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.
What Causes SD Cards to Request Formatting
There are so many problems that could cause your SD to require formatting that it can sometimes be difficult to find the actual cause. Here are a few common reasons why your SD card may ask to be formatted:
- ❌ Corruption – Logical corruption, like file system corruption, can leave your SD card unusable. Since it no longer has a working file system, the first response from Windows is to suggest formatting with one that’s usable.
- 💥 Physical damage – Delicate components of your SD card are susceptible to physical damage. For instance, if the contact pins have been damaged, the SD card will not be able to make proper contact with the card reader.
- 🤨 Counterfeit SD card – Scammers can modify the SD card controller to make it seem like it has a larger capacity than it actually does. This results in data overwriting itself, among other complications. You can use Fake Flash Test to check yours.
- 💻 Compatibility issues – If your SD card uses an incompatible file system, your operating system will ask to format it because it’s unable to read its contents.
Next, we’ll show you how to recover the data from your SD card before we dive into fixes.
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 SD Card Recovery. 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.
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 memory card without formatting:
- Download Disk Drill and open it once it’s installed.
- Select the SD card, then click Search for lost data. This will start the scan.
- When the scan is finished, click Review found items.
- 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.
- Choose a location on a separate physical partition and click Next.
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.
8 Ways to Fix SD Card Without Formatting
The methods outlined below will allow you to repair your 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:
- Remove your card reader and connect it to a different USB port.
- If the problem persists, try connecting the card reader to another computer.
- 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:
- Right-click Start and select Disk Management.
- Right-click the SD card volume and click Change Drive Letter and Paths.
- If you don’t have a drive letter, click Add. If you do, click Change.
- Select a drive letter from the dropdown list and click OK, then OK again.
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:
- Right-click Start and click Windows PowerShell (Admin). Click Yes if prompted by UAC.
chkdsk D: /r /x. Replace D: with the drive letter assigned to your SD card. Press Enter.
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:
- Right-click Start and click Device Manager.
- 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.
- In the Driver tab, click Update Driver.
- Click Search automatically for drivers.
- If there were no updates available, click Close.
- Click Uninstall Device.
- Click Uninstall.
- 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:
- Make sure your SD card is connected and open File Explorer.
- Right-click your SD card and click Properties.
- In the Tools tab, click Check.
- Click Scan and repair drive.
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:
- Right-click Start and select Windows PowerShell (Admin). If prompted by UAC, just click Yes.
diskpartand press Enter.
list volumeand press Enter.
select volume 4. Replace 4 with the number of your own volume.
attributes disk clear readonlyand press Enter. Once you do, the read-only attribute will be removed.
Method 7: Attempt to Fix the Partition Using TestDisk
TestDisk is a free open-source recovery tool that specializes in repairing damaged file systems. If successful, it has a chance of recovering the partition, along with any data that was stored on it.
Follow these steps to repair your partition using TestDisk:
- Download and extract TestDisk. Open testdisk_win.
- Press Enter to create a log.
- Highlight the SD card, then press Enter.
- Highlight the partition table type, then press Enter.
- Press Enter.
- Press Enter to begin the quick search.
- Highlight the lost partition, then press Enter.
- Highlight the Write option, then press Enter.
- Press Y to confirm the action, then restart your computer.
Method 8: Request Professional Help
There are times when we cannot fix the issue ourselves. In such cases, you need to enlist the help of a data recovery professional to get the job done.
Using a data recovery service is the most expensive option, but it yields the best results. This process involves filling out a work order and sending your SD card away (or dropping it off, if you’re close enough and the company permits it). Once received, a data recovery professional will recover the data from your SD card and return it to you on a healthy storage device.
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.
There are so many ways you can attempt to fix an SD card without formatting, but most are hazardous to attempt straight away, as you risk permanently losing your data. In truth, the best way to go about it is to recover the data from the SD card, and then implement known fixes afterward to ensure none of the data is lost in the process.
Once you know your data is safe, you can fix the SD card using some of the best-proven solutions. This includes running CHKDSK, scanning the SD card with the Windows repair tool, updating or reinstalling the drivers, and using third-party repair software like TestDisk.
- Add or change the drive letter. An external hard drive will automatically be assigned a drive letter on Windows PC. If there’s no drive letter, you won’t be able to access your SD card. To fix this, you can change or add a drive letter using Windows’ Disk Management.
- Update or reinstall your drivers. When drivers are outdated, the devices that you connect to your computer will not work properly. You can update your drivers on the Device Manager.
- Use CHKDSK. This is mainly used to check system-related issues, but you can also fix your SD card without formatting using this Windows feature.
- Use Windows Repair Tool. This is used to scan any internal hard drives or external devices.
- Try to restart your Android phone. Turn off your phone, remove the SD card, reinsert the SD card, and turn on your phone.
- Run a virus scan on your phone. Use a trusted antivirus app to check if your Android phone is infected. Once the virus is cleared, your files will be restored.
- Try the chkdsk command. You can use the chkdsk command on your Windows computer to recover files from your SD card.
- File system corruption. There is a file corruption in your SD card. Therefore its natural response is to ask you to format it.
- Physical damage. There might be broken connectors or hard scratches that cause a malfunction in your SD card.
- Improper ejection. Removing the SD card from a device without properly ejecting it can cause corruption.
- Right-click Start and click Terminal (Admin).
- Type format D: /q (Replace D with the letter of your SD card).
- Type Y then press Enter.
- Provide a volume label and press Enter.