If what you are after is to clean off the drive, formatting will not do that, you can format the drive during the installation on another distribution. To clean off a drive, if you have a live CD distribution like Knoppix, put it in the drive and boot the computer, when you get to a command line (terminal), issue this command to clean the entire drive (for 1st or only IDE drive):
dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/hda conv=notrunc
If you have a SATA hard drive issue this command:
dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sda conv=notrunc
These commands will write 0's across the entire drive (clean it up a bit), wait till a command prompt returns before shutting down, this will not be very quick depending on what kind of hardware you have. To install an OS, make sure to set the bios to boot from the disc before hard drive and put the disc in the drive and re-boot to start the installation. During the installation you will get the opportunity to create new partitions and format the partitions.
If you do not have a live CD, you can download a customized Knoppix CD here (approx 700mb):
And use this command with it for a IDE drive:
dcfldd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/hda conv=notrunc
Or this command for a SATA drive:
dcfldd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sda conv=notrunc
If you don't want to download 700mb worth, download this "small" utility called bootitng from http://www.terabyteunlimited.com/
and make a bootitng tools floppy or ISO CD as per the instructions, put the floppy or CD in the drive and boot the computer, click Cancel at the first question, click on OK to enter maintenance, click on partition work icon, highlight the partition of the drive you want to clean, click on Delete, put a check in the "clear boot sector" box and a check in the "wipe" box and click OK twice and wait till the progress bar disappears. It will than show just free space, you can make new partition (s) with it also by highlighting the free space and click create. If all you have is free space, click on Create and make a partition first and choose Linux Native as the format type, this will not do the format as that is done by Linux, but will create a partition so you can wipe the drive as per instructions in the prior sentence.