Have you ever experienced the frustration of plugging in your external hard drive, only to find that your computer doesn't recognize it? Don't panic just yet, because there are ways to recover files from an external hard drive which is not detecting.
Let’s take a closer look to see how to recover data from an undetected hard disk and how to ensure that the problem doesn’t recur.
Table of Content
- Recover Data From HDD Which Is Not Detecting Using Recovery Software
- Change the Offline Hard Drive to Online
- Fix Unallocated Space on the External Hard Drive
- Fix Not Initialized/Unknown External Hard Drive
- Try Changing/Assigning the Drive Letter
- Reinstall the USB Controllers
- Fix the External Hard Drive Errors With CheckDisk
- Perform a Format of Your External HDD
Why Is My External Hard Drive Undetectable on My PC?
As a general rule of thumb, external hard drives are reliable storage solutions that can easily last you for years to come. They can protect your files even during extended periods without any power supply. They have excellent storage space. They’re convenient and powerful.
However, they’re not infallible.
They have several moving parts and sensitive components that can make them susceptible to damage.
If your PC cannot detect your hard disk drive, there could be several reasons for it.
|Common reasons for undetected HDD||Description|
|⏮ Outdated hard drive||Old, outdated external hard drives might have configurations that are incompatible with new software on your PC;|
|❗ Hard drive corruption||If your hard drive’s been corrupted or otherwise contains corrupted files, your PC might not be able to recognize it as a new device;|
|📝 Interrupted write processes||Disconnecting the hard drive without properly ejecting it could cause interruptions in the write processes, harming the software and potentially corrupting the system.|
|🔠 The disk doesn’t have a drive letter||Drive letters are labels that enable your PC to recognize different storage spaces. Without a drive letter, your PC cannot identify the drive and access any files on it.|
|➰ Connection issues||Loose connections can make it impossible for your PC and hard drive to establish communication;|
|🔨 Hardware damage||Physical damage to your hard drive can cause software issues and glitches that prevent your PC from recognizing the device;|
Of course, it’s also possible that HDD is not detected because of PC-related issues. To eliminate that as a possibility, try connecting your external hard disk drive to another device. If other devices can read your HDD, the problem likely lies in your PC.
Initial Step: Check if the Undetected Hard Disk Is Visible in Disk Management
Before attempting to recover files from an external hard drive that is not detected, it is essential to check if the undetected hard drive is visible in Disk Management. Sometimes, the external hard drive doesn't appear in your File Explorer but is listed in Disk Management. Disk Management is a built-in utility in Windows and macOS that allows you to view, manage, and troubleshoot the storage devices connected to your computer.
By checking the visibility of your external hard drive in Disk Management, you can gain valuable insights into the nature of the issue and determine the most suitable course of action for recovering your files.
- Identify connection issues: If the undetected hard disk is visible in Disk Management, it could indicate that there are issues with the drive's file system, drive letter assignment, or partitioning. On the other hand, if the drive is not visible, it could be a sign of connection problems, such as a faulty cable, damaged USB port, or an issue with the drive's enclosure.
- Determine drive status: Disk Management provides information about the drive's status, such as whether it is online, offline, uninitialized, or has unallocated space. This information is valuable in determining the appropriate steps to take in order to recover data from HDD which is not detecting.
- Detect drive errors: Disk Management can also reveal errors related to the drive's file system or partition table. Identifying these errors will help you determine the best method for recovering your files from an external hard drive that is not recognized and repairing the drive.
- Assign drive letter or format the drive: If the undetected hard drive is visible in Disk Management but does not have a drive letter assigned or has an unsupported file system, you can assign a drive letter or format the drive with a compatible file system, making it accessible and allowing you to recover the files.
This initial step is crucial to ensure that you do not cause further damage to the drive or inadvertently overwrite your data during the recovery process. Here’s how to look for your external hard drive through Disk Management:
- Right-click on your Start button and open Disk Management;
- If you can't see your hard drive in Disk Management, then jump to Fixes for External Hard Drive That’s Invisible at All. If your drive is labeled correctly, right-click on it and select Properties;
- If it says This device is working properly under Device Status, your drive is working fine.
If there’s something wrong with your drive, you won’t see its correct label in Disk Management. Instead, you’ll see it labeled Offline, Unallocated, Unknown/Not Initialized , or doesn’t have a drive letter next to its name. In that case, you must take the following data recovery solutions.
How To Recover Files From External Hard Drive That Is Not Detected But Visible in Disk Management
As long as your drive shows up in Disk Management, you have various options to recover data from hard disk that is not working properly.
Way 1. Recover Data From HDD Which Is Not Detecting Using Recovery Software
If your drive appears in Disk Management, your first option is to use a reliable data recovery software to retrieve your data before attempting to resolve the underlying issues.
Recovery software, such as Wondershare Recoverit, can effectively bypass the operating system to extract and rebuild data directly from a hard drive or SSD's file system—even when the drive won't boot. While there are many similar tools online, Wondershare Recoverit stands out due to its user-friendly interface and advanced features:
- It’s compatible with various hard drive file systems, including exFAT, FAT32, NTFS, HFS+, APFS, EXT4, etc.
- It can recover data from corrupted, inaccessible RAW disks, and not recognized HDDs/SSDs.
- It works with all types and brands of hard drives, including WD, Seagate, Toshiba, Samsung, Dell, and many more.
Here’s how to recover files from external hard drive that is not detected using Recoverit:
- Download, install, and launch Recoverit to your PC.
- It will automatically detect and list all available storage devices.
- Choose the external hard drive from which you want to recover data and click Scan.
- Wait for Recoverit to finish scanning the device;
- Preview the files and click Recover on those you want to retrieve.
The process is the same for all external devices, whether you’re using Mac or Windows OS. Just make sure to recover the files to a location away from your not detected HDD.
Way 2. Change the Offline Hard Drive to Online
If your external hard drive shows offline in Disk Management, you can change the status of an offline hard drive to online and regain access to your data.
- In the Disk Management window, look for the offline hard drive in the list of drives at the bottom. The offline drive will have a black bar at the top and will be labeled as "Offline."
- Right-click on the offline hard drive (on the left side, where the disk number is displayed), and then click on Online from the context menu.
- The hard drive should now be online, and the status will change to Online. You may need to initialize or assign a drive letter to the drive if it's not automatically assigned by the system.
Note: If the Online option is grayed out or not available, there might be an issue with the hard drive, such as hardware failure, I/O errors, or connection problems. In such cases, you should check the hard drive's physical connections, try a different port or cable, or consult a professional for further diagnosis and assistance as we explained in the next section.
Way 3. Fix Unallocated Space on the External Hard Drive
If your external hard drive shows Unallocated in Disk Management, you’ll need to fix it by creating a new partition on the drive. This process will erase any existing data on the drive, so make sure you have recovered files from the external hard drive that is not recognized using data recovery software in Way 1.
- Right-click on the unallocated space in Disk Management, and then click on New Simple Volume from the context menu.
- A New Simple Volume Wizard will open. Click Next to continue.
- Follow the instructions in the next windows to finish the process.
Way 4. Fix Not Initialized/Unknown External Hard Drive
An external hard drive may appear "Not Initialized" or "Unknown" in Disk Management for various reasons, such as corrupted partition table, dad sectors, hardware issues, and incompatible partition style. To fix the issue, you need to initialize the hard drive. Keep in mind that initializing the hard drive will erase all data on it, so always attempt to recover data from the external hard disk that is not working using data recovery software before initializing the drive.
- Right-click on the uninitialized hard drive in Disk Management and then click on Initialize Disk from the context menu.
- In the Initialize Disk dialog, you will see two options for the partition style: MBR (Master Boot Record) and GPT (GUID Partition Table). Choose the partition style based on your requirements and system compatibility.
- Click OK to initialize the external hard drive with the chosen partition style. The drive will now be recognized by the system.
- To create a new partition on the initialized drive, right-click on the unallocated space and then click on New Simple Volume. Follow the prompts in the New Simple Volume Wizard to create a new partition and format it.
Once the partition is created and formatted, the external hard drive will be accessible in Windows File Explorer, and you can start using it to store and manage your files.
Way 5. Try Changing/Assigning the Drive Letter
Changing the drive letter could be the solution you need. Occasionally, more drives could have the same letter, causing your PC to send out errors in its confusion of which drive to open, and this could result in your hard drive not being detected.
- Right-click on the drive you want to assign or change a drive letter in Disk Management;
- Select Change Drive Letter and Paths > Change;
- Select a new drive letter and click OK.
If your PC can’t detect your external hard drive because of the drive letter, this simple method should fix it and help you recover data from the undetected external hard disk.
Way 6. Reinstall the USB Controllers
Over time, USB controller drivers can become corrupted or outdated, causing issues with device detection and functionality. Reinstalling the USB controllers forces your computer to install the latest and most compatible drivers, which can resolve any conflicts and improve device detection.
- Right-click on the Start button, and then click on Device Manager from the menu that appears.
- In the Device Manager window, expand the Universal Serial Bus controllers category by clicking on the arrow next to it.
- You will see a list of USB controllers and devices under this category.
- Right-click on each entry one by one and click on Uninstall device from the context menu. Confirm the action if prompted.
- After you have uninstalled all the USB controllers, restart your computer. Windows will automatically reinstall the USB controllers when your computer starts up.
- Once your computer has restarted, plug in your external hard drive and check if it is detected.
Way 7. Fix the External Hard Drive Errors With CheckDisk
CheckDisk is a Windows command that can help you repair logical-related issues that caused your external hard drive becomes not detecting.
- Search for Command Prompt in the search bar by the Start button;
- Type in
chkdsk drive letter: /f, then press Enter;
- Alternatively, type in
chkdsk drive letter: /rand press Enter.
These actions could help you fix any minor drive errors and ensure that it gets detected by your PC.
Way 8. Perform a Format of Your External HDD
Finally, if all of the above methods failed, your last resort is to format your external HDD. This will help you fix any software issues and conflicts that may have caused the hard drive detection errors.
- Right-click on your Start button and open Disk Management;
- Right-click on your external hard drive > Format;
- Under File System, choose NTFS or exFAT;
- Check Quick Format > Start.
Unlike a full format, a quick format won’t permanently erase all your files – you can still recover them using tools like Recoverit hard drive recovery. However, it’s still best to err on the side of caution and restore and backup all the files you can before attempting this option.
You can try a full format if a quick one doesn’t solve your problems. Remember that after a full format, you cannot recover any files – they’ll be permanently lost to you.
How To Recover Files From External Hard Drive That Is Invisible at All
While it’s usually possible to recover files from an external hard drive that is not recognized but shows up in Disk Management, you could try a few things to solve the issue when you even can’t find your drive in Disk Management.
Way 1. Try Using a Different USB Cable or Port
As mentioned, a loose connection can make it impossible for your PC to recognize your hard disk drive. In that instance, the solution is rather simple – just use a different cable.
You might also want to clean the ports on your PC and your external hard drive just to ensure that no dirt or debris could be causing connection issues.
Way 2. Update Your Drivers for External Devices
Sometimes, an outdated driver can cause your external hard drive not being detected. You can quickly check for driver updates through Device Manager:
- Right-click on your Start button and open Device Manager;
- Right-click on your drive > Update driver > Search automatically for drivers;
- Repeat for all your external hard drives.
It’s possible that instead of showing up directly, your drive will be listed under Other devices as an unknown device. If the problem was an outdated driver, Device Manager should be able to solve it without further issues, even if it’s listed as unknown.
Alternatively, you could visit your drive manufacturer’s website and look for updated drivers there.
Way 3. Find a Data Recovery Service
If all else fails, you can use professional hard drive recovery services to get the files from your undetectable hard drive back.
While these services can get expensive, they have access to advanced tools that can retrieve data even in catastrophic drive failures. They might even be able to recover data from physically damaged drives.
Depending on the services you work with, you’ll usually have to first contact their support teams to schedule the repair, then follow their instructions for packaging and sending your drive to them. Once the data recovery service has examined your drive (and fortunately retrieved your files), they’ll send it back to you.
External hard drive problems, such as drive not being detected, are more common than you may think. They’re also easier to fix than you might think. Just make sure to first restore all the files you can from your unresponsive HDD, then try one of the methods above to fix your drive.
Hard Disk Not Detecting FAQs
Why is my hard disk not detecting?There could be several reasons why your hard disk is not detecting. The most common reasons include outdated or corrupted hard drives, hardware damage, connection issues, and improper write processes. It’s also possible that your HDD is working perfectly, but you’re having PC-related issues.
Can I recover data from a hard disk that is not detecting?If your hard disk is not detecting due to a logical error, such as outdated drivers, system crashes, and the like, it’s possible to recover your data. Use tools like Wondershare’s Recoverit to quickly and efficiently recover data from an external hard drive that’s not recognized.
How can I recover files that are on my external hard drive but not detected?Recovering files using Recoverit is a simple process. You’ll want to download Recoverit to your PC and connect your external hard drive. Choose the location from where you want to recover your files, let Recoverit retrieve them, then it’s up to you simply to preview and save them.
How long does it take to recover data from a hard disk that is not detecting?How long it takes to recover data depends on the size of the data being recovered, as well as the condition of the hard drive and what’s causing it to misbehave. If you’re recovering larger files, you could be looking at a process that takes over an hour to complete. If you’re recovering smaller files like photos or PDFs, it could be done in seconds.