Trying to format a removable drive but are surprised to see the error “Windows could not complete the format”? You will likely feel stuck and unable to do anything, as this leaves you with an unusable device.
Whether you see the formatting error with a USB flash drive, SD card, or the like, we’ll show you what to do when Windows can’t format a drive.
- 1 First: How to format the drive in Windows
- 2 1. Try formatting through Disk Management
- 3 2. Remove write protection on the drive
- 4 3. Use SD Memory Card Formatter
- 5 4. Check the drive for errors
- 6 5. Use a third-party configuration tool
- 7 6. Scan for Malware
- 8 7. Try to configure on another operating system
- 9 Still can not initialize? It’s time to replace your drive
First: How to format the drive in Windows
To make sure we start at the same point, let’s quickly review how to format a removable drive in Windows 10. Remember, this process will destroy everything currently on the USB drive!
Open a file explorer window and browse to this computer To see all the drives connected to your computer. On that page, find your removable drive, right-click on it, and choose initialization.
This will bring up the basic Windows configuration menu. If you are not sure which options to choose, read this guide for tips or hit the button Restore device default settings To use the configurations that the device comes with. Click Start To format the USB drive.
If you try this process too many times and you still get the “Windows could not complete initialization” message, continue troubleshooting.
1. Try formatting through Disk Management
To meet advanced disk needs, Windows provides a tool Disk Management , which has more options than you’ll find on this computer. Thus, it should be your first stop when the standard initialization process is not working.
Win + X Or right-click the Start button to open the Quick Access menu, then click Disk Management of options to access it. You’ll see a list of volumes attached to your computer at the top, as well as a visual representation of them at the bottom.
If you see RAW next to Drive Size at the bottom (and under File System in the top panel), it means that Windows didn’t recognize the drive’s file system. In some cases, this shows that the drive is formatted with the macOS or Linux file system that Windows cannot use.
Right-click on the USB drive (make sure the correct drive is selected) and choose initialization. You will see an interface similar to what you used earlier. Choose volume label , and select file system (FAT32 is best for smaller devices or those you plan to use across platforms) and leave the allocation unit size as hypothetical.
If you leave the box next to Perform a quick format checked, Windows will not check the disk for bad sectors. We’ll cover this in a later troubleshooting step, but feel free to deselect it now and see if Windows finds any problems. Just keep in mind that the process takes longer to complete.
Delete and recreate the folder
If this solution fails, you can instead try the Delete Volume option in the drive’s right-click menu. Deleting the volume will erase everything Windows has assigned to the disk, leaving only unallocated space.
Thus you will then need to create a new volume by right-clicking and selecting new simple volume and go through the steps the wizard shows (which are similar to other initialization methods).
2. Remove write protection on the drive
Write protection, as its name suggests, prevents a system from adding new data to the drive. The most common reason for this is a physical key on the drive itself, especially with SD cards. Look at your drive and make sure that no switches are in the locked or read-only position.
After checking this, you should also remove the write protection from the applications on the drive. To do this, press
Win + R To open the Run dialog and enter diskpart. Confirm the UAC prompt that appears, then you will see the Command Prompt interface.
In this window, enter
list disk and press Enter. You will see a list of drives and you should be able to select the removable drive by its size. Enter
select disk x To make changes to the correct device.
Once you see confirmation that you selected the correct disk, enter
attributes disk To find information about it. If you see Yes next to Current Read-only State , it means that the disk is write-protected.
To remove this protection, enter
attributes disk clear readonly. Then Windows will display a message that the themes have been removed successfully; Enter an order
exit to leave the window.
Now since there is no write protection, try formatting the volume again.
3. Use SD Memory Card Formatter
If you can’t format the SD card in Windows, the fix might be to use a specific utility instead of a Windows tool. The SD Association recommends using the SD Memory Card Formatter instead of what your operating system provides. Download it if you are having a problem specifically with the SD card.
The tool is simple and similar to the options you tried above. Make sure you select the correct card in the dropdown menu above. use Overwrite format Scans the current contents of the card for best results and gives it a name in the Folder Label field.
4. Check the drive for errors
Sometimes, you will encounter formatting errors because the drive has bad sectors or similar issues. At this point, it is worth checking the drive to see if something is wrong with it.
To do this, open this computer once again. Right-click on the removable drive and choose Properties. In the resulting menu, switch to the “tab”toolsand click the buttoncheck upWithin error checking. Choose drive repair Perform a scan on the USB storage, then wait for it to complete and try again.
If you think your device is damaged, learn how to recover data from a damaged drive.
5. Use a third-party configuration tool
If you are still unable to format your volume, a third-party tool can solve your problem. These tools often use different formatting methods than Windows, and may bypass any problems Windows has with your drive.
Check out our favorite free Windows partition management apps for several apps that can do just that.
6. Scan for Malware
Although this probably isn’t the cause of your problem, it’s worth running a malware scan if you still can’t format the drive. Some malware can interfere with the normal operation of the file system, including formatting drives.
We recommend running a scan with the free version of Malwarebytes and seeing if the app might find any infections. Then try to format again.
7. Try to configure on another operating system
Before you give up the drive, there is another way to try to isolate the problem. If you have access to a macOS or Linux machine, try using these operating systems to format the external drive.
While you’ll need to reformat the drive again to use it with Windows, it helps to know if the problem is with your hardware or Windows. If the drive is formatted fine on your Mac, then there is some kind of problem with Windows.
Learn how to format USB drives on macOS for instructions on this.
Still can not initialize? It’s time to replace your drive
If you’ve gone through all the steps above and you’re still getting a formatting error, it’s possible that your drive has been corrupted. Unfortunately, flash drives and SD cards have a limited number of uses; Cheap or outdated drives are more likely to fail suddenly. This is also the case if your drive has suffered physical damage.
Hopefully any important data on the drive has been backed up. You can also check out how to fix an external drive that is set up as read-only on a Mac.