It’s been a while since you’ve used an SD card, and you’re pretty sure you had a bunch of photos and videos – or other precious files – in it. However, it now looks empty, and its former contents are presented as raw unusable space.

How could this happen? Are your files forever gone? Can you fix a corrupted SD card showing up as raw? Well, read on – here be answers!

Why do Memory Cards Become raw?

There are many types of storage devices, from the extinct floppy disks to optical media and from hard disk drives to SD cards. What they all have in common is that they’d all be useless without a file system.

File systems are the software elements that provide structure to the data placed in a storage device and the basic systems that allow its management.

It’s easier if you think of them as the equivalent of the various languages around the globe. Just like people who share the same language can understand each other, devices compatible with the same file systems can read and write on the same storage devices.

raw sd card recovery

Knowing the above is paramount for understanding why storage devices appear as raw: no file system can be detected on them. So, the short version is that the term “raw” roughly translates to “absence of (supported) file system“.

How to Recover Files from a RAW SD Card

Before attempting any recovery, it’s worth keeping in mind the following significant “don’ts”:

  • Don’t try “fixing” your card before recovering your files.
  • Don’t keep using your SD card, and especially writing files to it.
  • Don’t accept any suggestions “to fix it automatically” by any of your devices.

With that out of the way, let’s recover some files!

Recover Your Files from a Raw SD Card with Recovery Software

No matter how many popular data recovery applications we’ve used, we find ourselves returning to CleverFiles’ Disk Drill. It’s simple, quick, and what’s most important, produces results. What more could you ask?

  1. Start by downloading Disk Drill from its official site.

    recover raw files from sd card

  2. Install Disk Drill like any other app on your computer. Then, run it, and grant it authorization when it asks for access to your storage devices.

    how to recover raw files from sd card with data recovery software

  3. Choose your raw SD card from Disk Drill’s Device/Disk list. Note that you might see your card reader listed instead of the actual raw SD card.

    Choose your SD Card from Disk Drill's Device list.

  4. Click on Search for lost data at the bottom right of the window to have Disk Drill scan your raw SD card for lost data.

    how to fix corrupted sd card raw

  5. Soon after that initial scan, Disk Drill will start presenting the fruits of its labor. You can check them before the scan completes by clicking Review found items on the top right.

    raw sd card recovery for free

  6. Place a checkmark on the left of the files you’d like to recover.

    Place a checkmark before the files you want to recover.

  7. When ready, click on Recover on the bottom left. Then, choose a destination for the recovered data. Finally, click on OK to start the recovery process.

    You can save the recovered files wherever you wish.

  8. When Disk Drill completes its recovery, it will offer to Show recovered data in Explorer. Select it to, as it states, check out Disk Drill’s results with File Explorer.

    Show recovered data in Explorer

Turn to the Experts for Raw SD Card Recovery

Weren’t your attempts at recovery fruitful? Are you afraid of causing further damage to your already raw SD card? Then, it’s time to turn to expert recovery services.

The problem with such recovery services is that they come with a cost. Advanced data recovery demands specialized equipment, know-how, and time. It’s not something Joey The Local Tech-Guru is equipped (or really knows how) to accomplish.

For such tasks, we prefer the same people behind Disk Drill, CleverFiles. Our reasoning is simple: they offer the same services at the same quality as their best competitors but at prices closer to what you’d expect from Joey.

To learn more, pay a visit to their site and click on the friendly blue button to immediately Start Recovery.

Fix a Raw SD Card With CHKDSK without Formatting

Sometimes it’s possible to perform an in-place fix of your raw SD card and have your files immediately accessible right after. You can do that with CHKDSK, included with Windows 10. However, before you try fixing your raw SD card with it, you should know about some of its limitations:

  • Never use CHKDSK with incompatible filesystems.
  • CHKDSK doesn’t act on storage devices, but on their volumes. If a storage device appears as unpartitioned space, CHKDSK can’t help.
  • Never interrupt CHKDSK while it works on a device.

Still, if you’re dealing with a formerly accessible but now corrupted filesystem on an SD card, CHKDSK is worth a try.

  1. Press Windows Key + X to access Windows 10’s quick menu of administrative tools, and choose Windows PowerShell (Admin).

    repair raw sd card using cmd

  2. Type chkdsk /r LETTER_OF_YOUR_SD_CARD and press Enter to have CHKDSK scan and (try to) repair any problems it finds. As an example, if your SD card is drive F on your computer, the command should be: chkdsk /r F:

    chkdsk is not available for raw drives sd card

That’s all you’ll have to do, for despite being a command line and powerful tool, CHKDSK is also mind-bogglingly easy to use.

How to Format a Raw SD Card

If you already recovered your files from your raw SD card, or don’t care about them, maybe you can keep using it by formatting it.

Let’s see the three most popular ways to do it on Windows 10.

Format Raw SD Card with DiskPart

Created for managing storage devices and their partitions, DISKPART is optimal for formatting them to all file systems supported by Windows:

  • FAT
  • FAT32
  • EXFAT
  • NTFS

Follow the next steps to erase everything in your SD card with DISKPART and start anew.

  1. Press Windows Key + X and run Windows PowerShell (Admin).

    repair raw sd card using cmd

  2. Type diskpart and press Enter to run the tool.

    Format Raw SD Card with DiskPart

  3. Type list disk to see a list of all storage devices DISKPART recognizes.

    Format Raw SD Card with cmd

  4. Choose the device whose size (and possibly status) matches your raw SD card using the command select disk NUMBER_OF_YOUR_DEVICE. Remember to use the number of your SD card.

    select disk NUMBER_OF_YOUR_DEVICE

  5. You can also check the volumes on your device with list volume. When absolutely sure, erase everything from your raw SD card with: clean.

    DISKPART clean

  6. Create a new partition with the command: create partition primary. You can split your SD card into multiple partitions, but for simplicity’s sake, we’re skipping such complex scenarios.

    create partition primary

  7. Check out your new partition with the command: list partition.

    list partition

  8. If you want your SD card to be bootable from this partition (like Raspberry Pi fans), also mark it as active with: active.

    For a partition to be bootable, you also have to use the command active on it.

  9. Finally, for the actual formatting, use: format fs=FILE_SYSTEM label=NAME_OF_YOUR_SD_CARD. Replace FILE_SYSTEM with any of the aforementioned Windows-supported file systems. The most popular one for SD cards remains FAT32. You can also add a quick at the end of the command to perform a quick format. However, since we’re dealing with a possibly damaged SD card, it’s best to go with a full format.

    To format the partition on your SD card with DISKPART use the command format fs=filesystem label=name_of_storage_device

Un-Raw SD Card with Disk Management

If you prefer using your mouse instead of typing commands, you can use the Disk Management app to format your currently-raw SD card.

  1. Press Windows Key + X to access Windows 10’s quick menu of administrative tools. This time choose Disk Management instead of Windows PowerShell.

    Un-Raw SD Card with Disk Management

  2. Right-click on your SD card (don’t mind it being recognized as “a disk”) and choose New Simple Volume.

    format raw sd card

  3. Disk Management will show you a straightforward wizard with a series of steps. First, you’ll have to state how much space to allocate to the created volume. If you don’t need multiple partitions, we suggest using the max value for a single, large volume.

    fix raw sd card

  4. Proceed by choosing the letter you’d like to assign to your SD card.

    choosing the letter you'd like to assign to your SD card

  5. The last step is choosing the file system, allocation unit size, a volume label, and if you want to perform a quick or full format.
    • File system: for most uses, you’ll probably want to go for FAT32. Is your SD card’s capacity too large for FAT32? Go for ExFAT for cameras and smartphones, NTFS for modern computers.
    • Allocation unit size: it’s usually best to keep the default value.
    • Use whatever volume label you wish – it’s the name you’ll see next to the device’s letter.
    • We suggest you disable quick format and go for a full format. A full format can help detect possible physical problems on a storage device, which might be the reason your SD card became raw in the first place.

    choosing the file system

  6. In the final step of the wizard, check that everything’s set up as you wish. Then, click on next to start the formatting process. Soon you’ll be back at Disk Management’s main interface, but this time your SD card will (hopefully) be formatted and accessible.

    micro sd card showing raw file system

Quick-and-Easy Raw SD Card Format With File Explorer

We left the File Explorer approach for last because many users manage to format the wrong device this way. However, if you don’t misidentify your devices and double-check what you’re doing, it’s the quickest and easiest solution.

  1. Run File Explorer – the quickest way is with the Windows Key + E shortcut. Choose “This PC” from the menu on the left, and turn your attention to the Devices and drives section. Among them, you’ll find your SD card. In our case, thanks to our card reader, it appeared as a USB drive. Right-click on it and choose Format…

    Quick-and-Easy Raw SD Card Format With File Explorer

  2. Alternatively, if you try to access an inaccessible storage device, File Explorer will nudge you to format it before you can use it.

    File Explorer prompts to format any drive

  3. Both options lead to the same dialog, a new floating window, where you can set the formatting process parameters. We won’t go over them again since they’re the same as what we saw with Disk Management. Set them up as you wish and click on Start to begin the formatting process.

    Setting up the format's parameters

  4. Acknowledge that all data will be erased on your SD card. Double-check that you’re acting on the correct storage device and click OK to start formatting your raw SD card.

    Final format warning about potential loss of data

  5. Soon after, you’ll see a new window pop-up informing you that the format’s complete. Click on OK, and when you return to File Explorer, you’ll have your SD card back.

    Format completed with File Explorer

It’s Better to Get a New One!

Did you already get your files out of a raw SD card, or you don’t care about them? Then, maybe it’s not worth wasting your time trying to bring it back from the dead.

SD cards are ultra-affordable today and cost less than what most people earn in the same time they’d spend trying to fix one.

Thus, for the non-tinkerers among us, it’s easier to buy a new SD card instead. As a bonus, thanks to better memory chips, it will also probably have better performance than your current one.

Top 5 RAW SD Card Recovery Software for Mac and Windows

We saw how you can use Disk Drill to recover lost data from a RAW SD card. However, it’s not the only piece of software that can pull off this feat. Let’s see what many regard as the top five data recovery solutions and their pros and cons.

1. Disk Drill RAW SD Card Recovery Software

Disk Drill interface

There’s a reason we usually prefer Disk Drill compared to the alternatives: it offers a perfect mix of features, usability, and an enticing price.

During our testing, other data recovery solutions managed to reach the finish line before Disk Drill. However, we can afford to wait a bit more if that’s the price for a very accessible but powerful interface and extra thorough results.

✅ Features

  • Supports over 200+ file formats.
  • Supports most storage devices.
  • Comes with useful extra tools.

👍 Pros:

  • Extensive search process.
  • Straightforward interface.
  • Can locate more lost files than alternatives.
  • Affordable.

👎 Cons:

  • Scan may take longer than alternatives (depends on device scanned).

2. Easeus Data Recovery Wizard

EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard interface

EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard’s interface looks simplistic in direct comparison to other data recovery solutions. That’s largely thanks to the program being smart enough to automatically “fix” corrupted image and video files during recovery without needing user intervention.

EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard looks simple because it is. It doesn’t come with extra features or tools. It does one thing, and it’s admittedly good at it. It’s a case of “you get what you pay for” – even if others offer more for the same price nowadays.

✅ Features

  • Can recover data from deleted files or partitions.
  • Supports more than 1000 file types.
  • Can repair corrupted photos and videos.

👍 Pros:

  • Straightforward interface.
  • Speedy.

👎 Cons:

  • Trial version only works as a demo.
  • No advanced features.
  • No extra tools.

3. Wondershare Recoverit

RecoverIt interface

Recoverit is quite zippy and located all of the files in the data bundle we use for testing. Still, we couldn’t get a single file back because the trial version works strictly as a demo. Yes, there’s a free version, but its 100 MB data cap renders it almost useless.

It’s also worth noting that other apps managed to locate more files. To be clear, Recoverit did locate all the files we expected. However, other tools found even more.

✅ Features

  • Supports over 1000 file formats.
  • Compatible with almost all storage devices.
  • Can try to fix lost and corrupted video files.

👍 Pros:

  • One of the fastest data recovery solutions.
  • Specializes in recovering corrupted media.

👎 Cons:

  • Trial version is only functional as a demo.
  • May locate less lost data than other data recovery solutions.

4. R-Studio

R-Studio interface

R-Studio proudly presents one of the most complicated interfaces among all data recovery solutions. However, that’s warranted because, in its case, everything’s about accuracy and control.

During our testing, R-Studio was one of the quickest solutions of its kind. It also located everything in our data recovery suite that we had intentionally rendered inaccessible.

As for the actual recovery, we can’t fully vouch for R-Studio, for it works only as a demo.

Like its peers, R-Studio has a “free” sibling, R-Undelete, which did manage to recover all the files in our test suite. They’re vastly different apps, though. R-Undelete is missing most of the advanced functionality of its big brother, trading control for ease of use.

✅ Features

  • Supports most major file systems.
  • Can recover data from RAW devices.
  • Comes with extra functionality (backups, S.M.A.R.T. monitoring).

👍 Pros:

  • Offers control over every aspect of the recovery process.
  • Very quick, thorough, and accurate.

👎 Cons:

  • Complicated interface.
  • Located less data than alternative solutions.

5. MiniTool Power Data Recovery Free Edition

MiniTool Power Data Recovery interface

MiniTool’s Power Data Recovery is another tool that proves appearances can be deceiving. A powerful data recovery engine hides behind its spartan interface.

During our testing, MiniTool Power Data Recovery brought back from the brink almost all files from our recovery testing bundle – 32 out of 33. That last file wasn’t recovered because we exceeded the free version’s 1GB data cap.

The detection and recovery process wasn’t the quickest among its peers. Still, we believe its straightforward interface, detection chops, and affordable (long-term) plans make up for that.

✅ Features

  • Supports over 100 file types.
  • Can preview up to 70 different types of files.

👍 Pros:

  • Clean and straightforward interface.
  • Thorough results.
  • Affordable (long-term plans).

👎 Cons:

  • Slower than alternatives.
  • Zero extra features.

How Can You Prevent SD Cards from Becoming Raw?

If a brand new storage device didn’t come preformatted, it will show up as raw. However, the ones you’re already using can also “become raw”, if:

  • A writing process is interrupted (by abruptly pulling out an SD card while in use, an unexpected device shutdown, etc.).
  • The storage volumes on your SD card are deleted.
  • There are physical defects (the SD card was bent, chipped, its memory is failing, etc.).

By knowing what to avoid, you can drastically decrease the chances of having to deal with a raw SD card in the future.

Conclusion

As we saw, raw SD card recovery is more than possible, and in all but the worst-case scenarios, you can format a raw SD card and keep using it.

Did you insert your until recently perfectly working SD card in a device, but now it appears raw? Instead of throwing it away and wearing black to mourn for your lost files, try to recover them with a tool like Disk Drill. Then, fix your SD card with CHKDSK, or format it and use it as if it were a new one.

It’s highly probable that in less than one hour, you’ll both have your files back and an SD card working as new.

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Odysseas Kourafalos

Odysseas Kourafalos has been writing about computers and technology for over two decades. He specializes in software and has produced thousands of articles, from tutorials on Linux to mini-books about gaming console modif...

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Brett Johnson

This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.