How to Recover Data From an SD Card Without Formatting

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Recover sd card without formatting

You insert your SD card into a card reader, prepare to look at your photos and videos, then suddenly your SD card is asking to format. This message often indicates the SD card has sustained some form of damage that’s preventing it from being accessed, like corruption.

Worry not. This article includes a useful method on how to recover data from an SD card without formatting, as well as some useful solutions for actually fixing your SD card so you can use it again.

Why SD Card Formatting Is Important

Before an SD card can be used, it first needs to be formatted with a file system. Over time, your SD card may suffer from logical damage like corruption. Corruption can cause your file system to break down and prevent you from accessing your files. In many cases, this results in various messages stating that your SD card wants to format when you connect it.

When you format an SD card, it will mark any unusable areas like bad sectors as hidden so no files can be written to them, but it will also delete all of your data in the process. While formatting is a solution to many problems, some users may not want to do it out of fear of losing their files. 

Thankfully, you can recover your data before you implement any fixes. Follow the steps in the next section to get your data back so you can work towards fixing your SD card.

How to Recover Data From a Memory Card Without Formatting

Before attempting to fix your SD card without reformatting, you should recover what data you have on the card in case anything goes wrong and the data is permanently deleted or overwritten.

To recover SD card data without a format, we’ll be using Disk Drill. Disk Drill is an effective data recovery tool that can scan your hard drive for any recoverable data and recover it to a folder of your choice. It doesn’t just work with SD cards, you can also recover data from external hard drives and USB flash drives using the same steps.

Before starting, connect your SD card. If Windows prompts you to format, dismiss the window by clicking Cancel. These instructions will help you understand how to recover data from corrupted memory card without formatting:

  1. Download Disk Drill and open it once it’s installed.
  2. Select the SD card, then click Search for lost data. This will start the scan.Scanning the SD card for recoverable data.
  3. When the scan is finished, click Review found items.Viewing the discovered files.
  4. Mark what files you want to recover by checking their tick box. Take note of the Recovery chances column to see what your chances of recovery are. You can also preview the items beforehand. Click Recover when you’re ready.Marking files in Disk Drill for recovery.
  5. Choose a location on a separate physical partition and click OK.Disk Drill recovery output.

When the recovery is finished, you’ll find all of the recovered data inside the folder you specified. Take this opportunity to make copies of the data for safekeeping before moving onto the next section that involves fixing the SD card.

6 Ways to Fix Corrupted SD Card Without Formatting

The methods outlined below will allow you to repair your corrupted memory card without formatting. Be sure to start with the first method and work your way down to ensure you don’t miss any steps.

Method #1: Try Another SD Card Reader or USB Port

Before attempting to fix anything, you must first understand where the problem originates. The problem may not be with your SD card, but instead with the SD card reader or USB port you’re using. Try the following steps to isolate the cause:

  1. Remove your card reader and connect it to a different USB port.
  2. If the problem persists, try connecting the card reader to another computer.
  3. Finally, try plugging the SD card into a different card reader.

Method #2: Add or Change the Drive Letter

When a storage device is connected to your computer, Windows automatically assigns a drive letter. If the assigned drive letter conflicts with another device that already has that drive letter, problems can arise as Windows doesn’t know which device the drive letter actually belongs to. Moreover, if no drive letter is assigned, your SD card may not show as accessible at all.

Adding a drive letter or changing the existing one can fix this. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Right-click Start and select Disk Management.Open Disk Management.
  2. Right-click the SD card volume and click Change Drive Letter and Paths.Choosing the option to change drive letters.
  3. If you don’t have a drive letter, click Add. If you do, click Change.Changing the drive letter.
  4. Select a drive letter from the dropdown list and click OK, then OK again.Confirming the new drive letter.

Method #3: CheckDisk (CHKDSK)

CheckDisk is a utility inside Windows that can scan your storage media for file system-related issues and fix them based on the parameters that you use. The parameters we’ll be using will not only scan for problems, but also fix the SD card without formatting. 

The parameter we’ll be using is /r, which not only scans for and fixes errors, but also locates bad sectors. Follow these steps:

  1. Right-click Start and click Windows PowerShell (Admin). Click Yes if prompted by UAC.Opening an elevated command prompt.
  2. Type chkdsk D: /r. Replace D: with the drive letter assigned to your SD card. Press Enter.Running the CHKDSK command.

Method #4: Update/Reinstall Drivers

Every device you connect to your computer requires drivers to function properly. The drivers are designed to establish communication between the device you connect and your operating system. If they’re outdated, corrupted, or missing, you won’t be able to use or access your SD card correctly.

These steps will guide you through updating your drivers or reinstalling them if they’re corrupted or missing:

  1. Right-click Start and click Device Manager.Opening Device Manager.
  2. Expand the Disk drives dropdown. Right-click your SD card and click Properties. The name of your SD card will vary based on the brand.Opening the SD card properties.
  3. In the Driver tab, click Update Driver.Updating the SD card driver.
  4. Click Search automatically for drivers.Searching for updated drivers.
  5. If there were no updates available, click Close.Closing the driver window.
  6. Click Uninstall Device.Uninstall SD card driver.
  7. Click Uninstall.Confirming the driver uninstall.
  8. Disconnect the SD card from your computer and reconnect it. This will force the driver to install again.

Method #5: Windows Repair Tool

You can use the error checking tool to scan any internal or attached storage media for immediate problems. It actually uses the CheckDisk command we used earlier, but using an interface rather than a terminal.

Use the steps to scan your SD card for errors:

  1. Make sure your SD card is connected and open File Explorer.
  2. Right-click your SD card and click Properties.Accessing the SD card properties.
  3. In the Tools tab, click Check.Opening the error checking utlity.
  4. Click Scan and repair drive.Running the scan and repair option.

Method #6: DiskPart

In some cases, your SD card may be inaccessible because it’s marked as read-only. When in read-only mode, you cannot write new data to the SD card or edit the existing data. The only way to fix this is by removing the read-only attribute. This can be done using DiskPart, a command-line utility in Windows.

Follow these steps to remove the read-only attribute from the SD card using DiskPart:

  1. Right-click Start and select Windows PowerShell (Admin). If prompted by UAC, just click Yes.Opening an elevated command prompt.
  2. Type diskpart and press Enter.Accessing the DiskPart utility in PowerShell.
  3. Type list volume and press Enter.Listing the available volumes.
  4. Type select volume 4. Replace 4 with the number of your own volume.Selecting the appropriate volume.
  5. Type attributes disk clear readonly and press Enter. Once you do, the read-only attribute will be removed.Clearing the read-only attribute.