I have an SD card which I used to run my RaspberryPi. I wanted to update the copy of raspbian on it, so I formated the card using the software from www.sdcard.com. I followed all the instructions correctly, however the size of my SD card didn't go back to it's default.

It is a 4gb SD card, which after it's spell in the RaspberryPi had shrunken to 52mb, which I understand is normal. After formatting, the size rose to 3.69gb.

This means that there is not enough space to install a new OS, so how can I make my SD card 4gb again?

Any help would be much appreciated!

  • You don’t have to use a new image to update Debian. The system can be upgraded in-place.
    – Daniel B
    Jun 9, 2014 at 13:19
  • What instructions did you follow carefully? What did you actually do to the card? When you say it has "shrunken to 52mb", precisely what tool are you using, how are you using it, and what is it saying? Is that the size of the card or a partition on it? Jun 9, 2014 at 13:42
  • 1
    The 52 MB partition would be the FAT32 boot partition. Because Windows is Windows, it doesn’t support partitions on SD cards. It also doesn’t support Linux filesystems, so the other partitions remain invisible in “My Computer”.
    – Daniel B
    Jun 9, 2014 at 13:55

2 Answers 2


What formatting means: Think about the way a library is organized. If you just threw the books in randomly until the room was full then you would fit far more books, right? But you would never be able to find a particular book without searching through every single book one by one. Instead, libraries employ a sorting system (which takes up space!), and employ corridors and shelves (effectively empty space or space not used for books!) to make it possible to actually find a particular book in a timely manner.

You need to understand that the same philosophy goes into formatting a computer disk. Usually, it means 2 things:

  1. Adding spaces between the areas in memory where data will be written
  2. Adding data (such as a File Allocation Table or similar) that tells the operating system where files are stored.

What's in a GB?: Another factor at work is described in David Marshall's answer. Disk manufacturers tend to represent 1 GB as 1 billion bytes, when it is more typically represented as 2^30 bytes. Assuming this is the case for you, you really have 4e9 / 2^30 = 3.73 GB.

Bad sectors: another thing that happens when you format a drive is that the operating system looks for and removes so-called bad sectors. These are areas of the disk that the OS can't read/write to. It marks these sectors as bad while formatting, so that they are effectively quarantined and don't cause your data to get corrupted. This system works well if the disk has suffered a small amount of damage and the source of the damage is not recurring. The downside is that the overall available disk space goes down since more disk space is no longer being used. This is a potential reason why your available space on the drive has gone down.

Environmental factors: has anything else changed about the version of your operating system or the formatting tool itself? Any changes here could potentially cause the behaviour to change.

Conclusion: Out of your original 3.73 GB of space, the remaining 3.73 - 3.69 = 0.04 GB was probably lost due to the organization system and/or bad sectors. Different formatting systems will use up more or less of the space on your disk. Bad sectors are, generally speaking, not recoverable. Potential solutions to the problem include:

  1. Buying a new, bigger drive (most likely to succeed!)
  2. Ensuring that you're using the same version of formatting utility or operating system as you previously used (if applicable)
  3. Trying a different formatting utility
  4. Applying a different file system type to the drive (if the formatting utility allows it)

Good luck,


  • That also makes sense, however the os image fitted onto the sd card before, but not now. Also, I am now 1 bit more knowledgeable about computers! Thanks!
    – Inazuma
    Jun 7, 2014 at 17:30
  • I may have addressed the issue in my edit. Please upvote my answer if you find it useful! :) Jun 9, 2014 at 13:06
  • The issue of where 4,000,000,000 bytes is described as 4GB or 3.73GB or 3.73GiB is described on en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binary_prefix in fair detail. Jun 9, 2014 at 13:34
  • Manufacturers are not strictly misrepresenting what a GB is, they are simply using a metric or SI standard prefix instead, which have the same name, and were invented first before the computer industry stole the prefix names and gave them a different meaning. Jun 9, 2014 at 13:46
  • I fixed the section on GB to be less inflammatory Jun 9, 2014 at 14:37

On Windows 1GB = 1073741824

To an SD card manufacturer 1GB = 1000000000

3.69*1073741824 = 3962107330 approximately 4000000000 give that 3.69 is probably rounded down.

  • That makes sense, however the os image fitted onto the sd card before, but not now.
    – Inazuma
    Jun 7, 2014 at 17:29

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