How to Format a USB or SD Card on a Chromebook (Tutorial)

So, you need to format your USB or SD card on your Chromebook.

In this tutorial, we’ll cover:

  • How to format a USB or SD card on a Chromebook
  • Compatible cards that can be formatted on Chrome OS
  • Format USB to NTFS or FAT32
  • Partitioning hard drives
  • Formatting on Acer, HP, and other brands
  • What to do if your Chromebook won’t format or read your SD card
  • And general FAQs about physical drives

By the end of this guide, you’ll be a formatting ninja.

If you have any questions, ask me by posting a comment.

Sound good? Let’s format all the things!

How to format a USB on Chromebook

Format USB drive on Chrome OS meme.
I also like to live dangerously.

Formatting a USB drive on Chrome OS is easy. There’s no real formula to it.

All you’ll need is your Chromebook compatible SD card or flash drive and that’s pretty much it. (Seriously.)

Chrome OS has the option to format drives built-in.

Unlike many other tweaks and nuances where we need to mess around with Chrome to get it working with other programs (looking at you, Linux), formatting/reformatting a drive is super straightforward.

The “Files” app can do this for you. You don’t need to install any Chrome extensions, apps, or Linux. Hooray!

Here’s how to do it:

  • Plug in your USB or SD card.
  • Hit the Launcher button or press the Launcher key on your keyboard (it’s the magnifying glass where “CAPS LOCK” is on a traditional Windows keyboard).
  • Launch the Files app. You can find it on the list of apps, or search for it in the search bar.
  • Find the drive you want to format in the tree menu on the left.
  • Right-click on it (use two fingers) to open the secondary options.
  • Select “Format device” form the menu.

A prompt will pop up stating the following:

“Formatting the removable media is going to erase all data. Do you wish to continue?”

If you’ve ever formatted a drive before, you know this already. Reformatting drives will delete the contents.

So if you have something you want to save, click “Cancel” and drag-and-drop it to your Chromebook’s local storage for now.

Or if you have an empty drive or don’t care about saving the files, go ahead and click “OK.”

Your Chromebook will then format the drive.

This only takes a few seconds. You’ll see a notification pop up that tells you it’ll take a bit of time in the bottom-left. This time varies depending on the size of the USB or SD card, and how fast your Chromebook is.

A basic 16GB USB took less than a minute for me. But if you’re formatting a giant external hard drive, expect it to take some time.

Be patient and wait. You’ll get another toast notification when it’s done. Don’t remove the drive during the process or else you can corrupt it.

That’s it. Enjoy your newly reformatting drive!

How to format USB to NTFS on Chromebook

USB format NTFS on Chromebook.

NTFS is a Windows-based format.

You wouldn’t want to format NTFS on your Chromebook because it won’t be able to read it.

So there’s no reason to format a USB or SD card to NTFS using your Chromebook because it’s literally pointless for Chrome OS.

If you plan to use it on your Windows machine, you should format it on the Windows machine. Since Chrome OS has nothing to do with NTFS, there’s no built-in formatting option to change the file system.

If you want to use a USB shared between different devices, use FAT32 or exFAT.

And if you’re trying to install Windows, NTFS should format automatically on Windows by default through the Windows installer.

That’s the only real reason I can see why you’d want to switch to NTFS on Chrome OS. NTFS also doesn’t work on Macs.

The only way to get around it is to get Crouton/Linux. That’s the only possible way to do it on a Chromebook.

Otherwise, there’s no native NTFS formatting by default.

How to format USB to FAT32 on Chromebook

Chrome OS automatically formats to the FAT32 file system by default.

So that means after you format it once, it should already be in this format and there’s no additional steps required. FAT32 is a common format that’s widely recognized across multiple operating systems, devices, and equipment.

You can read and write to this format on another device and move the drive between multiple computers without having to reformat it again.

For example, if you have an SD card in your digital camera, you can snap pictures and save it to the card. Then you can use that same SD card in your Chromebook and it’ll read it as long as it’s formatted correctly.

Or you can save media to a USB drive on your Windows computer and then transfer it to your Chromebook using the same flash drive.

This allows you to easily move files between your Chromebook, Windows, Mac, smartphones, cameras, tablets, recording equipment, audio stations, etc.

The FAT32 is widely used and still “current” with technology. So formatting the drive to this format makes sense. This allows your Chromebook to recognize, read, and write to the drive so you can easily move the files or media around between all your devices.

There is a drawback though. This format will eventually fragment your data with continued usage. This means slower speeds as fragmentation means poor efficiency.

Here’s an example:

In layman’s terms, data fragmentation is akin to a librarian shoving books anywhere there’s space on the shelf- no order, organization, or numbering system.

Over time, the amount of books randomly scattered all over the shelves means the librarian will take longer to find (“read”) a specific book.

And they’ll spend more time looking for empty space on the shelf to fit a thick book (“write”).

A thicker book can’t fit in a thin space, right? So the librarian has to look for a wide enough space to place the book.

This is kind of how data fragmentation works.

Your Chromebook (or any other device) will literally just write data anywhere there’s space. This means when you save something on your drive, it just puts it randomly on the USB or SD card’s storage.

Over time, the data gets cluttered because it’s unorganized. Now imagine when you have thousands of pictures, files, videos, etc. Your device will spend more time “reading” to find the specific file you requested.

Because there’s no organization, this means you’ll sit there staring at a “find in progress” or “searching” screen.

If you’re using a small drive, such as 32 or 64GB, you should be fine even with a full drive.

But if you’re using some huge external hard drive, like a 1 or 2TB drive, expect to spend some time staring at your screen if it’s full of your files.

Chrome OS also doesn’t have any way to defragment a drive.

Defragmentation is basically organizing all the files on the drive in order so they’re easier to find, similar to how a library is organized by a shelf code or number.

However, even if your Chromebook can’t defrag, you can take it and defrag your drive on another computer that can. Windows and Mac both have built-in defragging tools.

You can run a disk defrag on there to keep your drive efficient and fast.

How to format an SD card on Acer or HP Chromebooks

Format SD card Acer HP Chromebook.
Yo dawg. I heard you like SD cards.

Whether you have an Acer, HP, Samsung, Haier, Dell, or any other brand, it doesn’t matter.

The process to format an SD card/USB drive is the same.

Plug in the drive (be sure it works with Chrome OS), launch the Files app, find the drive, right-click on it, and click “Format device.”

That’s all there is to it. If you run into errors, see the next section.

My Chromebook won’t format the SD card

If your device won’t format a USB or SD card, there could be multiple reasons.

The most common is that there’s some hidden partition on the card that’s preventing your Chromebook from reading or formatting it properly.

This is especially true if it’s a SanDisk or Kingston card. They have a history of not working well with Chromebook.

The fix is to use the Chromebook Recovery Utility and erase the drive. This will completely obliterate the SD card or thumb drive, making it possible to be reformatted.

My Chromebook isn’t reading the SD card

If your Chromebook won’t read an SD card or flash drive, there’s something wrong with the drive in 99% of cases.

This could be the wrong format, a corrupted drive, a damaged file, or even a file type or format that Chrome OS can’t read.

Your Chromebook has a limited number of file types it recognizes. It definitely read the majority of commonly used formats today.

But if you’re trying to execute some weird file format (like these), you may get an error because Chrome OS simply can’t read it!

You may have to install something like Linux and get a file reader if you want your system to read uncommon formats. Or you can try getting VLC, Plex, or Kodi if it’s media that you want to play.

You can also check out this post for common SD card errors and troubleshooting.

Just like the previous section, this could also be because of the brand. Do you have a Kingston or SanDisk card? Check out this tutorial on fixing formatting problems.

How to partition a Chromebook SD card

Partition SD card Chromebook.

You can partition your SD card using Developer Mode and gdisk tool.

This tool will let you separate your SD card into partitions, which is useful if you want to dedicate half of it for dual booting Linux (Debian, Crostini, Ubuntu, etc.).

You can allows you to erase, format, and create backup media for your Chromebook.

The steps are easy to follow.

The process in a nutshell:

  • Switch your Chromebook to Dev Mode.
  • Launch the command prompt by pressing “CTRL + ALT + T.”
  • Use “gdisk” to see your drives.
  • Insert the drive you want to partition.
  • Launch the utility.
  • Click on the options at the top right (cog wheel).
  • Choose to partition the SD card.

How to format the hard drive on a Chromebook

Drake USB meme.
He knows. (Via imgur.)

There’s no way to format your Chromebook’s hard drive using built-in programs.

You can only format flash drives, SD cards, or other physical storage. But not the SSD. Sorry.

You’ll have to get Linux and a disk partitioner to do this. Here’s a tutorial on that.

How do I use a SanDisk flash drive on a Chromebook?

SanDisk drives should work just like any other flash drives, in theory.

You just plug it into your Chromebook via the USB port. If you have both USB 2.0 (black port) and USB 3.0 (blue port), either one works.

USB 3.0 drives are backwards compatible with USB 2.0 drives, meaning it works in either port as long as it fits!

How to transfer files to your Chromebook from a USB

If you want to save your media to a USB or MicroSD card, the process is a cinch.

Here’s how to use it, step-by-step:

  • Turn on your Chromebook and sign in to your Google Account.
  • Plug in the USB drive. Your Chromebook will automatically detect it.
  • Press the Launcher key on your keyboard (magnifying glass) or click on the Launcher button in the bottom-left corner of the screen.
  • Search for the “Files” app and click on it. This is your file manager. You can copy, paste, delete, and transfer files between your peripherals here.
  • On the left of the Files window, you’ll see your flash drive show up.
  • Click on it and you’ll be able to view the flash drive contents. You can copy, paste, cut, delete, or drag-and-drop files to and from your USB and Chromebook.

That’s all there is to it! Easy, right?

How to transfer files to USB from your Chromebook

The same process works for adding files or media to your flash drive from your Chromebook.

You can transfer files to your USB drive by:

  • Find the file you want to put on the drive.
  • Right-click on it (touch the touchpad with two fingers) and choose “Copy” or “Cut” from the menu. Copy makes a copy. Cut deletes it from your Chromebook and copies it to a new location. Useful if you don’t need two copies.
  • Open the flash drive’s contents by clicking on it on the left-hand tree menu. You may see the name or brand of yoru drive, or you may see some generic drive name “GENERIC16” or something.
  • On the right, right-click into the empty space.
  • Select “Paste” to add your files to the drive.

Alternatively, you can just drag-and-drop the media/files you want to copy from your Chromebook directly into the flash drive. You can even drag it from your Chromebook’s Downloads folder onto the name of the drive on the left.

You can even automatically backup your files to Google Drive from your Chromebook.

(Want to protect your data? Find out how to safeguard your data from malware.)

That’s it. It’s easy to put something on a flash drive on a Chromebook.

How do I safely remove my flash drive from my Chromebook?

In the Files app, right-click on the name of the drive you want to safely eject and select “Eject” format the options menu.

You’ll get a notification that states it’s safe to remove the drive. That’s it! Check out this guide for a complete tutorial.

Did you format your drive on your Chromebook?

USB meme.
100% of the time. Every time.

That’s all, folks.

You should have everything you need to know about formatting all your physical media- USB drives, SD cards, and even hard drives on your Chromebook.

If you have any questions at all, just post a comment below and I’ll get back to you.

And if you found this page helpful, let me know also =]. Consider telling a fellow Chromie that you got some use out of it!

Thanks for reading!

About Andy Z.

Andy is a casual-hardcore Chrome OS fan and contributes to the site regularly. He likes computers, tech, sports cars, videogames, and of course, Chromebooks. Thinker. Introvert. Geek. You can find him on Twitter (@platytech), or send him an email (check the "Contact Us" page).

5 thoughts on “How to Format a USB or SD Card on a Chromebook (Tutorial)”

  1. hi my name is luke and i have a question is there any way you can get more storage devices for a chromebook

  2. FAT32 is an old and obsolete format used when Windows 95 was new. Do your readers a favor and tell them to format their micro sd cards with the exfat format, so they can save files bigger than 4 GB in size. FAT32 cannot do that!

  3. You make it sound like everything is just so fine with Chrome OS NOT BEING able to format an SD card to anything but FAT32. This is a really old file system, and it’s crap. It can’t handle a file more than 4 GB in size. Why Chromebooks can read NTFS formatted USB drives but not NTFS formatted SDCards is unclear to me, but it really limits what you can do with the sdcard. Another poor choice by the Chrome OS team.

  4. Thank you so much! This was super helpful. I’m trying to get the most out of Chromebook as I intend to use it for more than light browsing. So I’ve been thinking of expanding the storage via SD card (setting a preference for external storage).

    I’ve been trying to understand more on how SD cards work and how I needed to format a new SD card before using it long term in the PC. I think I get it now, but still do you think formating a newly purchased SDcard to FAT32 or xFAT would make it easier for the Chromebook to read and write directly there? What are some pros and cons and what might you suggest?

    Whatever formatting needs to be done, I plan to do it on a windows PC so that I can choose the format type.


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