Format a USB or SD Card on a 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? It’s a question I often see Chromebook owners ask.

“Yes,” is the answer — so I grabbed the nearest SD card in need of wiping to help me create this simple guide for you to follow.

How to Format a 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.

Formatting options are available directly in the Chrome OS File Manager, meaning no extra apps, add-ons or actions are needed.

First things first, plug your SD Card or USB drive into an available USB port on your Chromebook.

Next, open up the Files app (the blue circle with a white folder icon). In the sidebar you’ll see a list of folders, drivers a locations. Find your device (if you have more than one connected do make sure that it’s the correct one before proceeding).

Right-click (two finger tap on a touchpad) on the drive you wish to format and select the Format device option from the menu:-

format sd card chromebook

Chrome OS will ask you to confirm that you wish to format the removable media drive. To proceed click ‘OK’:-

format warning in chromeOS

Chrome OS will then do its thing!

Chrome OS format notification

Formatting on a 2GB USB drive happened in pretty much no time at all, but do be patient if you’re formatting something larger, such as an external USB drive.

When the SD card or USB format is complete Chrome OS will show a small notification in the lower right hand corner to let you know!

Details on Chrome OS formatting

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.

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