Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fix the Windows "You Must Format The Disk Before You Can Use It" Error

Some Windows 7 and Windows Vista users report an error that occurs when connecting an external hard drive to the computer via a USB port.

Instead of the AutoPlay dialog window flashing up on the screen, you instead receive the following error message: "You need to format the disk in drive X: before you can use it."

For anyone who has transferred important files, images, videos and music to an external hard drive to free up space on the computer's hard disk, this error message is enough to make your palms sweat. I'm using a Seagate 1TB external hard drive and this error first cropped up after I connected the drive to a Western Digital TV Live Plus box so that I could view some videos on my Sony Bravia high-definition TV set.

The cause of the problem is unclear but it seems connected with the write process. After much scratching of head, I hit on a very simple solution to the error.

Step-by-Step Guide to Resolving the "You Must Format This Disk Before You Can Use It" Error Message

  1. Right-click the Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Disk icon in the right-hand notification area on the desktop taskbar. Unplug the USB cable from the computer when you see the all-clear prompt.
  2. Launch the computer's Device Manager from the Control Panel. The easiest way to access this is to type Device Manager into the Start menu search box and then click on the item in the search results.
  3. Wait for the Device Manager to populate with your computer's hardware device configuration. This takes only a few seconds.
  4. Right-click the Universal Serial Bus Controllers entry. Click the main entry, not the individual USB controllers in the expanded tree menu.
  5. Select Scan For Hardware Changes in the jump menu. Wait for the process to finish and then plug your external hard drive into the USB port. 
  6. Windows should detect the drive and automatically launch the AutoPlay dialog window in the usual way.


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  2. Clearly this workaround isn't working for everyone. I can only say that it worked for me in the specific circumstances detailed in the piece. However, it's probably still worth a try as part of your troubleshooting.

    1. Worked fine for me thanks for the info.

  3. Replies
    1. Glad it worked okay for you, David. I think I had to repeat this procedure a couple of times before it went away completely. Clearly the troubleshooting here doesn't work on all systems.