"Windows was unable to complete the format" error
You can get such an error when you formatting a removable data storage device: an external hard drive,
a memory card or a thumb drive. Usually, this error occurs on Windows 7, 8 and 10.
Before trying to fix the error think about: whether the data stored on the device involved is important for you,
whether you have a backup, whether the backup is up-to-date. This is important because formatting erases the data.
If you decide that the data is important, the only way to get it back is data recovery with special software.
If your goal is still to get Windows to format your data storage device, then follow the instruction.
Formatting using Disk Management
The easiest but not always working way is to format the device in Disk Management.
There are several ways to launch the Disk Management utility, here's one of them: click Start, type diskmgmt.msc in the search box and press Enter.
Then find the device you need to format paying attention to the device's type and size (typically, it is a removable device).
Right-click the partition and select Format.
You should see a new window where you are suggested to set formatting parameters like a file system type.
Usually small devices, like memory cards and thumb drives, use FAT32 while external hard drives use NTFS.
Note that the box Perform a quick format is checked by default and you should uncheck it.
Then the formatting process starts and this time it is probably completed successfully, without any errors.
Formatting a device in the safe mode
If the previous option does not work and the error Windows was unable to complete the format occurs again,
you should try to format the device in the Windows safe mode.
Sometimes the operating system can't complete formatting successfully because it is overloaded with other applications.
To start the safe mode, you need:
Click Start, type msconfig in the search box and press Enter.
In the appeared window you should click Boot tab, choose Safe mode and then click OK.
This way you start the PC in the safe mode. Then try to format the device as you did before.
To return to the normal boot mode, use the msconfig command again.
Formatting a device with write protection
Windows can show the Windows was unable to complete the format error if the device in question has write protection.
There are thumb drives and memory cards that have a write protect switch.
Check your device and if it has such a switch, make sure that it is unlocked.
One of the ways to get rid of write protection by means of Windows is:
Click Start, type gpedit.msc in the search box and press Enter.
Then choose Administrative Templates under the Computer Configuration section and
Then choose Removable Storage Access.
In the appeared list find Removable Disks: Deny write access.
From the three options, choose Disabled.
Click Apply button and reboot the PC.
As soon as you computer reboots with the new parameters, try to format your device.
If none of the above options to format the device worked, try low-level formatting.
This format procedure writes zeros to each sector on the device, and in the end you get an absolutely clean device
without user data or file system metadata. To perform low-level formatting, you need to use a special software, for example,
How to recover data from a formatted device
If you have formatted your device and later realized that it stored some important data, you can try to recover data using special
software like ReclaiMe. Note that the recovery is only possible if formatting was
quick rather than complete, that is low-level formatting utilities
have not been used.
To recover data from the formatted device you need:
- Download and launch ReclaiMe File Recovery.
- In the list of available devices select the formatted device (look for the device shown under the USB devices section)
and click Start.
- Wait until the software completes the scan.
- Check the recovery quality using thePreview function.
- Purchase a license key and copy the data.
Still have questions?