How to Format External Memory/ Media Devices Using A PC

Formatting USB Drives, SD Cards, Micro-SD Cards, and External Hard Drives in Windows

The steps that follow should format all of the listed external memory devices (Plus any I may have overlooked)

Step 1: Back-up all of the data on the device! If there is anything on the device that you don’t want to lose, you should save this to the computer you’re using first. When the format is completed, all data on the device will be gone.

Step 2:

Insert your drive into an empty port. (i.e. USB port, SD port, or external card reader)

Step 3:

Open the directory “My Computer” (Also known as “This PC” in Windows 10)

Step 4:


Locate the drive you have inserted in the “Devices and Drives” section. It will stand out via the current name (Volume Label) and icon.


Step 5:


Right click the drive that you’ve inserted and select “Format…” from the menu.

A new window will open that will give you information and numerous options for your devices new format.

  • First drop down menu
    • Capacity of the drive. This menu shows the current amount of space available on the device from the previous format. Not the used or free space available to use.
  • Second drop down menu
    • Type of File system you wish to format the device. This should include the formats NTFS, FAT32, and exFAT. Click here for more information on these formats.

Note on the File Systems:

  • NTFS
  • FAT32
  • ExFAT format is completely compatible with Mac and Windows operating systems, with no file size limit. This is essentially the most versatile of the formatting options.


  • Third drop down menu
    • The allocation of unit size. This feature allows you to control the way that your data is saved. Essentially, this controls the amount of space and the organization of future files. For most users, the default 4096 bytes is more than sufficient. For more information, you can click here.


You will also see an empty section marked as “Volume Label”. This is where you can name your particular drive what ever you like. I use different names for each drive, as I commonly have numerous drives plugged in at once. Making it easier to differentiate between each drive.


Under that you will see a box labeled “Quick Format”. This box is checked automatically when the format tool is opened. The difference between a quick format and a regular format is a scan after file removal. The regular format option will remove the files from the device, and then scans the disk for memory errors. A quick format on the other hand, simply removes the files from the device. By unchecking this box, you select the regular format option.

Note: Dependent on the memory size of your device, the scan for memory errors in the regular format option does add a considerable amount of time to your device format.

Step 6:

Decide what settings are right for you!

I usually use an exFat format with the default 4096 byte allocation unit size. This is due to the use of many different operating systems and the versatility of the exFAT format.

Once you’ve decided which settings are right for you and you have given the device a volume label (or not, personal preference) then click “Start”. A warning message will come up to warn you that all of the data on the device will be deleted. If you want to continue with the format, click “OK” if you decide you don’t want to format the device, click “Cancel”.


Step 7: The formatting process will begin if you’ve clicked “OK”. If the format is completed successfully, your device should be ready for use!


Remember to always eject your memory devices! Just in case!

All the best,



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