2 ways to format an SD Card, a USB memory stick or a hard drive 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 does not matter which one you are interested in; this guide is here to help. Here is how to format all kinds of drives in Windows:

First, back up your data and choose the file system

It does not matter whether you want to format a USB memory stick, an SD card or a partition on your hard disk. Before you format it, you should check whether you have any useful data on it, which you may want to keep. If you do, make sure that you copy that data to somewhere else, so that you can continue to use it after you format the drive. You cannot recover data from a formatted drive, unless you use special recovery software, like the apps from in this comparison: Which are the best free file recovery tools? Comparing 5 of the most popular programs.

Also, choosing the right file system is an important choice. To help you out, we made this analysis: FAT32, exFAT or NTFS? How to format SD cards, memory sticks and hard drives.

NOTE: For the following two sections of this tutorial, we are assuming that you have already plugged in the SD card or the external hard drive, or that you intend to format a hard disk or SSD that is inside your Windows computer or tablet.

1. How to format an SD Card, a USB memory stick or a hard drive, from File Explorer (in Windows 10 and 8.1) or Windows Explorer (in Windows 7)

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, USB memory stick or hard drive that you want to format. 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 you want to format and, in the right-click menu, click Format.

The next steps are the same in all versions 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 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 process takes a lot less time, but your data will be easier to recover with specialized software. If you had issues with data corruption, it is better to opt out of the quick format and wait longer for the full format. When you are done setting things up, click or tap Start.

Windows warns 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 it is over, Windows shows a message telling you: "Format Complete." Click or tap OK, and you are done.

You can now start using the newly formatted drive. Also, if you formatted an SD card or USB memory stick, you can now unplug it from your computer.

2. How to format from the Disk Management tool, in all Windows versions

An alternative method to format any SD memory card, USB memory stick or partition on a hard drive, in Windows, is to use Disk Management for it. Open the Disk Management tool and find the drive or partition that you intend to format. You can easily find it by looking at the volume labels. Once you locate it, right-click (or tap and hold on it) and press Format in the contextual menu.

The Format window looks slightly different than the one in File Explorer or Windows Explorer but offers the same options. Type a label, select the file system and allocation unit size you want, decide whether you want to "Perform a quick format" or not and click or tap OK.

Disk Management might warn you that the data on the disk is going to be lost. If you want to continue, click or tap on OK once again.

Wait for the card or drive to be formatted and be aware that, unlike File Explorer and Windows Explorer, the Disk Management tool does not notify you when the formatting is done. When it is done, the card or drive becomes available for use, and that's it.

What is different about formatting external storage devices like SD cards, memory sticks or portable hard drives, compared to internal hard disks or SSDs

Before you can format an external memory device, you must first plug it into your computer. To be able to do that correctly, you must know whether you can use a USB port on your computer or you need to use an adapter of sorts.

If you have a USB memory stick or USB external hard drive, the procedure is simple: plug it into a USB port on your computer. Note that USB 3.0 drives are compatible with USB 2.0 ports, so that any USB port will do for this activity.

However, if you want to format an SD card, things can be a little more complicated. That is because, first of all, you have to understand what type of SD Card you have: a microSD, a 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 is the largest.

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 of the different adapters that you can find on the market.

Image source: Wikipedia

If your computer does not have an SD card port or you do not want to bother having too many SD adapters around, you can purchase a universal SD card reader that works with all SD formats and which can be plugged into a USB port that is found 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. To do that, follow the steps from the first or the second section of this tutorial. Either one is fine.


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 about the process involved, do not hesitate to share them in a comment below.