Explanation of Windows Was Unable to Complete the Format Error
- Explanation of Windows Was Unable to Complete the Format Error
- Best Fixes for Windows Was Unable to Complete the Format Error
- 1 Method. Create Partition for Unallocated space
- 2 Method. Format the Drive that has RAW file system
- 3 Method. Update SD Card Reader or USB Drivers
- 4 Method. Use an USB stick with SD Card slot (common fix)
- 5 Method. Use Windows 10 Troubleshooter
- 6 method. Check file system to fix Windows was unable to complete the format
- 7 Method. Remove Write-Protection
- 8 Method. Scan with antivirus
- 9 Method. Check Windows OS for errors and missing components
- How to Recover Data from Drive
- Final thoughts
Windows was unable to complete the format is an error prompt displayed by Windows operating system which informs that external data storage device, such as SD Card, USB flash drive or hard drive failed to format. The Microsoft prompt hardly gives any insights on what caused the issue, and sometimes says F:\ drive is not accessible. This typically happenss after inserting the drive to computer and trying to open it.
The issue can happen to both new and used drives. In this guide, we have tested all existing fix methods and provided our insights on cases when these methods actually work.
In the majority of scenarios, the error might come up after plugging a new drive in. Once the user attempts to open the removable disk, a promt comes up, saying:
“You need to format the disk in drive before you can use it. Do you want to format it?“
Now, if you choose to cancel, the prompt changes to “F:/ is not accessible. The volume does not contain a recognized file system.” The prompt suggests checking if all required file system drivers are loaded and that the volume is not corrupted.
If you click Format disk, the prompt appears, stating that Windows was unable to complete the formatting.
This leaves the user with a flash drive or SD card that seems impossible to format, and cannot be used for any purpose.
If you also have this problem with formatting, we have prepared an in-depth tutorial on how to fix Windows was unable to complete the format error, because we have run into this problem ourselves and tested many ways that work. In addition, we will suggest confirmed ways to recover data from the drive that cannot be formatted and won’t open. Our first insight based on our experience is:
Try using another computer. If your PC fails to open the drive, suggests to format it and then gives you Windows was unable to complete the format error, it might be the computer issue, not your card (especially if it is new). If the error occurs on another PC as well, then you can safely assume that the problem lies in the card itself.
The most common causes of this error
1. The SD/USB reader slot is dirty or physically damaged
One of the most common reasons why USB or SD card shows Windows was unable to complete the format is because the media reader slot contains a dust build-up which prevents the contacts from working properly. In such case, we recommend blowing out the dust or using an air compressor with gentle settings to clean the slot. Additionally, you may want to clean golden SSD card contacts using a Q-tip and Isopropyl Alcohol. Make sure you do not rub the contacts harshly.
2. The SD/USB reader drivers are outdated
Drivers are required in order to provide your computer with “instructions” how to communicate with hardware devices. In other words, it enables the operating system and other software to access hardware functions. Users report that Windows was unable to complete the formatting often occurs after Windows update, and in such situation the most common fix is to update drivers associated with removable storage device reading. Scroll down to find instructions on how to update your drivers.
3. The drive is write-protected
Write-protection on a drive is one of the most common reasons why Windows was unable to format pendrive, USB or SD card. Such protection prevents you from modifying, creating or deleting (which is what the formatting does) files. That said, write-protection must be removed in order to successfully complete the formatting operation.
4. The drive contains malware infection
Removable storage devices are designed to be used on a variety of devices in order to transfer information quickly. However, in a scenario when an USB or SD card gets connected to a compromised computer that contains a Trojan, ransomware or another kind of malware/spyware, the removable drive can get infected as well. Therefore, if you have recently used your card or USB on another computer and now it no longer works, it is better to check for malware on it.
5. The drive is empty
If you’re looking for ways how to solve the problem Windows was unable to complete the format, most likely you are using a new or empty drive. This happens due to no partition on the removable drive. It contains unallocated space, while formatting can only be completed on partition. Follow the instructions below to learn how to fix the problem.
6. Careless removal of the drive from driver slot
Storage devices such as SD cards, USBs or hard drives can get corrupted easily if you tend to unplug them from devices without safely ejecting the media via your computer first. If you do have a habit of removing media in an unsafe way, the device storage might become RAW format.
7. Corrupted system files
If the whole operating system contains errors or missing/faulty OS components, such as DLL or other files, other computer functions might fail to operate properly.
Best Fixes for Windows Was Unable to Complete the Format Error
1 Method. Create Partition for Unallocated space
If the drive you connected shows up as unallocated space in Disk Management panel, you will need to create a partition on it to fix Windows was unable to complete the format error. Follow the steps to apply the fix. The provided guide explains how to do it without using any additional third-party software, only using in-built Windows tools.
1.1. Create New Simple Volume using Disk Management
- Press Windows key and R at the same time to launch Run prompt.
- In Run prompt, type diskmgmt.msc and press Enter.
- Right-click your drive which is marked as Unallocated and select New Simple Volume…
- Now, customize the formatting type by selecting File System, Allocation unit size and Volume Label. It is recommended to NOT use quick formatting option, so you can deselect it.
TIP: If you do not know what settings to use, just use the same ones suggested by the formatting window that appeared during the initial computer suggestion to format the device in the “You need to format the disk in drive before you can use it. Do you want to format it?” prompt.
1.2. Create partition using Command Line
Another way to fix Windows was unable to complete the format error is to create a partition via Command Line.
- First, open CMD as administrator: Type CMD in Windows search, then right-click Command Prompt result and choose Run As Administrator.
- In UAC prompt, click Yes.
- In Command Prompt, type diskpart and click Enter.
- Now, type list disk and press Enter.
- Find the disk that you have plugged and type select disk x where x is the number of the corresponding disk, for example, select disk 1.
- Type clean and press Enter.
- Type create partition primary and hit Enter.
- Type format fs=FAT32 or format FS=NTFS, according to the format of your drive.
- Type assign letter K: or any other disk letter that is not occupied at the moment and press Enter.
- Type exit and press Enter.
2 Method. Format the Drive that has RAW file system
If your drive appears to have RAW file system (you can check this via Disk Management panel), then you might get the Windows was unable to complete the format error. RAW file system indicates that your removable storage device has no file system recognizable by Windows. It can be either a new device, or a device that has been misused (constantly physically removed without ejecting via computer first), affected by power outage or infected with malware. In such case, we recommend formatting the drive either through Disk Management panel, or Command Line – whichever seems easier for you.
2.2. Format the Drive via Disk Management
- Press Windows key + R, then type diskmgmt.msc in the Run prompt. Press OK to continue.
- In Disk Management, identify your drive and right-click on it. Choose Format…
- In the next prompt (Format X:) specify your preferred Volume label, File System and Allocation unit size. Deselect Perform quick format option and click OK.
- You will be informed that formatting this volume will erase all data on it. Back up any data you want to keep before formatting, the prompt says. In case you already have a backup, or you do not care about saving files stored on the drive, click OK. Otherwise, click Cancel and create a backup.
2.3 Format using Command Prompt
- Search Windows for Command Prompt, right-click the matching result and choose Run as Administrator. In UAC window, click Yes.
- In CMD, type format F:/fs:FAT32 or format F:/fs/NTFS and press Enter. F: stands for the drive letter you’re trying to format, so please the right one for your drive (SD, USB or another). Keep in mind that formatting process is quite lengthy, and you might need to wait half a hour or so until it finishes.
3 Method. Update SD Card Reader or USB Drivers
Outdated removable media reader drivers often cause the described issue, especially after updating Windows. Opening the Device Manager and checking for error marks (yellow triangles with exclamation mark on them) next to Disk Drives, SD Host adapters or Universal Serial Bus controllers will indicate whether there is an associated issue. Luckily, it isn’t hard to resolve it – all you need to do is update the drivers. Follow the provided guidelines to update your drivers and fix Windows Was Unable to Complete the Format error. We do not recommend downloading any third-party tools to update your drivers as this can be easily done yourself.
- Press Windows key + R to launch run prompt. Type devmgmt.msc and press OK.
- In Device manager, expand Disk drives, SD Host adapters or Universal Serial Bus controller sections, right-click the corresponding entries and choose Update driver.
- In the next window, click Search automatically for drivers.
- Follow the given recommendations and install the updated components as suggested.
4 Method. Use an USB stick with SD Card slot (common fix)
If none of the provided fixes work, we strongly recommend adding your micro SD card to USB flash drive that works as a mini card reader. Alternatively, you can use an SD card reader that can be plugged to your computer via USB.
This way, you will bypass using your computer’s card reader which is most likely physically damaged and won’t work unless taken to computer technicians. However, you can leverage one of your USB slots that are working and recognize your devices normally.
5 Method. Use Windows 10 Troubleshooter
Using Windows Troubleshooter can fix a surprising amount of computer problems easily, as well as Windows was unable to complete the formatting. To run this tool, do the following:
- Search Windows for Control Panel and open it.
- Go to Hardware and Sound > Devices and printers.
- Here, find your SD card, USB or hard drive and right-click on it, then select Troubleshoot.
- Windows will give you suggestions on what to do. Click Apply this fix, when prompted.
6 method. Check file system to fix Windows was unable to complete the format
You can fix bad sectors in your storage device using File System Checker on Windows.
- Open File Explorer and go to My Computer or This PC. Locate your storage device, right-click and choose Properties.
- Go to Tools tab, then click Check button. Ignore the “You don’t need to scan this drive” notification and proceed by clicking Scan and repair drive.
7 Method. Remove Write-Protection
If Windows fails to format your drive, it might have write-protection enabled. Some SD cards and USBs have physical switch on their side that needs to be switched off in order to remove the protection.
You can also remove Write protection using Windows Registry Editor. Follow the guide below to apply this fix.
- Launch Run prompt and type regedit, press Enter.
- Now, expand folder on the left pane in the given order:
- TIP. If you cannot find StorageDevicePolicies, then right-click on Control folder and choose New > Key and enter name StorageDevicePolicies.
- Then right-click on the right side white area and choose New DWORD (32-bit) value. Name it WriteProtect. Then open it and set its value to 0.
- TIP. If you cannot find StorageDevicePolicies, then right-click on Control folder and choose New > Key and enter name StorageDevicePolicies.
- If the folder is here, right-click WriteProtect value on the right. Set its value to 0 and click OK.
- Close Regedit and restart your computer.
8 Method. Scan with antivirus
As mentioned earlier, your storage device might be infected with spyware or malware. For this reason, you might want to scan your device with PC maintenance program like RESTORO or iolo System Mechanic Ultimate Defense. You can read reviews of these programs in our reviews section.
You will need to plug your device into the computer and run a full system scan, or, if available, choose USB/DVD scan option to scan external device.
9 Method. Check Windows OS for errors and missing components
Missing, faulty or damaged Windows OS files can cause various computer functions not to function properly. Such issues arise due to constant and slightly incorrect installation/removal of computer software, virus infections and similar situations. For this reason, we recommend downloading and installing Restoro – a comprehensive PC repair software for Windows.
- Download RESTORO (secure download link).
- Launch the installer.
- Follow the installation wizard to install the software properly.
- Run a full system scan to identify security, stability and hardware problems.
- Enter the license key to fix detected issues.
How to Recover Data from Drive
In case your computer insists on formatting your drive in order to use it, but you have important data stored on it, you should recover files from it first. However, this might seem impossible as it cannot be opened. in such situation, we recommend using file recovery software that can work on external drives. We strongly recommend a well-known software developer product for this, known as iolo Search and Recover™ software. You can get it separately, or just get a whole-pack of programs from iolo, known as their main all-in-one product – iolo System Mechanic® Ultimate Defense™.
- Get license key for iolo System Mechanic here with 50% off here.
- Download and install the software according to instructions.
- Open Search and Recover tab.
- Here, select the search location (the drive you want to recover data from), then select location to save recovered data to.
Note. It cannot be the same location.
- Next, scroll down and choose which mode you want to use for the scan. You can use SmartScan, a quicker option, or use StrongScan, a more time-consuming, but also more thorough scan option. Click SEARCH button to begin.
- Finally, select files to recover (or all) by clicking the checkbox above the list, and click Recover selected files.
Note. Iolo System Mechanic Ultimate Defense software includes 7 powerful system security and maintenance tools, including Search and Recover. To use this program, license key must be purchased. However, you can check whether it will suceed to recover your files for free first.
We hope that this tutorial helped you to fix Windows was unable to complete the format error. All in all, you should have either found a fix for it, or realised that the computer’s reader slot is physically damaged. In such case, using a USB-type reader for SD cards should solve the case. We’d also like to remind you to be careful when removing storage drives from computers. You should first eject them via Windows taskbar by pressing ^ and then right-clicking small USB-type icon, then choosing Eject… [name of your device]. The computer will then display a notification that media can be safely removed (unplugged).
Please let us know about your case and which of the methods helped to resolve it. If you have discovered another method that wasn’t described there, please let us know about it, too! Finally, if you have any insights of what causes the error or when it occurs typically, share it with our community to help others.
Norbert Webb is the head of Geek’s Advice team. He is the chief editor of the website who controls the quality of content published. The man also loves reading cybersecurity news, testing new software and sharing his insights on them. Norbert says that following his passion for information technology was one of the best decisions he has ever made. “I don’t feel like working while I’m doing something I love.” However, the geek has other interests, such as snowboarding and traveling.