I don't believe you ever stated the size of your HDD, but it's going to take a long time. I've been using shred to securely erase some 40 GB laptop drives lately, and for 10 passes it takes around 20 hours, so for one pass it would take about two hours; that's on a 5400 RPM drive with max speed of 1.5 Gb/sec speed. You're writing all zeroes, not random data, but it's still got to write to every sector on the disk, so expect it to take a while.
I do remember older computers having BIOS tools for low-level formats, but I think modern ones don't seem to have that. I believe you'd have to get diagnostic tools from the HDD manufacturer to do it now. Remember that this is still not that kind of format; you're using the operating system to write to the drive, so it's still a "higher" level operation.
"sudo hdparm -I /dev/xxx" will get you a ton of info on the drive, and the manufacturer should be in the first few lines of this. For example:
I know "WDC" is Western Digital (and I built this machine, so I know it's right ), but if you're not sure about yours just throw that model info into Google.
ATA device, with non-removable media
Model Number: WDC WD1001FALS-00J7B0
Serial Number: WD-WMATV0558653
Firmware Revision: 05.00K05
Transport: Serial, SATA 1.0a, SATA II Extensions, SATA Rev 2.5
Then I throw "low level format" and the manufacturer at Google, and shortly I find this:
Western Digital's software download page. You can search for your drive by model number, and they are kind enough to provide a bootable ISO image, meaning it's no problem that I'm not running a MS operating system here.
If you think you are having problems that require a low-level format to resolve, I strongly suggest you find some diagnostic software for your disk, and run it. It should be able to tell you if your drive is on the verge of failure, and help you fix it up if it can be fixed by software.