How to format an SD Card, a USB memory stick or a partition, in Windows

Do you want to know the correct way of formatting all kinds of drives on your Windows computer? You may need to format an SD card, a USB memory stick, a USB external hard disk or a partition from your computer’s hard disk or SSD drive. It doesn’t matter which one you are interested in, this guide is here to help. Here’s how to format all kinds of drives in Windows:

Before you go ahead - backup your data and choose the file system

It doesn’t matter whether you want to format a USB memory stick, an SD card or a disc partition. Before formatting it, check whether you have useful data on it that you want to keep. If you do, make sure that you copy it somewhere else, so that you can use it after you format the drive that you want formatted. You won’t be able to easily recover data from a formatted drive, unless you use special recovery software, like the apps shared in this comparison: Which Are The Best Free File Recovery Tools? Comparing 5 Of The Most Popular Programs.

How to format an SD Card in Windows

Out of all the devices that you may want to format, formatting an SD Card on a computer with Windows is the most complicated. First of all, you should understand what type of SD Card you have: microSD, miniSD or a standard SD card. You can see how they differ in size in the picture below, with microSD being the smallest and the SD card being the biggest.

Image source: Wikipedia

You should plug your SD card into the SD card reader on your computer. Depending on the computer that you are using, you may have an SD card reader of a different size than your SD card. For example, some laptops have a miniSD card reader while you might be using a microSD card.

If that is the case, you should use an adapter to plug in the SD card into the SD card slots of your computer. Below you can see a picture with the different adapters that you can find on the market.

Image source: Wikipedia

If your computer doesn’t have an SD card port or you don’t want to bother having many SD adapters around, you can purchase a universal SD card reader that works with all SD formats and it can be plugged into a USB port that you can find on all computers. A good recommendation is the Transcend USB Card Reader. It is small, affordable and a good quality device that works with all versions of Windows. Also, it has lots of positive reviews from satisfied customers.

Now that you have solved the problem of plugging your SD card into your computer and having it detected by Windows, it is time to format it.

If you are using Windows 10 or Windows 8.1, start File Explorer and go to This PC. On the right, in the “ Devices and drives” section, right click or press and hold the drive that represents the SD card you plugged in. In the right-click menu, press Format.

If you are using Windows 7, open Windows Explorer and go to Computer. In the “Devices with Removable Storage” section, right click the drive that represents the SD card that you plugged into your computer. In the right-click menu, click Format.

The next steps are the same in all version of Windows: the Format window is opened. Here you see the capacity of the SD card, the file system being used, the allocation unit size and the volume label. You can set any parameters as you wish. If you want to restore the default file system and allocation unit size, click or tap the “Restore device defaults button. Another question you might ask is: Do I want a quick format or a full format? If you choose to quick format the SD card, the process will take a lot less time but your data will be easier to recover with specialized software. If you had issues with data corruption on your SD card it is better to opt out of the quick format and wait longer for the low level format. When done setting things up, click or tap Start.

Windows will warn you that it will erase all data on this disk. To go ahead, click or tap OK and wait for the formatting process to finish. When that’s done , Windows informs you that “Format Complete . Click or tap OK and you are done. You can now eject your SD card and unplug it from your computer.

How to format a USB memory stick or USB external hard drive in Windows

If you have a USB memory stick or USB external hard drive, the procedure is simpler than in the case of SD cards. Simply plug it into the USB port of your computer. Luckily, USB 3.0 drives are compatible with USB 2.0 ports, so any USB port will do for this activity.

If you are using Windows 10 or Windows 8.1, start File Explorer and go to This PC. On the right, in the “ Devices and drives” section, right click or press and hold the drive that represents the USB memory stick that you plugged in. In the right-click menu, press Format.

If you are using Windows 7, open Windows Explorer and go to Computer. In the “Devices with Removable Storage” section, right click the drive that represents the USB memory stick that you plugged into your computer. In the right-click menu, click Format.

The Format window is opened and you see the capacity of the memory stick, the file system being used, the allocation unit size and the volume label. You can set any parameters as you wish. If you want to restore the default file system and allocation unit size, click or tap the “Restore device defaults” button. Another question you might ask is: Do I want a quick format or a full format? If you choose to quick format the memory stick, the process will take a lot less time but your data will be easier to recover with specialized software. If you had issues with data corruption on your USB drive, it is better that you don’t do the quick format and wait longer for the low level format. However, on large external USB hard drives, the low level format will take a lot of time. When you’re done setting things up, press Start.

Windows will warn you that it will erase all data on this disk. Press OK and wait for the process to finish.

When done, Windows informs you that “Format Complete”. Press OK and you are done.

You can now eject your USB memory stick and unplug it from your computer.

NOTE: This procedure works the same way for external hard drives that you connect to your Windows computer, using a USB port.

How to format a disc partition in Windows

Before formatting a partition on your hard disk or SSD drive, make sure that there’s no useful data left on it. Then, if you’re using Windows 10 or Windows 8.1, start File Explorer and go to This PC. On the right, in the “ Devices and drives” section, right click or press and hold the drive that represents the partition that you want formatted. In the right-click menu, click or tap Format.

If you are using Windows 7, open Windows Explorer and go to Computer. In the “Hard Disk Drives” section, right click the drive that represents the partition that you will format. In the right-click menu, click Format.

The Format window is opened and you see the capacity of the partition, the file system being used, the allocation unit size and the volume label. If you want to restore the default file system and allocation unit size, click or tap the “Restore device defaults” button. Another question you might ask is: Do I want a quick format or a full format? If you choose to quick format the memory stick, the process will take a lot less time but your data will be easier to recover with specialized software. If you had issues with data corruption on your partition, it is better that you don’t do the quick format and wait longer for the low level format. Please be aware that this process can take many minutes or even hours on partitions with a high storage capacity. When done setting things up, press Start.

Windows will warn you that it will erase all data on this disk. Press OK and wait for the process to finish.

When the format is finished, Windows informs you that “Format Complete”. Press OK and you are done. You can now reuse the partition.

Conclusion

Now you know how to format the most popular types of drives on your Windows computer: SD cards, USB memory sticks, USB external hard drives as well as partitions from your computer’s hard disk or SSD drive. If you have any questions or issues with the process involved, don’t hesitate to share them in a comment below.