Skip to main content

What should you do, if your computer doesn't recognize an external hard drive?

Updated on Tue, 12/01/2020 - 09:30

USB HDD and SSD can be characterized as pretty handy and user-friendly devices, but quite often the following problem occurs: when you connect an external drive, the operating system can't detect it. The causes for it may vary: invalid file system, damaged port and incorrect operation of drivers in the OS. Sometimes the reason is actually a faulty drive.

In this article we're going to tell you what to do, if your computer doesn't recognize an external hard drive,the system won't detect it and files aren't shown in Windows Explorer.

Problems with power supply

The first step is to find out whether Windows finds the external HDD you want to connect. Certain storage devices can only be connected via a special cable with additional power supply. Often HDD isn't displayed in the operating system due to the problems with power supply.

How to fix it

  1. In such case, simply change the power cable or plug it into another connector.
  2. When you connect a removable hard drive to your computer or laptop, make sure that the power led works fine.

Find “the lost” disk via Disk Management

In some cases, Windows Explorer can't see an HDD since it doesn't have partitions. In other words, an external hard drive is detected but can't be opened via File Manager.

How to fix it

Disk Management tool allows you to read data on all external disks connected to your computer. There are two ways how you can open Disk Management:

  • Key combination "Windows + R" – "Run"; in the text bar type "diskmgmt.msc"; Enter.
  • "Start" – "Disk Management".

If you manage to find a hard disk, you can start formatting it thus granting the operating system the access to its files. Read below how to format an external HDD.

Connecting via another USB port

The absence of an HDD disk often occurs due to the malfunctions of device drivers or USB connectors.

How to fix it

  1. In order to make sure that this is your case, you have to connect the drive to a different port of your computer or laptop.
  2. If a hard drive is connected via a USB hub, you have to try to connect it directly to a USB port. The thing is that devices designed to increase the number of ports sometimes lack power to ensure the operation of an external drive.
  3. If your computer doesn't see an external hard drive, you can check it on another PC.

Working with drivers

If external hdd not showing up on a new computer, it may be the fault of drivers. Driver devices sometimes conflict with Windows, and a user has to solve the problem via “improvised” methods.  

How to fix it

In order to make sure that this is your case, you have to open Device Manager app. This can be easily done in the following ways:

  • Open "Start" and in the popped up window select "Device Manager".
  • Click on "Windows + R" in order to get access to "Run" window. In "Open" bar type "devmgmt.msc" then press "Enter".

In "Device Manager" find "Disk Devices". Here it's easy to detect problems with disk detection. Problematic HDD are marked with an exclamation mark. For more information, select a drive and click on "Properties" where you can find the data on errors. After it you can browse internet for the solutions recommended for particular problems.

If this doesn't help, we recommend updating the driver or visiting its manufacturer website in order to find more information on the specific model of a hard disk drive. If none of the above mentioned gives the desired result, via Device Manager try to delete the device from Windows and then restart the OS. The operating system is likely to configure the driver correctly the next time it's connected.

Formatting an external hard drive

If computer not detecting external hard drive, you might have to format your hard drive from one file system to another, the one that is more suitable, which will help you to detect it. For example, Windows OS doesn't support such file system formats as XFS or APFS.  

Before you start, keep in mind that the process of formatting erases all files, so you must copy them onto another HDD or create a backup copy.

In order to format a hard disk drive, via Disk Management tool you have to select "Format" from the partition context menu.

The cluster size should be left as it's by default, but you can give it any name. The most important thing is to choose the correct file system:

  • For small external disks the most suitable is FAT32 which supports files up to 2 GB. This format is compatible with any devices, including media players, game consoles and cameras.
  • NTFS is suitable for large hard drives. Though this format has a significant drawback: it's incompatible with some old devices.

Apart from Disk Management tool there are other more convenient tools for formatting an external hard drive. You can find them here:

Software for formatting an HDD