 installation media can take care of the format. All you need to do is copy the files you want to keep, insert the Windows 10 installation media, reboot your computer and allow the loader to install.

Once you see the blue screen with the Install selection, hit it and the Windows 10 installation process will begin. A format is performed in preparation of installation unless you select to keep old data.

Format Windows 7 to use as backup

If you invested in a solid state drive or NVMe and want to use your old hard drive as a backup or storage drive, you can format it in a few minutes. The easiest way to do that is to install Windows 10 first on your new drive and reattach your old one. Open Windows Explorer, select the old drive, right click and select Format. Confirm your choice and Windows 10 will format the hard drive ready for use.

This will only work if you are not using Windows 7 as your operating system. You cannot select the C: drive and select Format as Windows won’t allow it. You can only do this if you have installed another OS and are not using the drive as your boot drive.

Format Windows 7 to sell your computer

If you’re planning to sell your old computer, you need to go further than a simple format to protect your privacy. A format does not delete data, only the index that tells Windows where that data is. Anyone with data recovery tools and a little knowledge can recover that data and make it usable again.

If you’re planning to sell any computer containing a hard drive, you need to use DBAN. Darik’s Boot and Nuke is the go-to software for most computer stores and anyone outside the NSA. It is very effective at making an old drive secure by wiping every byte of data and then overwriting it multiple times so even the most advanced data recovery software won’t be able to rebuild it. Be careful to select the free DBAN software from the page.

Then:

  1. Copy the DBAN software onto a CD or USB stick.
  2. Remove all but the drive you want to wipe from your computer.
  3. Boot from the DBAN media.
  4. Type ‘autonuke’ and hit Enter when you see the prompt.

You will notice that your mouse doesn’t work in DBAN. That’s because it doesn’t load a USB driver so you will need to use your keyboard only to get it working. The ‘autonuke’ option will set DBAN to work erasing your drive and overwriting three times. This should be enough for most uses. You can use the advanced tools to overwrite more if you need, the ‘gutmann’ option is good for security.

You can easily format your Windows 7 computer without installation media but the method you choose depends on what you’re trying to achieve. All these methods work well and will see you upgrading or disposing of your old tech securely.

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