How to properly format an SD card on a PC or Mac

Your options are SD Card Formatter or death.


Not an day (or even hour, perhaps) goes by without someone posting about microSD/SD card (henceforth referred to as simply “SD card”) formatting problems in a support forum. Almost always they formatted the card on their desktop using the OS’ built-in utility. And almost always this causes the card to work poorly in the (usually Android) mobile device it’s intended for.

Never format any SD card on a PC or Mac using anything other than SD Card Formatter.

That happens because desktop OS’ built-in formatting utilities often format the cards incorrectly, whereas the SD Association’s SD Card Formatter utility for PCs and Macs formats them correctly. Per the SD Association:

The SD Formatter was created specifically for memory cards using the SD/SDHC/SDXC standards. It is strongly recommended to use the SD Formatter instead of formatting utilities provided with operating systems that format various types of storage media. Using generic formatting utilities may result in less than optimal performance for your memory cards.

The SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards have a “Protected Area” on the card for the SD standard’s security function. The SD Formatter does not format the “Protected Area”. Please use appropriate application software or SD-compatible device that provides SD security function to format the “Protected Area” in the memory card.

The instructions for using SD Card Formatter are found here. It can be used to resurrect “dead” (read: incorrectly formatted) SD cards and should be the first software tool you use should formatting the card on the mobile device fail or the card be unreadable.

Other tips for handling SD cards:

  • As I said above, never format any SD card on a PC or Mac using anything other than SD Card Formatter. From the Association:

    the card may not be recognized correctly and a message to prompt formatting may appear. In this case, do not format the SDXC memory card. It may erase the data on the SDXC memory card and format the card for a different file system, making it incompatible with SDXC devices.

  • Always format new SD cards on your mobile device first before doing so anywhere else.
  • Generally speaking, avoid placing your mobile device’s SD card in your PC at all unless you absolutely have to.
  • If you do need to transfer files between cards using your PC, use this method.


Author: jdrch

ISTJ, Rice Owl, UF Gator, mechanical engineer. STEM, sports, music, movies, humor. Account mine only & unaffiliated.

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