Previously, we showed you how to format a USB drive on Windows 10. The process is very straightforward and shouldn’t take more than a minute to complete. After formatting, you are supposed to get this success message:
But, there may be times when Windows cannot format your flash drive. For example, you plug your drive into the port of a computer, you right click on the disk icon and select “Format”, but it popped up an error:
“Windows was unable to complete the format”
So, what’s wrong? Does that mean your USB drive is broken? Not really!
In this article, we are going to show you how to fix this weird Windows can’t format USB error. All you need to do is follow the step-by-step instructions below.
Typical Errors When Windows Can’t Format USB
Depending on the operating systems (Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista, XP) you are using, the error messages may vary from case to case. Here are the common ones:
- Windows was unable to complete the format.
- The disk is write protected.
- The USB disk is not formatted, do you want to format it now?
- The USB drive is not initialized.
- The operation did not complete because the media is write protected.
- There is no disk in the drive. Insert the disk and then try again.
- Windows refuses to format your USB key or access files.
- Other force format error messages.
Possible causes for those formatting errors also vary. For example, the flash drive is corrupted due to improper ejection or an unexpected PC shutdown. There might also be compatibility issues between your flash drive and the PC.
Another common reason is file system error. For example, normally a new flash drive is initiated with FAT-32. It’s possible that you (or the person who uses it) might have reformatted it into NTFS or another file system.
Why File System Matters?
You might wonder. We’d like to use an analogy a reader shared with us earlier.
A flash drive is essentially like a book, the data is the words in the book, the format is the paper that the words are printed on – different book publishers use different kinds of paper.
Now you understand. Let’s go back to the topic.
Before Formatting Your USB Drive
Make sure that you’ve already backed up the data stored on your flash drive. If you haven’t done so and the files stored inside are important to you, try using a USB data recovery software to see if it helps. Just connect your USB drive to the PC, then let a recovery program scan your USB drive to seek any recoverable items.
Also, if you happen to have access to another computer, try inserting the USB drive to that PC and then see if the drive can be accessed or formatted successfully. Sometimes this helps clear the compatibility or buffer issues. If that doesn’t help, follow the guide below.
How to Fix It When Windows Was Unable to Complete the Format
Simply put, you need to go to Disk Management and re-format the drive. Here’s how to do it:
- Insert your flash drive into a PC.
- Move the cursor to the bottom left corner. Right-click on the Windows icon.
- Select Disk Management.
- Highlight the disk your flash drive represents, right click and choose New Simple Volume.
- Now select the formatting options, make sure under File System you choose FAT-32 or exFAT.
- Click “Next” to complete the rest procedure.
If this doesn’t work out, use the command line to initiate the drive. This video has more:
How to Format USB When Windows Says Disk is Write Protected
Note: our PC is running Windows 10 thus all the screenshots below are taken based on Windows 10. If you’re on Windows 8.1, 7, Vista, or XP, they will look slightly different.
Step 1: In the search bar, type “regedit” and click the regedit app icon to run it.
Step 2: In Registry Editor, go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > SYSTEM > CurrentControlSet > Control.
Step 3: Right-click Control folder, select New > Key.
Step 4: Now rename the New Key #1 folder into StorageDevicePolicies.
Step 5: Right-click on StorageDevicePolicies folder, select New, and QWORD (64-bit) Value if your PC is running with a 64-bit version, or DWORD (32-bit) Value if it’s with 32-bit.
Hint: see this Microsoft article to check whether your computer is running a 32-bit version or 64-bit version.
Step 6: Now rename the New Value #1 folder into WriteProtect.
Step 7: Double click the WriteProtect folder, change the Value data: into “0” and Base to “Hexadecimal”, click “OK.”
Step 8: Close RegEdit by clicking the “X” icon.
Step 9: Open “This PC” (Windows 10) or “My Computer” (Windows Vista/XP), and refresh it 5 times without doing anything to your USB drive, and properly eject the flash drive.
Step 10: Now plug your USB drive again into your computer and format it to exFAT instead of FAT32.
Still Didn’t Work?
It’s time to use a third-party utility. We recommend this one called HP USB Disk Format Tool, a program also recommended by SanDisk actually (see here).
First off, you need to download the utility from CNET. Then, install the utility on your Windows PC. Run the program and follow the tutorial in this video:
Note: Using the HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool will restore your flash drive to the original capacity and every bit of data will be erased permanently.
One more thing: USB drives are easy to go wrong. If you have important files to save, it’s best to use an external drive for backup and storage.
So that’s all we wanted to share in this article. How do you like this troubleshooting guide? Have you managed to fix the Windows unable to complete the format error on your USB? Let us know which formatting method worked for you, or which step you are stuck in. Leave a comment below.
Jessica is the co-founder and content manager here at AnySoftwareTools. She has been fascinated by the startup culture in Silicon Valley and she loves building things from zero to one. When she is not writing, she loves getting close to nature and shoot photos with her iPhone and Canon EOS 80D.