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.
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?
- Start by downloading Disk Drill from its official site.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Place a checkmark on the left of the files you’d like to recover.
- 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.
- 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.
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 TestDisk Without Formatting
TestDisk is a powerful open-source data recovery application designed to recover lost partitions, one of the most common reasons why SD cards become raw.
You can download TestDisk for free and use it without limitations to fix your raw SD card by following these steps:
- Download TestDisk from its official website and extract the downloaded archive somewhere on your computer.
- Launch the application.
- Select “Create” to create a new log file.
- Enter your administrator’s password when prompted.
- Select your SD card. Make sure the SD card is unmounted first otherwise you won’t be able to select it.
- Select the partition table type. In my case, the Intel type was pre-selected by TestDisk.
- Select “Analyze” to see the disk structure.
- When the disk analysis finishes, your memory card structure will be available for review.
- Perform a “Quick Search” for the missing partition. This was unsuccessful in our case.
- Follow up with a “Deeper Search” to find the missing partition.
- Select the partition that will be recovered and press “Write.”
- Proceed with the recovery by following the prompts. Your lost partition will be written to the source disk and you will be able to access it using your favorite file browser.
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:
Follow the next steps to erase everything in your SD card with DISKPART and start anew.
- Press Windows Key + X and run Windows PowerShell (Admin).
diskpartand press Enter to run the tool.
list diskto see a list of all storage devices DISKPART recognizes.
- 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.
- You can also check the volumes on your device with
list volume. When absolutely sure, erase everything from your raw SD card with:
- 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.
- Check out your new partition with the command:
- If you want your SD card to be bootable from this partition (like Raspberry Pi fans), also mark it as active with:
- Finally, for the actual formatting, use:
format fs=FILE_SYSTEM label=NAME_OF_YOUR_SD_CARD. Replace
FILE_SYSTEMwith any of the aforementioned Windows-supported file systems. The most popular one for SD cards remains FAT32. You can also add a
quickat 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.
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.
- Press Windows Key + X to access Windows 10’s quick menu of administrative tools. This time choose Disk Management instead of Windows PowerShell.
- Right-click on your SD card (don’t mind it being recognized as “a disk”) and choose New Simple Volume.
- 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.
- Proceed by choosing the letter you’d like to assign to your SD card.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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…
- Alternatively, if you try to access an inaccessible storage device, File Explorer will nudge you to format it before you can use it.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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.
- Supports over 200+ file formats.
- Supports most storage devices.
- Comes with useful extra tools.
- Extensive search process.
- Straightforward interface.
- Can locate more lost files than alternatives.
- Scan may take longer than alternatives (depends on device scanned).
2. Easeus Data Recovery Wizard
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.
- Can recover data from deleted files or partitions.
- Supports more than 1000 file types.
- Can repair corrupted photos and videos.
- Straightforward interface.
- Trial version only works as a demo.
- No advanced features.
- No extra tools.
3. Wondershare Recoverit
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.
- Supports over 1000 file formats.
- Compatible with almost all storage devices.
- Can try to fix lost and corrupted video files.
- One of the fastest data recovery solutions.
- Specializes in recovering corrupted media.
- Trial version is only functional as a demo.
- May locate less lost data than other data recovery solutions.
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.
- Supports most major file systems.
- Can recover data from RAW devices.
- Comes with extra functionality (backups, S.M.A.R.T. monitoring).
- Offers control over every aspect of the recovery process.
- Very quick, thorough, and accurate.
- Complicated interface.
- Located less data than alternative solutions.
5. MiniTool Power Data Recovery Free Edition
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.
- Supports over 100 file types.
- Can preview up to 70 different types of files.
- Clean and straightforward interface.
- Thorough results.
- Affordable (long-term plans).
- 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.
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.
Use a tool like Disk Drill. If you go with that, a short version of the recovery process is:
- Download Disk Drill from its official site and install it.
- Choose your raw SD card from Disk Drill’s Device/Disk list and click on Search for lost data.
- For best results, give Disk Drill as much time as it needs to complete its scan. However, you can check its findings at any time with a click on Review found items.
- Choose the files you want to restore by placing a “tick” on their left.
- Click on Recover.
- Choose where you want to store your recovered files.
- Wait a bit for Disk Drill to recover them.
- Click on Show recovered data in Explorer to check out the files Disk Drill recovered in Windows’ File Explorer.
Any file recovery tool worth its salt will also support recovering data from raw SD cards. Some of the best such tools are:
- CleverFiles’ Disk Drill
- Piriform’s Recuva
- EaseUS’s Data Recovery Wizard
- IOBit’s Undelete
To fix a raw SD card without formatting it, you can use third-party software like TestDisk, which can recover lost partitions, or you can use a utility like DISKPART, which can create a new partition on any storage device.
You can always format your raw SD card to quickly recreate its file system. This way, you won’t get your files back, but at least you’ll be able to keep using your SD card.
A raw SD card appears “like that” because no file system is detected on it. To have it recognized as FAT32, you’ll have to format it with that file system.
Although they share the same term, “raw”, RAW files and raw filesystems are unrelated. The term “RAW files” usually refers to uncompressed photographs stored from a camera in an SD card with the highest possible quality. You can open such files with image and photo editing apps, like Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.