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

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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’.
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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.