Only 4 MB? How to Fix USB ‘Destroyed’ by Etcher and Rufus After Creating Live Linux USB

Here’s the scenario. You used Etcher or Rufus tools to create a bootable, live Linux USB in Windows or perhaps in Linux.

You used it to install Linux and the purpose of the USB is accomplished. Now you want to format this USB and use it for the regular data transfer or storage.

You plug it in your Windows system and to your surprise, the disk capacity of the USB is just 4 MB.

usb drive 4mb space only

You try to format it and it probably won’t let you do that. Even if you manage to format it, the size of the USB is now shrunk to just 4 MB from the usual 8 GB, 16 GB or 32 GB.

Have you lost your USB? Not really. Your USB is not completely destroyed. You can still format it with a little trick and use it comfortably.

Let me show how to restore the bootable USB to a usable state in both Windows and Linux.

Formatting the live Linux USB created by Rufus or Etcher [In Windows]

You see only 4 MB of disk space in Windows. Do you know why? Because while creating the live Linux USB, the tool creates a 4 MB of EFI partition in FAT 32 filesystem. The other partition(s) is in Linux’s Ext4 filesystem which is not recognized by Windows.

This is why your Windows system only sees the EFI partition of 4 MB and shows the USB size as 4 MB.

mystery behind 4 mb linux live usb
Windows only see the EFI partition on the USB

All in all, what you need to do is to delete all the partition on the USB disk, create a new NTFS or FAT32 partition from the free space you got from deleting the existing partitions. That’s it.

Let me show the steps in detail.

Step 1:

Go to the Windows menu and look for the Disk Management tool.

Start disk management tool in Windows
Start disk management tool

Start this tool and it will show all the disks present on your computer. This includes the plugged-in USB, of course.

This is very important to select the correct disk. Identify which one it is from the size of the USB disk or from the ‘Removable’ tag.

identify usb disk in windows

Step 2:

The idea is to delete any existing partition present on the USB disk. The unallocated space cannot be deleted but that’s okay.

Right click on the partition and click Delete Volume.

delete partitions on usb disk
Delete partitions on the USB disk

When asked for your confirmation, press Yes.

confirm deletion of partition
Confirm deletion of partition

Your aim is to have only a single block of unallocated space. When you see that, right click on it and click on “New Simple Volume” to create a partition.

create new partition
Create New Simple Volume (partition)

The next steps are simple. Click on Next, select the entire available space, assign a letter to it, select the file system (FAT 32 or NTFS) and format it.

Once that is done, you’ll see that the USB has returned to normal state and you can start copy-pasting data to it.

live linux usb formatted successfully
USB is back to normal state

You can use your USB as before now.

These steps were for Windows. What if you use Linux?

Formatting live Linux USB on Linux

I have noticed that live USB created by Etcher and such tools often create refuse to be formatted properly by the right click format option in the file manager.

As an alternative, you can do what you did in Windows: delete existing partitions and create a new partition with the entire free space.

Use the GNOME Disks tool here. It is already installed on Ubuntu and many other Linux distributions.

start disk app
Start disk app

Again, make sure that you have selected the external USB disk here.

You’ll see various partitions on the USB disk. Try and format the disk from the menu above.

format usb in disks tool
Format disk

If that does not work, delete the partitions individually one by one and then make the entire USB as free space.

When you have the entire free space created, click on the + sign to create a partition on it in NTFS or FAT32 filesystem.

create partition on usb

Create the partition with NTFS (or FAT 32), name it something appropriate and then you can enjoy the USB like it was before.

Conclusion

Tools like Rufus and Etcher don’t really destroy your USB. This is how they function, by creating a different filesystem on the disk. But then the operating system doesn’t understand it properly.

The good thing is that it can be fixed with only a little effort. I hope you too were able to fix it. If not, share your issue with me and I’ll try to help.

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  • dear prakash-
    i just formatted my usb live boot and it now has one section totally empty (contents unknown). however, there is no ‘+’ sign next to the gear so i cant add a partition, right? i chose the option to make the flash empty because i thought that was what we were doing. i believe i did this before and then later went back and used some other software or technique to make a partition fat 32. then i tried to make a live boot flash for 22.04, which did not work very well but it did install on my laptop, which now has problems. after that install it would never work again, it always gets stuck at the welcome screen.

    so i wanted to make a new backup thinking the flash i had formatted was corrupted. i dont know what kind of flash i should use to create a live boot with usb-creator. i have never seen that referenced in any tutorial for anny method. there are different kinds of usb flash drives in the market. so if i use-usb creator in linux or command line (dd) what kind of condition should the flash i use be in when i start? how many partitions, how big and what kind of file system in each?

    my hp had windows 11 when i bought it and i wrote over it but i think there is some windows remains left in the firmware that might be putting a hex on it.

    do you have any suggestions?
    salima