4 easy hacks to fix 'Windows was unable to complete the format error'

Summary: Are you encountering a ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ error on SD card/USB/hard drives? Read through this blog post to know how to resolve this error on SD cards, USB’s or on hard drives and how to recover data before formatting (when you don’t have a backup).

It is a thumb rule one follows; formatting an SD card or USB drive when it is corrupted or inaccessible. But what if this thumb rule fails and Windows was unable to complete the format? Fortunately, it is not a dead end when you encounter this error. Windows can fail to format your USB or SD card due to various scenarios like; bad sectors (unresponsive storage units), external drive not detected or when the write protection is enabled.

Regardless of the cause, the solutions compiled in this blog will help you learn how to fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’. The following methods work best on any external storage like pen drives, SD cards & hard drives. Once the error is fixed, you can format your device successfully and solve the underlying causes of the error without losing any of your precious data.

Considering the possibility that you might not have backed up your data, for best results always use a trusted data recovery software like Remo Recover before trying any of the trouble shooting methods below. This ensures that your data is safe.

How to recover data before formatting? (Applies to SD card/USB/external hard drives)

1. Download Remo Recover on your computer and connect the external storage device that you are trying to format
2. In the main screen, select Recover Partitions option and then select the drive that represents your SD card/USB. Click Scan to begin scanning of the drive
3. After scanning completes, your files will be listed in File Type View and Data View. If you want to view files by file types, select File Type View, else select Data View
4. You can select any file and preview for free
5. Finally, save the recovered files to any desired destination (even external drives are allowed)

Note: Remo hard drive recovery software is available on both Windows and Mac computers. Depending on your requirement, please download the appropriate version accordingly.

How do I fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ error?

Solution 1: Check if write-protection is enabled

If write-protection is enabled, your SD card or USB will be converted to a read-only state. Hence you will not be able to perform any write action or format the device.

Check if there is a write-protection switch on your SD card or USB. Sliding it upwards usually unlocks write-protection and this should allow you to format the card. This should help you fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ error.

Solution 2: Use Disk Management to fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ error

The next solution you can try is to fix the ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ on SD card/pen drive’ error using Disk Management tool.

1. First, connect the storage device to be formatted to your computer
2. Right click on the Start button and select Disk Management
3. In the Disk Management window, select the storage device you want to format and right click on it
4. Select Format to open a Format window

click format

5. Double check all the options provided in the Format window and confirm to format the drive

If you find your drive listed as RAW in Disk Management, it means the OS cannot read any data on that drive. Remo Recover has the ability to read data from RAW drives and recover it for you. Download Now for a free trial!


Solution 3: Use Command Prompt to fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ error

If the ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ on pen drive/SD card error re-occurs, you can try using the command line to format the device.

1. Connect the storage device that you want to format to your computer
2. In the ‘Start’ search bar, type ‘cmd’
3. Select ‘Run As Administrator’ to open the command prompt

Use cmd to fix Windows was unable to complete the ormat

4. Type ‘diskpart’ to open diskpart

diskpart to fix windows was unable to complete the format error

5. Type ‘list disk’ to list all the available drives. (Make a note of the # associated with the SD/USB/hard drive you want to format)
6. Type ‘select disk #’ (Replace # by the number noted in the step above)
7. Type ‘clean’ (this will clear all contents of the drive)
8. Type ‘create partition primary’ (this will make the drive accessible)
9. Type ‘format fs=ntfs’ (this will format the drive with NTFS file system)
10. Type ‘assign letter = E’ (Replace ‘E’ with a drive letter of your choice)

Solution 4: Format in Safe Mode to fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ error

If the above methods don’t help, you can try formatting your device in Safe Mode. To boot your computer in Safe Mode,

1. Click on the Start menu > Settings
2. Select Update & Security > Recovery
3. Go to Advanced Startup > Restart Now

Advanced startup options

4. Now PC will restart to open ‘Choose an option’ screen, click Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > Startup Settings > Restart
5. Once your PC restarts, click ‘4’ or ‘F4’ to start your computer in Safe Mode

Now that you have booted your system in Safe Mode, follow the same steps to format your device again. With this you should be able to format the device and there by eliminating ‘Windows unable to format’ error.

Note: If the hard drive is already formatted and there is no backup available, use Remo formatted recovery software to recover data from formatted computer.


These solutions should help you fix ‘Windows was unable to complete the format’ on pen drives, SD card or external hard drives. However, before you format the device, remember to have a complete backup. You do not want to lose all your precious data from the drive. If you’re looking for a recovery program, Remo may just be the tool you need. It has the ability to recover data before formatting any corrupt/RAW/inaccessible drives, thus providing you the best recovery and backup solution.

However, if your storage device still cannot be formatted after trying these methods, it could indicate an issue with your device and requires further investigation. You can contact our tech support team to recover data from the drive.

4 easy hacks to fix 'Windows was unable to complete the format error' was last modified: January 16th, 2020 by Tony Landry

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