How to Recover Data from SD Card Formatted as Internal Storage

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SD card formatted as internal storage

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter… there are just so many social media apps to keep up with. Add in productivity and gaming apps, and soon that generous internal storage of your phone seems like nothing.

But that’s not a problem, your friends tell you. Just format your SD card as internal storage, and you are golden! Except all data previously held on the card has now vanished. You try slotting it into a card reader and using your PC, but it cannot access the memory either.

Not by itself, at least.

What does Format as Internal Mean?

Before we delve into the specifics of recovering data from an SD card formatted as internal storage, let us try to understand what that even means.

Format Internal Storage

First up, simply using an SD card with your mobile is not a problem. Micro SD cards have been used to extend the storage on mobile phones for a long time, and they could be used with computers just fine.

Cards used this way are classified as external storage. This means they can be used to store files and photos, but not applications themselves. Apps are still installed to the built-in internal storage of the phone, which cannot be migrated to external SD cards.

What is Adoptable Storage

Starting from Android 6.0 Marshmallow, users got the option to ‘adopt’ an SD card as internal storage. What this meant was that the card would be treated as an addition to the phone’s own memory, and used to store installed apps and system information.

This is a great feature for anyone struggling with the weight of too many apps, as it lets you upgrade your phone’s internal memory without having to get a whole new device. However, this leads to a small problem.

In order to integrate the SD card with the internal storage, the OS formats the card with a different file system and encrypts it. As a result, the existing data on the card gets wiped out, and the new card becomes inaccessible to other devices.

How to Format SD Card as Internal Storage

Formatting an SD card as internal storage is simple. As soon as you insert a new SD card into your phone, you will be prompted on how to set it up.

Format Internal

Just tap the Use as internal storage option, and the OS will set up everything for you. You can start using the storage immediately.

How to Recover Data from SD Card Formatted as Internal Storage

The only reliable method of recovering data from a formatted SD card is a data recovery tool. It doesn’t matter whether it was formatted as internal storage or just plain old formatting; data recovery software will do the heavy lifting for you.

Connecting the SD card to your computer

To start, you must first make the SD card storage available to your computer. In most laptops and PCs, this is simply a question of slotting in the card into its built-in card reader.

Connect SD card with computer

In case your computer lacks a card reader by default, you can always use an external one to bridge the gap. Put your card into the reader and connect it using any USB slot, like a Pendrive.

You must be wondering why can’t you just connect your Android phone to the computer directly.

Well, technically, you can, but Windows cannot access your phone’s storage that way. Only a Mac can do so, and only after you root your phone. Using a card reader is thus the best option.

Using Disk Drill to recover data from SD card formatted as internal

  1. To start, download the installation file from the official site and fire it up. You can choose an install location from Options or proceed with the setup by clicking on the Install button.Disk Drill Main Screen
  2. Once the installation is complete, run the program. The main window of Disk Drill shows every connected storage dives along with their sizes. Choose the one belonging to your SD card and click on Search for lost data.Disk Drill Searching
  3. Disk Drill will now scan your SD card, displaying the results clearly segregated by file type. You can Review found items to see if the files you wanted to retrieve have already been discovered.Disk Drill Recovered File
  4. If you find a file you want to recover, just select it and click on the Recover button.Disk Drill Recovery Prompt


Unfortunately, there is no simple ‘decrypt’ option. The files already present in the card before being formatted as internal storage cannot be directly accessed. Your only option for retrieving those files is to use a data recovery tool. In case you just want to be able to use your SD card normally again, you just have to format it as portable again. Just head to Storage Settings (under the Storage tab in the Settings of your phone) and select the Format as portable option.
If you format your SD card as internal, you will be able to add its capacity to your phone’s base memory. Your phone will start using the card to store installed apps and related data, allowing you to download a lot more apps than you could otherwise keep. SD cards work slower than a phone’s internal memory, so be prepared for some drop in performance.
A fresh format wipes out all existing data and, in a way, resets the device. In the rare case when your SD card doesn’t work as internal storage, you need to check for bad sectors. Start by formatting the card as portable. This lets a computer access its partitions. Now insert it into a card reader and connect it to your PC. To repair the card and scan it for errors, we will use the CHKDSK utility. Fire up Command Prompt as an administrator and enter the following command:
chkdsk E: /F /R /X
Where E is the drive letter of your SD card, the scan will proceed automatically, rooting out any disk errors and fixing what it can.


Using an SD card as internal storage is a great way to increase the capacity of your phone’s memory. But in case you forgot to back up your files before formatting, you need to find a way to get that data back.

Thankfully, data recovery software like Disk Drill is equipped with the capability to recover files from formatted cards without any issue. All you need is to connect your SD card to your computer and let the application do its magic.

Unless the files have been overwritten with new data, you should be able to retrieve everything in one piece.

A frontend developer turned writer, Levin brings his in-depth knowledge to bear in breaking down complex technical topics into a layman's perspective. A believer in emergent technologies, Levin writes about Machine Learning and Internet-of-Things to explore how people and businesses can benefit from innovation. He also likes going into the nitty-gritty details of software or hardware products to bring an unbiased review that adds value to his readers.
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Strong knowledge in data recovery, computer forensic and data litigation. 12 years experience in software development, database administration and hardware repair.