Ever seen “Windows was unable to complete the format” alert on your PC screen while trying to format a USB flash drive or memory card? We’ve got some actionable solutions right here. Read on for the details.
Once in a while, you’ll encounter “Windows was unable to complete the format” error message on your screen. When that happens, you don’t have to fret. That’s only too common, and it doesn’t mean your PC isn’t working alright. It does however mean something is wrong with the USB flash drive or memory card you were trying to format.
In this post, we’ve highlighted some possible ways to help you fix this error whenever you encounter it. Before we get to the solutions, let’s know the error and what causes it.
Why Can’t Windows Format My USB Drive or Memory Card?
Here are some reasons commonly associated with the “Windows was unable to complete the format” error alert.
1. Disk Bad Sectors
It’s possible that the USB flash drive or memory card you plugged into the PC has some bad sectors. You might want to fix that first before proceeding with formatting.
2. Virus Infection
Another probable reason your external storage device couldn’t be formatted is the potential for virus infection. Good antivirus software is all you need to fix the drive before proceeding with formatting.
3. Damaged or Corrupted USB Drive or Memory Card.
The previous infection by viruses or physical damage can compromise the integrity of your storage device.
4. Drive is Write Protected
Some flash drives and SD cards are write-protected. That makes formatting a little complex but not impossible. You can either choose to undo the protection or use third-party tools to override it then carry on with the formatting.
Now that you know all the possible causes of the error, what are the options available to fix it? Here are some solutions recommended by experts.
Method 1: Using Command Prompt Format
Top of our list of solutions is the command prompt. I guess you saw this coming. A command prompt is a very powerful utility feature that can be used to execute countless operations on your PC. Follow these steps to fix “Windows was unable to complete the format” error alert.
Tip! Note that you can do this with either command prompt or PowerShell.
Step 1: Click the start button or press the Windows button then type “Command prompt” or “cmd” or “PowerShell”.
Step 2: Right-click on the “command prompt” or “PowerShell” icon, then select “run as administrator”.
Step 3: On the command prompt window, type “diskpart” then press enter. That will take you to a list of all the disks or drives on your PC.
Step 4: Under “List disk” choose the offending drive from the list of available disks, for instance “select disk 3”. You can replace 3 with any number assigned to your target drive.
Step 5: Next, under “Select volume” choose the volume of the drive that you want to format. For instance “select volume 10” or whichever volume you want then hit “Enter”. The selected disk will be then formatted.
That’s all you need to do to get the drive formatted whenever you see “Windows was unable to complete the format” on your screen.
Repeat steps 4 & 5 if you wish to format a different drive or disk volume.
Step 6: Exit command prompt by typing “exit” then hit “enter”.
Tip! You can format a storage device to FAT32 or other file formats using this command: “format fs=ntfs quick”. Replace “NTFS” with your preferred file system e.g. “NTFS”, “FAT32”, “exFAT”, etc.
Method 2: Using Disk Management
Another excellent way to fix the “Windows was unable to complete the format” error alert is using the Windows Disk Manager utility feature. The tool gives you access to and allows you to manage different drives on your PC. Follow these steps to fire up and use the Windows Disk Management tool.
Step 1: Right-click on the start button then on the popup window, choose “Disk management”.
Step 2: A list of SD, USB, or hard disk drives on your PC will show on the screen. Select the one that shows “unable to complete format error”. Once you select the offending drive, you can choose to delete all its disk partitions, if there are any, so that you have a single volume.
Step 3: Next, right-click on the drive then choose “Format”. The selected disk or drive will then be formatted.
Tip! For drives larger than 4GB, select the NTFS file system. For drives with a capacity of up to 4GB, choose the FAT32 file system.
Method 3: Use the CHKDSK Command to Fix Soft Broken Channels
First, let me make one thing clear about “CHKDSK /R” and “CHKDSK /F”. These commands do the exact same thing; checking for disk errors.
However, unlike “CHKDSK /F” which only checks for bad disk sectors, “CHKDSK /R” checks for bad sectors and recovers any readable info.
Also, remember that running “CHKDSK /R” also executes the “CHKDSK /F” command by default.
This is not a formatting method. Instead, it is a way of repairing bad disk sectors that could be making it impossible for Windows to format the disk or drive. Meaning, after this process, you’re required to try formatting the disk again.
Here are the steps for using the “CHKDSK /R” command in Windows 10.
Step 1: Click the start button or press the Windows button then search “cmd” or “Command Prompt”. The Command prompt icon will then appear.
Step 2: Right-click on the command prompt icon then choose “Run as administrator” in the next small window. That operation will allow you to access the command prompt as the admin.
Step 3: On the command prompt window type this command “chkdsk C: /f /r /x” without the quotation marks then hit “Enter”. In case your drive C is “busy” (still in use), you can schedule a scan at the PC’s next restart. To do that, simply replace “x” with “y” in the above command.
Step 4: Wait for the repair process to be completed and all bad sectors recovered.
Step 5: Now try formatting the drive once again. It should go through effortlessly. If not, try the next method.
Method 4: Turn off Disk Write Protection
Write protected SD cards and USB flash drives cannot be formatted unless you remove the protection first or override the protection with third-party software. Here’s how you can use the Diskpart command line to undo disk write protection in Windows.
Step 1: Open the run window by pressing Windows + R keys together.
Step 2: In the run window type “cmd”. That will open the Command Prompt window.
Step 3: On the command prompt screen, type this command “diskpart” then press “enter”. Next, type the following command “list disk” and then hit “enter”.
Step 4: Next, type “select disk 2” (replace 2 with the correct number, depending on the number assigned to the write-protected disk), then press “Enter”.
Step 5: Lastly, type the following command and then hit “Enter”.
That’s all! You just turned off write protection on an external disk.
Close the command prompt window.
Step 6: Go ahead and try formatting the disk again. It should go through. If not, try the next method for removing “Windows could not complete the format” error.
Method 5: Use a Third-Party Formatting Tool
If even after trying all the above methods the “Windows was unable to complete format” alert still appears on your screen, maybe it's time to seek the help of a third-party tool that is specifically designed to fix this error.
There are a couple of tools available. Here, we’ll only describe 2 of them; AOMEI Partition Assistant & EaseUS partition Master.
1. AOMEI Partition Assistant
Some of its popular disk management functions include partition resizing, moving, copying, merging, and of course formatting.
Here are the steps for fixing disk partition errors with AOMEI Partition Assistant:
Step 1: Launch the tool, then choose the disk and partition that you wish to fix.
Step 2: Right-click on the selected disk partition, then select “Advanced” from the dropdown menu. Next click on “Check partition”.
Step 3: You will also see some checkboxes. Choose the following option and then click “OK”.
All the errors in the selected partition will be fixed. Wait till the procedure is complete, then try formatting the disk again. It should go through much easier this time. If not, try using EaseUS Partition Master Software.
2. EaseUS Partition Master
A great disk management tool that’s available for both Windows and Mac OS users. The software is available in both free and premium versions. The free version does disk formatting seamlessly, so you won’t have to worry about upgrading to their premium package. Here are the steps to follow in order to format any drive using this tool.
Step 1: Begin by first launching the tool.
Step 2: Once it starts successfully, the software will provide you with a list of all the drives on your PC. Select the drive you’d wish to work on.
Step 3: Right-click on the selected drive and among the options available, choose “Format”.
Step 4: In the new window, set the file system to one of the supported options such as NTFS, FAT32, EXT2, AND EXT3. Also, remember to label and set the cluster size for the partition to be formatted. After doing that, click “OK”.
A popup window with a warning that “data on the target partition will be erased” will appear on your screen. Click “OK” to proceed with the formatting.
Step 5: On the top left hand corner of the window, you’ll see the “Execute Operation” button. Click on that to review the changes. When you’re done reviewing the changes, click on “Apply” to commence the drive formatting process.
1. Is there any harm to storage devices due to frequent formatting?
No. Formatting a hard drive, USB flash, or SD card several times won’t damage it. If anything, it can improve its overall performance.
2. Can physical and logical bad paths be fixed?
Both yes and no. Yes, because logical bad paths can be fixed using CHKDSK /R command.
No, because physical bath paths cannot be repaired. Instead, they can be mapped out of the hard drive so that the operating system no longer can read or write data on the compromised sectors.