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How To Format an SD Card or USB Drive on a Chromebook

format sd card chromebook

Sometimes SD cards and USB thumb drives play up, get full or just otherwise require a quick once over to get them back in shipshape. 

But can you format a USB drive or memory card on a Chromebook? That’s a question I often see Chromebook owners ask. Having never tried  myself, I wasn’t entirely sure if it could. So I grabbed a USB drive in need of wiping (it had been used to try out a Linux live CD) to investigate.

How to Wipe USB or SD Card in Chrome OS

Armed with my thumb-sized peripheral I booted up my Chromebook, connected my dongle and expected to have to dive into the Chrome Shell (a command line prompt) to achieve what was needed. But…Chrome OS, I shouldn’t have doubted you.

A formatting option is available directly from the File Manager; no extra apps, add-ons or actions needed.

First, plug your SD Card or USB drive into a USB port on your Chromebook.

Next, open up the Files app (the blue folder icon). In the navigation sidebar find your device (if you have more than one connected make sure that it’s the correct one before proceeding).

Right-click on the drive you wish to format and select the ‘Format Device‘ option from the menu.

format sd card chromebook

Chrome OS will prompt you to confirm that you wish to format. To proceed click ‘OK’.
format sd card chromebook 2

The OS will then do its thing. Formatting on a 2GB USB drive happened in no time at all, but be patient if formatting something larger, such as an external USB drive.

When formatting has completed you will see a small toast appear in the lower right hand corner.

format sd card chromebook 3


Devices are formatted to a FAT32 file system. This is perhaps the most versatile and widely supported, with read and write support through most operating systems and devices (such as smartphones and digital cameras).

But one of the biggest downsides to FAT is fragmentation that may occur over time. While this won’t be a big deal for your flash drive, traditional hard disk drives (such as many portable USB external hard drives) that have physical moving parts can be greatly affected by fragmentation, meaning read and write speeds can start looking rather paltry as time goes on. While Chrome OS lacks any “defragging” tools for your external drives, reformatting every so often can, in theory, help improve read and write times if one of your hard disk drives is underperforming.

  • Roland

    I like to format all my large Thumb Drives, my Hdd’s & SD Card in NTFS since Chrom OS can Read and Write to NTFS it’s more convenient than using FAT 32.

    • Based on experience, I would highly recommend AGAINST formatting any USB flash drive with NTFS. The extra security of NTFS can also be its biggest weakness. When something goes wrong with your USB drive, NTFS can lock it up PERMANENTLY which cannot be fixed even by reformatting or trying to change the MBR.

      • Roland

        I’ve been using NTFS on Thumb Drives for years and never had any problems. I never trust Thumb Drives or SD Cards if they’re super cheap as I’ve had a couple of 32GB Micro SD Cards from eBAy that were really cheap and weren’t 32GB as advertised. I tend to go for Sandisk Thumb Drives even though I’ve got a 32GB Kingston Micro SD Card in my Samsung Galaxy SIII Mini and I’m awaiting the delivery of a Samsung 32GB SD Card for my Chromebook.

  • Tim Lund

    How about burning a Linux distro to USB?

  • John

    The format of a SD Card is not the problem. I don’t like that you can’t change the name after formating the device.

    • sensorsweep

      yeah, it’s really quite frustrating.. i currently have 2 ‘UNTITLED’s connected backing up some files.. i hope i can keep track.

    • Brian Huffman

      Yes, I can’t stand that the Google Developers didn’t finish the job on this one.

  • IanG

    There doesn’t seem to be any possibility of clearing partitions that may be on the card. So if you are trying to restore a card with 2 or more partitions back to a single partition, it’s back to a different OS to do the job. Pity.

  • rockiesmagicnumber

    I have a 32GB MicroSD in an adapter in my HP 14 chromebook, and every time I try to format the card I get the “Oh Snap” message which kind of stinks. Any idea what I’m doing wrong here?

    • Sebastiaan Franken

      Which USB port are you using? The 3 or the 2? (the 3 is the blue one). Try the USB 2 (the gray/black one), for some reason the 3.0 port does the same for me.

      • rockiesmagicnumber

        Ah, see, it’s a microSD in an SD adapter in the SD card slot rather than a USB slot.

  • belen

    I don’t have the “format device” option. Would that be because it’s no compatible format? Should I format FAT32 first to be able to format my external devices?

  • Vin

    I have one simple question: I am about to buy my first Chromebook, but have USB flash drives formatted for a PC. I do use Google Drive though. However, I still have a few USB sticks. I want to know: Day 1 with my new Chromebook. I stick in my 8 GB USB 2.0 stick. What happens? Can my Chromebook access the files? Will I be able to get files off the stick and into Google Drive and/or on my ChromeBook’s internal flash drive? For instance, my résumé is on my stick in a DOC or DOCX file. I want to edit it in Chromebook using Goodle Docs. Same with the XLSX files also on my stick? Can I leave the files on the stick and edit them?
    Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mind formatting a new stick exclusively for Chrome. I just want to know about using my old stick on a Chromebook like I used it on a PC (other than any application limitations of course).
    Thanks for any feedback!
    Vin :)

  • Frank Szuch

    I have a SanDisk Cruzer Glide that I initially used as a ChromeBook OS recovery USB. I subsequently used the ChromeBook OS Recovery Tool to erase/reformat the USB to use as a regular storage device, but now only a ChromeBook can access it. A Windows PC will recognize it as a storage device (in Devices and Printers), but it will not show up in File Explorer, thus I can not access it.

    • ISSUE: I have a 32GB microSDHC UHS-1 (48MB/s) Samsung EVO in an SD adapter formatted on my Original GOOGLE CR-48 AND I had the same issue with my Wifey’s Dell Latitude running Win 8.1 File Explorer NOT recognizing it.

      Work Around: copy files from external device to a folder on local machine
      1. Rebooted her Dell,
      2. Opened File Explorer,
      3. Inserted SD adapter with microSDHC inside.
      4. Double clicked on device in File Explorer
      5. Went and made a fresh pot of coffee (20 mins, I had to grind the beans),
      6. Hit CNTL+A (Select All) and then CNTL+C (Copy),
      7. Choose a local directory on her hard drive and hit CNTL+V (Paste)
      8. When COPY completes SHUTDOWN Windows box (this avoids a ton of frustration).
      9. Repeated with various USB’s, SD;s, micro SD’s, etc.
      10. Repeat procedure to COPY file from Windows to external device.
      11. DO NOT MOVE A FILE (Copy it, verify integrity, THEN Delete it).

      Hope this helps,

  • Dan

    Hi, I’m wondering what happen when I connect a 4 TB external hd? From what you write Chrome OS should format it with Fat32… but as everybody as I remember Fat32 limit is 2 TB, right? Thanks for suggestions, and please if possible it could be worth updating a very useful article

  • Terry Doyle

    I have two WD My Passport HD’s. Neither shows up in the Chromebook Files ap. They are fine on the Windows 7 laptop – so I’d like format one to Chrome OS. Tough when the OS won’t recognize the drive, though. Ideally I’d like to port files back and forth on the drive between Chromebook and Windows 7.

    What do I do?

  • Dolphin Aquamarine

    I want to know. Is it possible to rename a portable SD card?

  • Is possible to format usb pen drive with more than 1 partition? (i use this pen drive to try linux distros)

  • rashad sims

    hey question i’m thinking abourt ordering a sandisk cruzer fit to fix my chromebook will this work?

    • David Garrison

      I just bought a 16gb cruzer…working fine!

    • Deminox

      depends on if your chromebook has a microsd card port, or a full sd card port. but either way, YES. I believe chromeos can see any storage size.

  • Balazs

    Hey, may question is, how can i format an sd card to ntfs on chromebook?

    • Psst

      You can’t

  • hzd

    still can’t format my sd card to show 32gbs in chrome, formatting it in windows just causes it to show 28 mb in one partition and 27 in the other

  • Darth Digital

    >> Chrome OS lacks any “defragging” tools for your external drives
    Sadly, this is yet another of the many annoying issues that *still* prevent me from finally dumping Microsoft. Plus, FAT32 is inferior to NTFS or /ext3 or 4. The file allocation table gets hosed easily, too, and I’m certain Chrome OS has no utilities to deal with that problem, either.

    I have bazillions of documents, videos, pictures and music files, but to upload all of those to Google Drive is simply untenable. I can’t do it, and it would cost some sizeable coin to buy that much online storage from Google anyhow. In short, I *need* regular access to my stuff from an external drive for now.

    Google, you’ve got to move into the 21st century and update Google Apps and Drive, and the Web Store offerings, to compete successfully with Microsoft and Apple. And where are all the packaged apps? I’m still waiting for a decent video editor that can be installed locally on my Chromebox. (Sorry, but even the highest-rated Web-based app just isn’t going to work–it’s too slow and clunky.)

    I don’t want to see Google lose the initiative. I think Chrome OS is the way to go, but only if Google stops treating it like a hobby. I just don’t feel as though there is enough commitment to the platform from Google.

    • Deminox

      Really? Defragging is what is preventing you from changing to a different OS?
      Linux based distros dont NEED to defrag. The way the file structure works it’s a non-issue. Find me one person who has ever NEEDED to defrag their Fedora, Ubuntu, Kali, OpenSuse, Mint, Mandriva, Puppy, ChromeOs.

      yes, there are other issues, such as the lack of viable apps. But a chromebook is not meant to be a powerhouse. It’s meant to be a super light cloud based computer for all your daily needs.

      If you want to be a power user, or just want a more intense OS with better tools and programs, and want to step away from MS and Apple, pick a linux distro. Plenty of full open source software. Blender for 3d animation, GiMP for phot editing, Inkscape for Vectors, LibreOffice for word/excel/powerpoint/publisher. Calibre for making ebooks.

      With a Pixel you could probably run most of those in Crouton sideloaded into the chromebook. Best of both worlds. But who’s going to spend 1k on a chromebook.

  • Deminox

    Only tool I want is a partition manager. Hate going through terminal to identify the drives and re partitioning them. Split my microSD into two partitions, was going to boot Kali from it, found out Kali and Ubuntu both work great in Crouton.

  • David Shaheen

    A related question…how can I find out how much remaining space I have on a USB thumb drive that is connected to my Chromebook? I do not see any stats listed anywhere. Thanks.

    • Tino Soto

      click on the three dots on the upper right hand corner of the file app when your thumb drive is connected.

      • David Shaheen

        Thanks Tino!

  • Brennen Brown

    I need to change my USB to a FAT32 please help

    • Brennen Brown

      On a chromebook

    • Jelliot Rainsford

      The article itself says the ChromeOS ‘format device’ formats it to FAT32 anyway.

  • ★xo DaMaGe★

    i have an acer chromebook 11 (CB3-131) and i bought a sandisk usb flash drive for but when i tried to access the flash drive it said it wasnt compatible with chrome OS. Does anyone know what kind of flash drive i need for it. pleases respond

    • Tyler Durden

      i have the same chromebook and the same exact problem. i just recently got this thing as a way to avoid buying another product with Windows OS but apparently the Chrome OS still has plenty of flaws…i have a feeling this thing is going to end up being an expensive freaking paperweight.

    • southafricanamerican

      Sandisk is the worst flash drive – mine gave me trouble in windows, Linux and Chrome. I bought a Samsung flash drive and it worked immediately.

  • johno

    I ma using a sandisk 32gb usb to reset chrome os on my hp notebook all goes ok until it gets to the write section then nothing happens

  • baser5nature

    just a tip… I had an 8gb sd card that was left with two partitions, a small one for boot and another for an OS from a previous “project”… I used the Chrome OS recovery tool to create recovery media on the card, then again used the tool to erase the card. This left the card with a single partition ready to format.

  • Psst

    If you have an actual hard drive attached to your Chromebox for storing media,
    the primary benefit would be from rewriting the files. This would counteract the very slow magnetic degradation of stored files, which if created by Chrome on Linux arent fragmented unless the disc is nearly out of space or you have a large amount of of file churn.