How do I fix my raw SD card that won’t format?

Having an SD card that won’t format can be very frustrating. A raw SD card is one that does not have a file system, so your computer or device cannot read or write data to it. There are several potential causes and solutions for a raw SD card that won’t format, which we will cover in this article.

Quick Overview: How to Fix a Raw SD Card

Here is a quick overview of the steps to try to fix a raw SD card that won’t format:

  1. First, try formatting the SD card using the full format option in Windows Disk Management.
  2. If that doesn’t work, test the SD card with the manufacturer’s formatting tool.
  3. Attempt to format the card using SD Association’s SD Formatter tool.
  4. Scan for errors and try to repair the disk using CHKDSK in Windows.
  5. Try formatting the SD card on a different device like a camera or phone.
  6. If the SD card still won’t format, use data recovery software to see if any data can be recovered, then low level format the card.
  7. As a last resort, the SD card hardware itself may be damaged and need to be replaced if it still won’t format.

Follow along below for more details on these steps to troubleshoot and fix your unformattable raw SD card.

What Causes a Raw SD Card?

There are several potential causes that can result in your SD card being raw and unformattable:

  • Corrupted file system – If the file system on the SD card gets corrupted, the operating system may not be able to recognize or read it, making the card appear raw.
  • Improperly ejecting the card – Removing the card from your computer without properly ejecting can lead to file system corruption.
  • Power loss during a write operation – If the card loses power while data is being written, it can become raw.
  • Malware or virus infection – Viruses could infect and damage the boot sector or partition table of the SD card.
  • Hardware defects or damage – Physically damaged memory chips or controller components can also cause the card to go raw.

If your SD card shows up as raw, don’t worry there are still several troubleshooting steps you can try to get it working again:

1. Format the Card Using Windows Disk Management

The first thing to try is formatting the SD card using the full format option in Windows Disk Management:

  1. Insert the raw SD card into your Windows PC.
  2. Right click the Start menu and choose “Disk Management”.
  3. Locate your SD card in the disk list, it may show up as an unknown volume without a drive letter.
  4. Right click the disk area for your SD card and choose “Format”.
  5. In the format window, select “Full” format and start the formatting process.

With any luck, this will fully format the drive and rebuild the file system, making your SD card usable again. Formatting through Disk Management is more thorough than a quick format and may help correct file system errors.

When Disk Management Fails to Format

However, in some cases even Disk Management cannot format the raw SD card. You may get errors like “The request failed due to a fatal device hardware error” or “Windows was unable to complete the format”. This indicates there are deeper issues preventing the card from being formatted through Windows.

If the full format in Disk Management fails, don’t panic yet. Move on to try the next steps to recover your SD card.

2. Use the Manufacturer’s Formatting Tool

The next thing to try is using the official SD card formatter from the manufacturer like SD Memory Card Formatter for SanDisk cards, Sony SD Card Formatter, Kingston’s SD Formatter, etc. Manufacturer tools format the card based on its exact type and specifications so can sometimes succeed where Windows fails.

Steps to use the manufacturer’s formatter:

  1. Download and install the appropriate utility from your SD card manufacturer.
  2. Insert your SD card into the computer.
  3. Open the card formatter and select your SD card to format.
  4. Choose the full format option and start the process.
  5. If successful, the card should be restored and able to be used normally again.

Again, this uses a low-level format tailored for your specific SD card, giving it a good chance of fixing file system issues. Brand formatters often work when Windows cannot.

Troubleshooting Problems with Manufacturer Formatters

However, sometimes the manufacturer tools also fail to format a damaged SD card. Some potential reasons include:

  • Your SD card brand/model is not officially supported.
  • The formatter is outdated and does not work properly in newer operating systems.
  • There are physical defects on your SD card hardware.
  • The card is counterfeit or non-standard.

So if the manufacturer tool is unable to format your card, don’t lose hope yet. Other options are still available to recover your card.

3. Try Formatting with SD Formatter

If the Windows built-in formatter and manufacturer tools fail, the next program to try is SD Formatter from the official SD Association. This is designed to work with all brands and types of SD cards based on the latest standards.

Follow these steps to use SD Formatter:

  1. Download and install the SD Formatter app.
  2. Insert your problematic SD card into your computer.
  3. Open SD Formatter and select the SD card from the drive list.
  4. Enable the “Quick Format” option.
  5. Click “Format” to start reformatting the SD card.

As an industry-standard tool, SD Formatter often succeeds in fixing SD cards that cannot be formatted by other software. It’s worth trying before moving on to more advanced solutions.

If SD Formatter Fails

In some rare cases, SD Formatter may be unable to format your damaged SD card as well. This is an indication that the issue lies in the hardware itself. But there are still more troubleshooting steps to take to recover your card without losing all the data, so continue on.

4. Check and Repair Errors with CHKDSK

At this point, more serious file system corruption is likely preventing your SD card from formatting properly. CHKDSK is a built-in Windows tool that scans drives and attempts to repair logical file system errors.

To use CHKDSK on your unformattable SD card:

  1. Open the Command Prompt as an admin.
  2. Type “chkdsk X: /f” where X is the drive letter for your SD card.
  3. Press Enter and wait for the scan to complete. CHKDSK will attempt to repair any file system problems detected.
  4. After finishing, reboot your PC then try formatting the SD card again.

CHKDSK might be able to fix errors like invalid file system structures, directory issues, or corrupted system files that are preventing your drive from formatting. It’s worth an attempt in situations where regular formatting fails.

Limits of CHKDSK for SD Card Fixes

However, CHKDSK has limits too. If there are physical defects on the SD card hardware itself causing the raw state, CHKDSK will be unable to fix those. At most it can correct logical software-level file system problems.

If your card remains stubbornly raw after using CHKDSK, it’s likely a physical hardware problem. But you still have a few more options to try and recover it.

5. Attempt to Format on Another Device

Before going to extreme measures, try formatting the problematic SD card on another device like a digital camera, smartphone, or tablet if available.

Steps to try:

  1. Insert the raw SD card into a camera, phone, or other device that supports SD cards.
  2. Check if the device detects the card and can access it.
  3. Try formatting the card using the device’s operating system.
  4. With luck, this may succeed and restore your SD card to a working state.

Sometimes finicky SD cards that refuse to format on a computer will cooperate on other host devices. It’s worth a quick test before proceeding with recovery tools or low level formatting.

Why Try a Different Device?

There are a couple reasons why this may work when your computer fails:

  • The device may use a different SD card driver that works better with your specific model.
  • Portable devices often have built-in SD formatter tools tailored for their OS.
  • Memory card slots on devices apply different electrical connections.
  • If it’s a physical issue, the slot mechanism may make better contact.

While success is not guaranteed, it’s a useful troubleshooting step before resorting to more intensive methods to revive your RAW SD card.

6. Recover Data and Low Level Format

If you’ve tried every conventional formatting option to no avail, it’s time to break out the big guns. As a last resort before declaring your SD card dead, you can try recovering data from it before performing a low level format.

Follow these steps:

  1. Use data recovery software – Scan your RAW SD card with a data recovery program, like Recuva or EaseUS Data Recovery, to retrieve any files possible from it before reformatting.
  2. Low level format – Use HDD Low Level Format Tool or a drive manufacturer’s utility to overwrite the entire SD card and fully reset it.
  3. Attempt formatting again – After low level formatting, try regular formatting once more using the above tools.

This process will first recover valuable data off the card if possible, then completely reinitialize the drive. Low level formatting wipes the SD card back to a factory-like state, fixing any file system corruption and physical errors. It offers the best chance to revive an SD card for reuse.

Cautions When Low Level Formatting SD Cards

However, be aware that low level formatting will destroy all data on the card. So only perform this after recovering your files using data recovery software. Also backup important data regularly to avoid relying on damaged media.

Low level formatting is a last resort before replacing your SD card. But it can possibly bring a seemingly dead card back from the brink when all else fails.

7. Replace the Damaged SD Card

If after all the above steps your SD card still remains obstinately raw and unformattable, the hardware itself is likely defective and needs to be replaced. Some signs your card is beyond recovery:

  • Visible physical damage like dents, scratches, or bent pins.
  • The card constantly disconnects or is not recognized by devices.
  • Low level formatting cannot complete successfully.
  • Experiencing frequent data loss or corruption.

In these cases, the SD card has probably reached the end of its lifespan due to old age or one-too-many corrupted file systems. Time to retire it and swap in a new SD card.

When buying a replacement, go for well known brands like SanDisk, Samsung, Sony, Kingston, etc. Avoid cheap knockoff models which often have quality issues. Get the highest rated Class 10 card you can afford for reliable performance.

While the data on your original card may be lost for good, you can at least restore normal functionality by replacing it completely in severe cases of damage.

Recovering Data from a Corrupted SD Card

If you have important files stored on the damaged SD card, you may be wondering if it’s possible to recover anything from it in its raw state.

The good news is data recovery is often possible from even severely corrupted media like RAW drives, given the right tools.

Some tips for successfully restoring data from a RAW SD card:

  • Use read-only recovery software that clones the drive before scanning, avoiding further damage.
  • Try hardware based data recovery if the card is physically damaged.
  • Send to a professional recovery service if DIY recovery fails.
  • Recover data before attempting any formatting or repartitioning.

As long as the physical memory components are intact, there is a good chance your photos, documents, and other personal files can be rescued from the damaged card.

So even if your SD card cannot be formatted, don’t immediately despair about your data. Consult a professional recovery expert for assistance salvaging your files.

Tips to Avoid Unformattable SD Card Issues

To reduce your risk of corrupting an SD card that refuses to format, follow these best practices:

  • Always eject the card properly before removal.
  • Be gentle and avoid dropping or bending cards.
  • Watch for counterfeit cards with questionable quality.
  • Enable the write-protect lock switch when not using the card.
  • Format cards on the device they will be used on.
  • Replace cards that become unreliable.
  • Maintain backups so you aren’t solely relying on the SD card.

SD cards are generally reliable but can unexpectedly fail at times. Taking some basic precautions will minimize the chances of serious file system corruption or physical defects.

The Risks of Using a Damaged SD Card

It’s also important to stop using an SD card once corruption is detected. Continuing to use a malfunctioning card risks:

  • Permanent data loss if the card fully fails.
  • Corrupting files saved after the initial damage.
  • Causing issues or crashing on devices it’s used in.
  • Further degrading the card and making recovery harder.

At the first sign of problems, stop using the SD card to limit the damage and maximize the chances of recovering its data intact.


While an SD card suddenly turning RAW and refusing to format can be scary, there are almost always ways to repair and recover your valuable data. Don’t panic or throw the card away just yet!

Carefully work through the step-by-step troubleshooting tips outlined in this guide, and there is a good chance your card can be revived or the data successfully recovered.

The key is using the right tools like CHKDSK, manufacturer formatters, data recovery software, and low level formatting when simple methods fail. And take preventative steps like proper ejection and backups to avoid corruption happening in the first place.

With some perseverance and technical skill, you can defeat the dreaded RAW SD card issue and regain access to your important photos, videos, documents, and other data again.