Set up an external hard disk and free up space on your computer

external hdd

If you’re short of space on your hard disk, there’s a quick and easy solution

Almost all external hard disks connect to a computer using a USB3 connection. Some modern drives also come with an eSata cable, which is faster but still not found on many computers.

The first step is to find a spare port that the hard disk can connect to. If there are none left, consider buying a USB hub. These are available for about £10 and add more USB3 ports to your computer.

There are no drivers to install once a new hard disk is connected, so if it comes with a CD, it’s not necessary to use it. The CD may, however, have some useful third-party utilities for backing up your data.

The message ‘Found New Hardware: USB Mass Storage Device’ should appear in the bottom-right corner of the screen whenever a new external disk is attached.

When this notification says the hardware is ready to use

open the Start menu and select My Computer to see it, where it should appear alongside existing drives.

If the hard disk doesn’t appear in My Computer, there could be a physical problem with the connection (in this case try plugging it into a different USB port), or it needs formatting. Formatting a hard disk is done so Windows can understand the structure of the physical disk and, even if it is useable straight away, can be done to ensure it’s labelled properly.

Formatting a hard disk deletes any files that were previously on it and should therefore be done cautiously. Click Start, right-click My Computer (just called Computer in Vista and Windows 10) and select Manage.

Select Disk Management from the left pane, which will then bring up all your hard disks. A pre-existing hard disk will be called Disk 0 and has the main Windows partition on it (commonly called C:).

This should be left alone. A new external disk will appear below it and will be called Disk 1 or Disk 2. Even if the hard disk is already listed as healthy it can still be cleaned and labelled by right-clicking it and selecting Format.

Select a memorable Volume label, for example External Drive, and choose NTFS from the File system dropdown menu.

Leave the Allocation unit size as Default and tick the ‘Perform a quick format’ box. File and folder compression can effectively make the external drive more spacious, but it’s better to leave this option deselected for performance and compatibility reasons.

Click Next and then Finish. The hard disk will now appear with your chosen volume label in My Computer and will be available to all programs. Double-click to open it and drag and drop folders across to free up space on the old hard disk.

Folders on the new hard disk can be accessed quickly by creating shortcuts on the desktop. To do so, right-click the desktop and select New, then Shortcut and follow the steps of the wizard.

Hard disks classed as Unallocated in the Disk Management utility must first be partitioned before formatting. This splits a hard disk into different parts.

So, for example, two partitions will mean two new drives appear in My Computer. To partition a drive, right-click it and select Delete. Right-click it again and select New Partition in Windows XP, or New Simple Volume in Vista or Windows 10.

Click Next until the Specify Partition Size options appear, also called Specify Volume size in Vista and Windows 10. Now reduce the volume size to create more than one partition.

This will leave unallocated space for creating other partitions. Novice users with a new Unallocated hard disk should leave the figure at its default value. Click Next and follow the formatting in Step 4.

One of the bulkiest folders of any computer, My Documents, can be relocated to the external hard disk to free up a lot of space on the main hard disk.

In Windows 8, the My Documents folder also contains My Photos and My Music, but for Vista and Windows 10 these folders should be moved across individually. In Windows XP click Start and right-click the My Documents folder, then select Properties and click Move.

For 7, click Start, Documents, right-click My Documents, select Properties and click Move. In Windows 10, do the same but select the Location tab instead and click Move.

From here, for all versions of Windows, navigate to the external disk, click the Make New folder button and call the new folder My Documents. Follow through the final steps and wait while the files are transferred across to the new disk.