Ask the Doctor: Oh Say Can You C:


I’m having trouble formatting my C: drive. When I right-click my drive and try to format it, I get an error telling me that it can’t format when other applications are running. I’ve uninstalled everything that I could and it still won’t let me format. Is my hard drive shot or just corrupt? I don’t have my restore disc.
K. Payne

Your hard drive is probably neither shot nor corrupt. Formatting overwrites all the data on a disc (or more accurately, erases its headers so it can be written over). If you format your C: drive, the one Windows is installed on, you’ll lose everything on it, including Windows. Windows cannot delete itself while Windows itself is running; you should format from a bootable disc—either a Linux LiveCD, like Knoppix or Ubuntu Live, or a Windows Preloaded Environment disc like BartPE (discussed above).

You shouldn’t format your primary drive, though, if you have no way of reinstalling Windows, or if you want to keep any of the data on it. Since you don’t have a restore disc, that probably isn’t your best option. If you do find your restore disc, or another copy of Windows, you can reformat during the reinstall process. If you’re just trying to improve your drive’s performance, defragment it with Window’s default defragmenter.

SUBMIT YOUR QUESTION Are flames shooting out of the back of your rig? First, grab a fire extinguisher and douse the flames. Once the pyrotechnic display has fizzled, email the doctor at for advice on how to solve your technological woes.

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