Sometimes you may find yourself with an SD card that your computer or device won’t recognize. This can happen for a few reasons:
- The SD card is formatted with an unsupported file system like exFAT or NTFS
- The SD card is simply too old and uses outdated technology
- There is corruption or damage on the SD card
When this happens, you won’t be able to simply plug the SD card into your computer and access the files like you normally would. The good news is there are still some tricks you can use to recover data from an unsupported SD card. In this article, I’ll go over some step-by-step solutions to help you get your files off the stubborn SD card.
Check Basic Troubleshooting First
Before you try any intensive data recovery methods, it’s worth doing some basic SD card troubleshooting first. Here are some simple steps to try:
- Make sure the SD card is properly inserted into your computer’s card reader. It should click when you insert it all the way.
- Try the SD card in another device like a camera, phone, or different computer. If it works there, the issue is with your original device.
- Check if the SD card shows up in Disk Utility on Mac or Disk Management on Windows. If you can see it there, you may be able to format it to a compatible format without data loss.
- Clean the contacts on the SD card with a bit of rubbing alcohol and cotton swab. This can fix connection issues.
- Try a different USB port and SD card reader if possible. Ports can sometimes go bad.
If none of those basic steps work, it’s time to break out the big guns and try data recovery.
Attempt Data Recovery with Software
The easiest solution is to use data recovery software that is designed to retrieve files from unsupported cards. Here are some options to consider:
Recuva is free data recovery software from Piriform that can rescue files from SD cards, hard drives, and other storage media. It supports restoring files from exFAT, NTFS, and FAT file systems.
- Download and install Recuva from https://www.ccleaner.com/recuva.
- Connect the SD card to your computer and launch Recuva.
- Select the SD card as the location to scan.
- Choose the file types you want to recover and click “Scan.”
- Recuva will display all recoverable files it finds. You can preview them.
- Select the files you want to restore and click “Recover” to save them.
Recuva has a free version with basic features and a paid professional version with better recovery capabilities.
EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard
EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard is a popular paid software for recovering lost data from SD cards, flash drives, hard drives, and optical media. It can recover from formatted and RAW drives.
- Download and install EaseUS Data Recovery. The free trial allows up to 2GB of recovery.
- Run EaseUS and select your SD card’s drive letter.
- Choose file types or scan the full drive for lost data.
- Preview found files and select those you want to recover.
- Choose a location to save the recovered data.
EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard costs about $70 for a 1-year personal license but has reliable results recovering from unsupported cards.
Stellar Data Recovery
Stellar Data Recovery performs similar functions to EaseUS but has some extra tools like repairs for corrupt video files.
- Get and install Stellar Data Recovery.
- Select the SD card drive and scan for recoverable data.
- Preview and select the files you want to restore.
- Save the recovered files to another drive.
Stellar Data Recovery costs around $80 for a 1-year personal license.
The advantage of using data recovery software is it takes very little effort on your part. The programs scan the SD card and pull off files you can browse and recover with just a few clicks.
Try Manual File Carving
If you want to take a more manual approach without relying on paid software, you can attempt file carving. This forensics technique extracts files directly from the SD card’s raw data.
You’ll need data carving software like Foremost, Scalpel, or DCFLdd:
- Install Foremost on Linux or Mac using the command line.
- Use the “foremost -i [SOURCE DEVICE] -o [OUTPUT FOLDER]” command to carve files from the SD card to a recovery folder. Replace the bracketed text with the actual source and output locations.
- Foremost will carve the recoverable files from the card and save them to the output folder.
Foremost is free but requires some knowledge of the Linux/Unix command line to use effectively.
Scalpel works similarly to Foremost and runs from the command line:
- Install Scalpel using your Linux package manager.
- Run the command “scalpel [SOURCE DEVICE] -o [OUTPUT FOLDER]” to carve files from the SD card.
- Recovered files are saved to the output folder.
Scalpel is also free but has a steeper learning curve.
DCFLdd is a fork of the older Unix dd recovery tool with some extra features:
- Install DCFLdd on Linux or Mac.
- Use the command “dcfl -c [BLOCK SIZE] -s [SKIP SIZE] -o [OUTPUT FILE] [SOURCE DEVICE]” replacing the bracketed items.
- Carved data is saved to the output file.
DCFLdd is free but requires familiarity with block sizes to configure properly.
File carving with these tools recovers data without relying on the file system, so it can pull files from formatted and corrupt cards. But it’s a more involved process than recovery software.
Format the SD Card
If you just need to use the SD card again and don’t care about the data, formatting it is an option. This will erase all data but let you reuse the card.
- Insert the SD card into your computer.
- Open File Explorer and right-click on the SD card.
- Select “Format…”
- Choose FAT32 or exFAT file system.
- Check the Quick Format box and start formatting.
- Insert the SD card into your Mac.
- Open Disk Utility.
- Select your SD card on the left.
- Click Erase at the top.
- Choose a compatible format like MS-DOS (FAT).
- Click Erase to format the card.
Use GParted to format SD cards on Linux:
- Install GParted if you don’t have it.
- Open GParted and select your SD card.
- Choose Device > Create Partition Table.
- Right-click unallocated space and make a new FAT32 or EXT4 partition.
- Click the green checkmark to format the partition.
Formatting the card erases everything but allows reuse. But back up any files you need from the card first!
Use a USB Adapter
Another option is to use a USB card reader or adapter to connect the SD card to your computer if the built-in reader is incompatible.
There are a few types available:
- USB-A card reader – Plugs into a standard USB-A port
- USB-C card reader – For modern USB-C ports
- MicroSD adapter – Converts a MicroSD card to full-size SD
To use an adapter:
- Insert the SD card into the adapter or card reader.
- Plug the device into your computer’s USB port.
- The computer should detect the SD card. You can then view files or reformat.
Having the right adapter can help an incompatible SD card show up on your computer again.
Send to a Recovery Service
If you’ve tried both DIY software recovery and manual carving without success, a professional data recovery service may be able to repair and retrieve files from the card.
These services have access to specialized tools and cleanroom facilities to dismantle and rebuild the card at the component level. This “hard drive surgery” can rescue data when all else fails.
But professional recovery is expensive, costing hundreds to thousands of dollars. It’s really only cost-effective for recovering irreplaceable data.
When faced with an unsupported SD card, don’t give up hope yet. You have options like data recovery software, manual carving, USB adapters, formatting, and pro recovery services.
The right method depends on your computer OS, how important the files are, and your budget. In many cases, you can get those photos, videos, and other data off the stubborn SD card with some patience and the right tools.