How to Format SD Cards Without Losing Data

SD cards are a great way to save lots of data on a small device that easily fits in your pocket. Along with their growing maximum storage size (now above 2TB or 2000 GB), you can store thousands of photographs, pictures, videos, and documents on a single small card.

What happens if the card’s data gets corrupted and your computer gives you a RAW notification and asks you to format it? 

Have you lost all your data? Can your important school work or important presentation be gone forever? Perhaps you have years of old photographs stored on the SD card. Whatever your case is, you want to recover the data. 

Is all of your valuable data lost? Will you ever see all the valuable photographs of your friends and family again?

Are all your important documents gone forever? Well, you are in luck. This guide will provide you with all the steps to save all your data and reformat your card to keep using it in the future. Read on to learn how to save your data from being lost and format your SD card. 

How to Format the SD Card Without Losing the Data

Formatting an SD card or other storage device type will erase all of the information stored on it. This is the opposite of what you want to do, so before you format the card, you will want to back up the RAW files first. But how do you back up the files if you cannot access them on your computer? 

To backup RAW files, there is various software to help you out. Here are some of the top ones available online: 

  • EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard – EaseUS is free to use, with software available for Windows and Mac computers. They also have excellent guides on how to use their software. 
  • M3 Data Recovery Software – M3’s software costs around $120 but can be used multiple times. 
  • DiskGenius RAW partition recovery – DiskGenius is highly rated and will allow you to recover data from RAW drives for free. 

Whatever software you choose, it will walk you through step-by-step how to recover your valuable data and make a backup of it before formatting the SD card or other external storage device.  

How to Restore a RAW SD Card to NTFS

Once you implement one of the recovery software to save your data from the RAWed SD card, you will want to reformat your storage device. To make it readable by your computer again, you will have to format it to the NTFS file structure. 

NTFS or New Technology File System is one of the most used file system standards and is recognized by Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems. However, it is only read-only by Mac and Linux. NTFS should only be used for internal drives and not external devices that will be crossing platforms. Use FAT32 or exFAT for these cases. 

To format your RAW storage device to NTFS, you need to go to “File Explorer” or “Disk Management” in your Windows operating system. You can find your drive there, right-click on it, select Format, then check NTFS, and lastly click enter. It may take a few moments to accomplish, but your SD card should be good as new and “unRAWed.”

How to Restore a RAW SD Card to exFAT or FAT32 

To format your SD card or other storage devices, you follow the same steps outlined above for NTFS. However, instead of checking “NTFS,” check exFAT or FAT32. Otherwise, the steps are exactly the same. 

FAT32 (file allocation table 32) file system structure works best for external media like flash drives and external hard drives. However, it should not be used for internal drives since the file structure lacks the NTFS’s security features. 

Basically, any computer or device with a USB port works with the FAT32 file structure.  This file system can support volume sizes from 4-8,000GB. 

exFAT works with all Windows Versions and MC OS X; however, it is not supported by Linux (unless you use extra software). exFAT has unlimited partition and file size limits, so it is useful for when this is needed. 

How to Diagnose a RAW Drive Issue 

Perhaps you are having issues with your SD card or other data storage device, and you are trying to diagnose what you are experiencing. If you think you may be having a RAW drive issue, you have come to the right place.

The list below shows just the types of problems that may “pop” up if your device has RAW problems. Note: “X” is the name of the drive and can be any letter. 

  • “X:\ is not accessible.”
  • “The parameter is incorrect.” 
  • “The type of the file system is RAW.” 
  • “Location is not available.”
  • “The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable.”
  • “You need to format the disk in drive X: before you can use it. Do you want to format it?” 

All of these messages are common when you have a drive or SD card with RAW issues. Whatever you do, if you want to be sure to save the data on your SD card, do not follow Windows’s suggestion to format the device. Formatting erases all data and will be a further and worse setback. 

Why Is Your Computer Stating Your SD Card is RAW and to Format It? 

Your SD card may appear as “RAW” for a variety of reasons. RAW is a file format that is used by some cameras and scanners. It is typically for uncompressed images and usually inaccessible by a standard Windows computer unless you reformat it to a different file format. 

If your SD card and other memory storage devices become RAW, Windows will prevent you from opening the device and will kindly ask you to format the card. SD cards and other storage mediums can become RAW from:

  • The file system has become missing.
  • The file system is unrecognizable by the computer.
  • The SD card is not formatted correctly.
  • The SD card’s file system got damaged or corrupted. 
  • A file was saved incorrectly and compromised the file system structure.
  • Computer Viruses 

Whatever the reason your SD card ended up in a RAW file format, your data can still be saved. However, you will need to be sure to follow the correct process. 

How to Restore the Data on the SD Card Using CHKDSK

If you are sitting with what you thought is a dead SD card with corrupted information, hold your horses and give CHKDSK a try! 

CHKDSK (spoken as “check disk”) is a nifty system tool built-in to Windows that literally “checks your disk.” The tool verifies the structure and integrity of the file system and fixes any logical file system errors. 

If you receive a “RAW” notification on an SD card, external hard drive, internal hard drive, USB drive, or any other memory storage device, the first tool you should try to fix it is CHKDSK. 

To access the CHKDSK system tool in Windows, follow the steps here: 

  • Open the command prompt by right-clicking and choosing “run as administrator.” 
  • Type this following command into the command prompt- X should be replaced by your RAW SD card’s drive letter. 
    • “chckdsk X: /f /r
  • Hit enter

The CHKDSK tool will then start doing its job. If it can successfully repair the RAW SD card issue, you have nothing further to do. All your files should be accessible now. However, if you get an error message, you have more work to do. Continue and format the SD card. 


 When your computer presents you with a “RAW” notification for an SD card or any type of external memory device, like a hard drive, do not format it! Formatting at this stage will completely erase your data, which will put you into a position of having to rely on costly data recovery services that may not even work. 

To properly format your SD card, if it is RAW, you should perform CHKDSK and backup the data on the card. If CHKDSK does not work, there is another option. You can use RAW data recovery software to get it fixed potentially. There are free and paid options available online.  

Remember to always routinely backup your data, so such problems do not occur in the future. To avoid RAW issues, make sure your information is saved correctly and fully before removing the device, shutting down, or going into standby mode.

Leave a Comment