How to format SD or Micro SD cards on a Mac – Geeky Gadgets


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By Julian Horsey

format an SD card on Mac

You may need to format an SD card or micro SD card for a number of reasons on your Mac, whether it be for your smartphone, Raspberry Pi mini PC, Arduino project, digital camera or games console. Formatting an SD card or micro SD card on Mac is extremely easy but there are a few options to be aware of when formatting an card for the first time. In this brief tutorial will guide you through the correct way to format your SD card on your Mac using the correct type of formatting for your requirements.

Don’t forget formatting the SD or micro SD card will delete all the data on your SD card or micro SD card so be careful to backup any data you may want to keep before formatting your SD card.

On our Mac computer will use the ‘Disk Utility’ application provided by Apple on all Mac’s to format our card. If you have an iMac or older MacBook laptop you may already have an integrated SD card slot which you can use to easily read and write to your SD card. If you have a modern MacBook or MacBook Air without an SD card slot you will need an SD card USB-C adapter which you can slot into a spare USB-C port. To format the smaller form factor micro SD cards you will also need an SD card sized adapter into which you will slot the smaller microSD into as in the image below.

SD Card adapter and microSD card adapter

Once you have your SD card inserted into your Mac computer, either directly or via an SD card adapter, press the ‘Command’ and ‘Space’ button on your Mac keyboard to open a ‘Spotlight search’ and type ‘Disk Utility to locate and launch the application, as in the image above.

On the left-hand side of the Disk Utility application you will see your drives listed, be careful to select the correct drive for the SD card you are formatting. A quick check can be carried out by simply removing the SD card and reinserting to see which drive disappears and reappears as the card is read by your Mac. Right clicking on your chosen SD card drive will provide a list of options with ‘Erase’ listed at the bottom, ‘Erase’ is the option we will select to format our SD card on Mac.

A pop-up box will then appear allowing you to rename the SD card, keep it simple and don’t use any strange keyboard characters as some operating systems run into problems reading special character used when naming SD Card names, just stick to alphanumeric characters and you will be fine.

When formatting a card you are presented with four ‘Format’ options on a Mac : Mac OS Extended (Journaled), Mac OS Extended (Case-sensitive, Journaled), MS-DOS (FAT) and ExFAT. If you are going to use the formatted SD card ONLY on computers running Apples macOS then the OS Extended formats are the choice for you. The only difference between the two are the ‘Case-sensitive’ option which takes into consideration capitalization, so ABC and abc are considered to be different names in the case-sensitive option. In the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format which isn’t case sensitive, they are considered to be the same.

If you are going to use your SD card in a digital camera, Windows PC, Android smartphone or Raspberry Pi mini PC for example and the SD card capacity is larger than 64 GB and you are formatting the SD card on a Mac system running a modern operating system version of macOS : Apple Lion macOS and above you will use the ExFAT option. For older Macs and smaller sizes of SD card use the MS-DOS (FAT32) option.

Summary of stages to format an SD card on  your Mac :

  1. Open the Disk Utility app on Mac
  2. Select the correct SD card drive
  3. Name your SD card
  4. Select your desired Format Type : General purpose ExFAT – Only Mac computers : Mac OS Extended (Journaled)
  5. Press the ‘Erase’ button
  6.  Wait for the SD card format on Mac to complete
  7. Remove your newly formatted SD card from your Mac

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