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Formatting a memory card or Pen Drive ...

Before formatting your device have you tested it?

Every so often this question is asked of me...

Then I go through the checklist of why the memory card or Flash /  Pen Drive will not format.

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First though let me remind you that the memory on or in a Flash /Pen Drive and a memory card is special memory. That is it has the capability to retain information after the power is removed. Unlike memory in a computer that has to be 'Refreshed' every so often this memory will keep the data for quite some time (it has not been proven how long a flash memory will retain it's data. I have a very old Pen Drive that still has the original data I put on it in 1999, that is over twenty years so far).

So the question is: My computer will not open a memory card or Pen Drive, the error says the device needs to be formatted but when format is tried it fails.

There are only three reasons why a memory card or Pen Drive will not open, take, or allow a format:

  • The USB port or hub has failed, this is the most common reason.
  • The computer doesn't have a USB driver loaded (unheard of today, most OS's have the driver built in for v.1.01 and 2.0, although 3.0 has to be loaded).
  • The device itself has failed.

Along with the above reasons the only other reason you can not format a memory card or Pen Drive is you do not have access to do so, such as:

  • You do not have Administrative rights (for OS's that require permission to format drives).
  • The lock is set on the memory card to prevent accidental formatting / erasing.
  • The device is encrypted and is locked in such a way that erasing is defeated.

So how do you determine if one of the above faults is the culprit?

  1. Your first step is to try to open a another device in that port, if it also fails then the port is bad.
  2. If the device works then the port is ok, take the device in question to another computer and try it there.
  3. If it opens then there may be a driver problem on the first computer.
  4. If it fails to be recognized then it is the device.
  5. If you can read the device but can not format it or write to it then the device is locked. It could be a software lock such as encrypted, lack of rights to the device, or a mechanical lock on the device itself.

That is about it for these devices they are very simplistic in use although design is very complicated.

You will find more information about formatting devices in the Self Computer Repair Unleashed 2nd Edition Manual

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Consider testing the device in at least two other computers before formatting it.

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