Fixed: You Need to Format the Disk in Drive Before You Can Use It

Position: How Tos - Disk Utilities - Fixed: You Need to Format the Disk in Drive Before You Can Use It

The error "You need to format the disk in drive before you can use it. Do you want to format it?" usually occurs to external storage devices and it prevents you from accessing files on the drive. Do not be panic when encountering the error. This article will show you what to do when USB/external drive says it needs to be formatted as well as how to recover lost data from unformatted, RAW or inaccessible drives with original names in Windows 10/8/7.

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What does it mean when it says you need to format the disk?

"Hi All, I have a 2-year old 1TB WD external hard drive which stores my backups for my family photos and videos. It worked find until last night. I plugged it to my laptop and a message pops up saying 'You need to format the disk in drive G: before you can use it. Do you want to format it' and there is a button Format Disk on the message box. Why does my external hard drive say it needs to be formatted? Can anyone here teach any solution to get the error fixed? I do not want to click the Format Disk, for this drive keeps the only backup copy. Any help on how else to proceed would be sincerely appreciated!"

You need to format the disk in drive before you can use it

External storage devices are very useful when you need to transfer files between computers, for they provide large capacity and very portable. Whereas, these USB drives may also brings about troublesome, for example, USB drive says it needs to be formatted. After connecting an external hard drive to your PC, you cannot open in File Explorer and receive an error as in the picture above "You need to format the disk in drive G: before you can use it. Do you want to format it?" (Note that the drive letter might be different on your computer). If you open Disk Management, the file system of the not formatting drive will be RAW instead of NTFS, FAT, etc.

Since the drive is no longer accessible, the direct consequence is data loss. Moreover, such issue may happen to anyone of us who uses hard drive, external hard disk, USB flash drive, pen drive, memory card and so on. You can see two buttons on the pop-up window: Format disk and Cancel. Which option should be chosen? Apparently, nobody wants to format the drive if data of the disk is of great important. In general, formatting will cause further damage to lost data. The correct action is closing the dialog box instead of formatting disk. In this page below, you can find a clear instruction on how to retrieve data when drive needs to be formatted and how to fix this error easily.

Why do I need to format the disk?

Before proceeding with solutions, we need to take a little time to view what are causing the error. In this way, we can better protect disk against similar issues. The following lists reasons that Windows may prompt the disk needs to be formatted.

File system corruption: When file system of a partition gets damaged or corrupted, such as RAW drive, the partition won't be readable by Windows. Generally, a corrupted file system can be fixed by formatting, thus Windows pops up a message box asking to format the disk before using it. File system may get corrupted due to sudden power outage during transferring data, force unplugging external disk from PC without using Safely Remove function, virus, etc.

Bad sectors: Disk bad sectors can lead to various data loss issue, and an inaccessible partition is one of the common results.

Unsupported file system: The error prompts if file system of the partition in question is not supported by Windows, such as EXT2, EXT3 and EXT4 partitions. Note: If you want to access Linux EXT4/3/2 partitions in Windows, you can refer to the guide: How to access ext4 partition in Windows 10/8/7?

How do you fix error you need to format the disk in drive before you can use it?

Disclaimer: Some methods talked about here may cause data loss, please make sure you keep a backup copy of files of the drive in question or you've successfully recovered lost data from the unformatted drive.

Solution #1: Try a different USB port

Sometimes the blame of the error is USB port, cable, or computer, thus you can have a try of following:

  • Plug the external drive to a different USB port, and you can try all available USB ports of your PC. Then check if the error is gone.
  • Plug the external drive to another computer and check if it is accessible.
  • Plug the drive under different OS, such as MAC, Linux, etc. to see if it can be opened.

If the error starts to appear after changing a new HDD enclosure, there might be incompatibility issue and you can try another enclosure or connect the drive directly to motherboard.

Solution #2: Check and repair bad sectors for the drive

The unformatted drive might be caused by bad sectors, for example, the disk space where file system is located consists of bad sectors. As a result, file system gets corrupted and cannot be recognized by Windows operating system. If so, it is necessary to have a check if the disk has bad sectors. DiskGenius Free Edition provides the function of checking and repairing bad sectors, and here is how to do that:

Step 1. Install and launch DiskGenius Free Edition on your computer. Choose the corrupted disk in the software and click "Tool" – "Verify Or Repair Bad Sectors".

You need to format the disk in drive before you can use it

Step 2. Click "Start Verify" button and the software starts to scan the disk and check if there are bad sectors. Wait for the process to complete.

You need to format the disk in drive before you can use it

Solution #3: Use antivirus software to scan the drive

There is possibility that the unformatted drive is caused by virus or malware, thus it might work to scan the drive with a reliable antivirus program. Install an antivirus program on your computer and make sure it is the up-to-date version and enabled since Windows boots up.

The drive may turn to accessible if any virus is detected and removed. If this does not work, you may have to try the formatting.

Solution #4: Format the drive

Now that the first 3 solutions do not work on your disk, you may have to proceed with the formatting process. Here is a quick guide to format partition:

Step 1. Right-click on Start menu and choose Disk Management.

Step 2. In Disk Management, right-click in the drive to be formatted and choose Format option, as follows:

You need to format the disk in drive before you can use it

Step 3. Choose file system that suits your drive and click OK button.

If Windows was unable to complete the format, the drive may contain bad sectors. In such situation, you can use DiskGenius to check and repair bad sectors.

How to recover data when USB drive says it needs to be formatted?

Attention: Do not format the drive before recovering data! There might be multiple ways to repair this unformatted error, but most of them will end up with data loss. Following suggestions of Windows to format the drive will enable you to access the drive again. However, after formatting, all files on the drive will be removed. Moreover, formatting disk will make RAW drive data recovery more difficult, for the process recreates file system and overwrites current one. Hence, the secure method is to recover lost data in the first place: keep the RAW drive intact and recover data with partition recovery software.

Here we recommend you a reliable hard drive recovery program – DiskGenius. This recovery software enables users to handle various data loss situations effectively, such as RAW drive recovery, recover formatted partition, restore lost partitions, recover deleted files/videos/photos, retrieve lost data from virtual disk, RAID data recovery, etc. It is equipped with specialized algorithms to search for lost data when my external/USB hard drive says it needs to be formatted. If you are experienced in RAW drive recovery, you can also try the built-in hex editor to recover data in situ drive.

DiskGenius tech specification

  • Supported file types: documents, graphic, pictures, video, audio, email, archive and so on.
  • Supported devices: internal hard drive, external hard drive, flash drive, memory card, pen drive, memory stick, CF card, SSD, digital camera, camcorder, RAID, etc.
  • Supported file system: FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, exFAT, NTFS, NTFS5, EXT2, EXT3 and EXT4.
  • Supported OS: Windows 10/8.1/8/7/Vista/XP, and Windows Server 2019/2016/2012/2008/2003, both 32 bit and 64 bit.

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Below is the step-by-step guide to recover lost data from not formatted partition:

Step 1. Install and launch DiskGenius from your computer.

Plug the inaccessible drive to computer and you can view it in DiskGenius. Select the unformatted drive and click Files tab on the right pane and check if lost files can be listed here. In some cases, DiskGenius is capable of showing lost files of RAW drive directly after the software is launched. If so, you can simply copy files to a working drive and complete the recover; if not, proceed with next step.

You need to format the disk in drive before you can use it

Step 2. Load partition intelligently.

Choose the drive that you need to format, and click Tools > Load Current Partition Intelligently, as below. If the "You need to format the disk in drive before using it" error is caused by a common file system corruption and the drive was NTFS when it was working, files and folders will be listed with original names by this function.

You need to format the disk in drive before you can use it

After files are listed, you can preview files and save them to an secure location: choose data and right-click to select Copy To. If you have no luck on this function either, then move to Step 3.

You need to format the disk in drive before you can use it

Step 3. Use File Recovery function.

Choose the partition that says needs to be formatted and click File Recovery button, as picture below:

You need to format the disk in drive before you can use it

Click Start button to let the software run a complete and deep scan and look for recoverable data.

You need to format the disk in drive before you can use it

Preview files found by scanning process and check recovery quality: double-click a file to open it on a pop-up window and check if the file is damaged or not.

You need to format the disk in drive before you can use it

Save and recover lost data. Choose files and folders you want to recover and save them to a different location.

You need to format the disk in drive before you can use it

FAQs on recovering data from unformatted partition:

1. Is there a way to know if I will have all files recovered correctly before final recovery?

When recovering lost data with DiskGenius, you can easily verify recovery result via file preview which is available during or after scanning. You can preview displayed files (double-click a file to open it) to see if needed files are found and check if files are damaged. Thus, you can easily make sure if your files can be recovered correctly before purchase.

2. Can DiskGenius repair corrupted files?

No. DiskGenius recovers lost data in a read-only manner, which does not change anything on lost data, such as repair, modify or damage files. If your files had been corrupted before recovery because of file overwriting, they will remain damaged after recovery; if your files are damaged instead of loss, DiskGenius may not be helpful in your case.

3. Does the unformatted partition recovery process repair the error?

No. The partition recovery process is read-only, and it won't repair partition errors. You can try solutions provided below to get unformatted drive fixed.


In this page, we discussed what to so when USB or external drive says it needs to be formatted. It is worth to note that before unplugging a removable disk, we should always click Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media icon, which can avoid similar error most of times. Also, it is recommended that data recovery should be performed prior to formatting the disk or running disk checking. It is a nice move to download DiskGenius on your computer to recover lost data, fix disk issues, or backup data. If you have any doubts, questions or suggestions regarding this guide, please do not hesitate to contact us.


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