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Initialize disks with GParted Live

By , Last modified: 2015-03-01.

How to use GParted Live to create and format partitions on disks that Windows refuses to initialize

There are times when you try to add a new external or internal hard disk drive or flash drive and Disk Management console fails to initialize the disk with error "The system cannot find the file specified". This can happen in Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1. This error does not mean that your (new) disk is unusable or broken.

For those who are trying to access an older IDE (aka EIDE, ATA or PATA) drive that has existing data on it, please see the Disk Management tutorial on how to resolve the problem by changing jumper position.

Luckily, Linux is once again very useful in such cases. GParted Live is a bootable CD that allows creating and formatting partitions. As usual, nothing will be written to system disk unless you explicitly require that.

Last warning: this tutorial is meant for new, unformatted drives. Following the steps will erase all data on the drive that refuses to initialize.

Downloading GParted Live

Open GParted download page and click the link right after "Looking for the latest version?".
GParted Live download page. Click the link right after text 'Looking for the latest version?'.

Save the file to a folder you can locate easily (for example, Downloads folder in Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1; My Documents folder in Windows XP).

Burning the downloaded image to a CD or USB

Use CDBurnerXP to create the bootable CD in Windows XP and Vista. In Windows 7 and 8, use the Windows Disc Image Burner instead.

Those who prefer to boot from a USB drive instead, please see the Create bootable Windows installation media on a USB stick guide on my other site, Despite the title, you can use the same small program for creating bootable Linux USB sticks, too.

Instructions for CDBurnerXP in Windows XP and Windows Vista

Right-click the downloaded file, select Open With, CDBurnerXP.
Insert a blank CD-R or CD-RW.
Next, make sure both Finalize disc and Verify data after burning options are selected. Then click Burn disc.
CDBurnerXP, Burn ISO Image. Click Burn disc.

After the disc creation and verification is complete, click Close. If you encounter any problems, see the Create disc from ISO image article for more detailed instructions.
CDBurnerXP, Burn ISO Image complete. Click Close.

Instructions for Windows Disc Image Burner in Windows 7 and 8

Right-click the downloaded file and select Burn disc image (or Open With and Windows Disc Image Burner).
Insert a blank CD-R or CD-RW.
Click to activate the Verify disc after burning option. Then click Burn.
Windows 7, Windows Disc Image Burner. Click Verify disc after burning. Then click Burn.

After the disc creation and verification is complete, click Close.
Windows 7, Windows Disc Image Burner, burning complete. Click Close.

Booting from GParted Live bootable media

First, make sure your PC is set to boot from CD/DVD or USB (depending on the type of media you just created) - read the Computer boot order article for instructions.
Then, connect your external drive that Windows was unable to initialize. For internal disks, you do not need any additional steps.

After your computer starts from GParted Live CD, you are presented with the following menu.
In most cases, using the first option - GParted Live (Default settings) - works fine. This really affect graphics card drivers only.
Press Enter key to start GParted Live.
GParted Live boot menu. Press Enter key to start GParted with default settings.

If you run into trouble with blank or scrambled screen in the later steps, press Reset/Restart button of your computer or hold down Power button for more than 5 seconds. Then, in the same menu, press Arrow Down key to select Other modes of GParted Live and press Enter key to confirm your selection.
GParted Live boot menu. Use arrow down key to select Other modes of GParted Live. Then press Enter key.

Then select GParted Live (Safe graphic settings, vga=normal) with Arrow Down key and press Enter.
GParted Live boot menu, other modes. Use arrow down key to select GParted Live (Safe graphic settings, vga=normal). Then press Enter key.

Please stand by while Linux does its magic detecting all hardware. You may see several lines ending with "(Warning)", this is normal.

Next, a keymap selection dialog appears. This defines the layout of keyboard; US English is the default one. As you do not really need keyboard during running GParted, press Enter to accept the Don't touch keymap option.
GParted Live, Configuring console-data, keymap. Press Enter to accept the default keyboard layout.

Next, press Enter key again to accept the default language (US English) for GParted. As you can see, the default selection is in square brackets - "[]".
GParted Live, Loading language settings. Press Enter to accept US English.

And then press Enter again to run GParted in a graphical environment called X-Window.
GParted Live, Which mode do you prefer? Press Enter to run GParted in a graphical environment.

X will start and open GParted automatically. Please note that sometimes it might take several minutes for disks and partitions to appear in the program.

Partitioning and formatting disks with GParted

The very first step is to select the correct disk from the menu on the right.

Linux uses its own naming for different disks and partitions - /dev/sda is the first hard disk, /dev/sdb is either the second hard disk or a removable drive, etc.
If a disk has more than one partition on it, then the first partition on the first disk is named /dev/sda1, the second partition on the same disk is /dev/sda2, etc.

Here, /dev/sda is most probably the hard disk where Windows is currently installed on. Do not select this one!
GParted, disk selection on the right. '/dev/sda' is most probably the hard disk Windows is installed on. Select '/dev/sdb' from the menu.

As you're trying to format a brand new disk, you can distinguish it easily by the gray area with "unallocated" written on it. Also, use the disk size hints to find the disk Windows was unable to initialize - MiB means "megabytes" and GiB means "gigabytes".

In case you are unable to find your external disk, unplug it, wait for a few seconds and plug it back in. Then open GParted menu and click Refresh Devices; or use keyboard shortcut Ctrl+R.
GParted. To rescan for drives, open GParted menu and click Refresh Devices.

After selecting the correct disk, right-click the gray "unallocated" area on the top and select New.
GParted. To create and format a new partition, right-click the gray area above and then click New.

In the Create new Partition dialog, select a suitable type from File system combo box.
fat32 is the best option for carrying around music and smaller video files and mixed use on older Windows versions (such as Windows 95/98/Me), home and car multimedia systems, etc.
FAT32 partitions do not need initialization, so it is a great workaround! Please note that you cannot copy or create files larger than 4 gigabytes to a FAT32 disk! But you can later convert the disk to NTFS format without any problems or losing data!
ntfs is the best option if you need to create and copy large (over 4 gigabytes) files, but it is not usable in older Windows versions or multimedia systems. NTFS partitions might need initialization.
Do not consider using other file system types than FAT32 or NTFS! Windows is unable to handle Linux/Unix file systems, such as ext2, hfs, reiser4, etc.
GParted, Create new Partition. Select suitable file system (FAT32 for USB flash drives, NTFS for hard disks).

All other options are fine by default, so click Add.
GParted, Create new Partition. After specifying the correct file system, click Add.

Next, you need to commit the changes. Click Apply button on GParted toolbar. In case you just discovered you were editing the wrong disk, there's the Undo button, too!
GParted, to commit changes, click Apply.

GParted will warn you that editing partitions can cause loss of data. Yes, creating and formatting a new partition will erase all data on the new disk - but as it was unformatted anyway, it is no problem. Laughing
Click Apply again.
GParted, apply operations to device. Click Apply to create the new partition and format it.

The partitioning and formatting can take several minutes, depending on the size of your new disk. Stand by until it is completed.
GParted, applying pending operations. Please stand by, this might take several minutes.

After the disk is ready for use, click Close.
GParted, applying pending operations completed. Click Close.

Double-click the Exit icon on the top left (you do not need to close GParted) of Desktop.
GParted, to restart your computer, double-click Exit.

Select Reboot in the Exit dialog and then click OK.
GParted, Exit dialog. Select Reboot, then click OK.

Linux will shut down its graphical environment and stop all processes. After your optical drive ejects the GParted Live CD, remove it from its tray and press Enter key to restart your computer.
GParted, Please remove the disc, close the tray (if any) and press ENTER to continue.

Your new disk should now be usable in Windows! Cool

For NTFS disks, you might need to open Disk Management again to initialize the newly formatted disk. This time it should work flawlessly.



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