What to Do When Your External Drives are Not Working

External storage is simply a magnetic hard drive (HDD), or a solid-state storage device (SSD), which you connect to your computer outside its chassis, instead of installing it internally. Hard drives are among the few moving parts in modern computers, so they are they have a high likelihood of developing issues – especially in laptops!

External hard drives are especially prone to failure due to frequent improper use, outdated drivers, bundling with incompatible software on different operating systems, frequent connection and disconnection to different devices, and, in the case of portable or USB hard drives, unsafe ejection.

As a portable device that you can carry along with you for your convenience, your external storage is exposed to constant physical vibration that can cause issues like the drive is not recognized in Windows.

When your internal or external hard drive is not recognized by the operating system or is unable to give access to existing data or save new information, it is often down to the factors above. Fixing the device without losing your data or damaging your computer requires a methodical process of elimination and different-level fixes.

Why is My External Hard Drive Not Recognized in Windows?

As explained above, there are many software-related reasons and hardware problems that cause your Windows PC to fail to read data from your external storage. However, there are four major issues that you should try to fix first before you hire a data recovery specialist or dismiss the hard drive as dead.

The possible fixes you should consider first include:

  1. Problems with the physical connection between the drive and your computer.
  2. USB power management problems.
  3. The drive has not been formatted or is formatted with an unrecognizable file system.
  4. The device drivers are missing or outdated.

Before you try any fix, you should first run the Windows Hardware and Device Troubleshooter utility, as well as the Windows USB Troubleshooter, to see if they help in any way. These two system tools will check the storage device connected to your PC and the computer’s USB ports, identify any known issues, and attempt to fix them automatically.

You may search for these utilities through the Start Menu (Windows Key) search or access them in the Windows Settings Troubleshooter page.

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How Do I Fix My External Hard Drive That is Not Reading?

Prior to reading this guide, it is important for us to warn you that any changes you make to file systems could result in data loss. If you’re a current Driver Support customer, you get unlimited support with our tech team through your portal.

Are you trying to attach your new USB HDD or SSD external drive for the first time, but your computer is not responding or identifying it? Is your trusty old external storage suddenly acting up just when you need to attach an important file stored on it? There is no reason to panic! There are steps you can take to figure out what the problem is and quickly gain access to your precious data.

Here are the steps you should try if you want to access an unresponsive hard drive on Windows:

1. Examine the Physical Connection between Your PC, Hard Drive, and External Power Source

One of the most common problems that prevent Windows systems from accessing external storage drives is bad physical connections.

First, while virtually all flash drives, and the majority of small external hard drives, do not require a dedicated connection to their own power, when you connect a large, high-capacity external hard drive, you have to ensure that it is plugged into a power outlet.

No matter the size of the external drive, the problem is sometimes the USB cable itself. You could be trying to connect the wrong type of cable or the cable may be damaged. If your computer does not recognize your external hard drive, try to change the data cable. If the power and USB cables are in good condition and working as they should, then you will see an indicator light and, if it is not a SSD, hear the drive spinning.

If you use an external USB hub to increase the number of ports you have available, the device may occasionally introduce power management or compatibility problems. When you connect several peripheral devices to a USB hub, you should plug your external storage directly into its own port on your PC. If all your ports are full, unplug the USB hub and connect your removable drive instead to find out if Windows detects it.

2. Disable the USB Selective Suspend in Your Computer’s Power Options

If you have a good connection between your external drive and computer, but it still is not recognized, you should find out if your PC’s USB Selective Suspend power options setting is active. Here’s what you should do:

  1. On the notification panel at the lower right of your screen, right click the battery icon and choose Power Options. Next, click the Change Plan Settings link next to your active power plan.

  1. Click the link marked Change Advanced Power Settings.

  1. In the new window that appears, navigate to USB Settings, expand it and set USB Selective Suspend to Disabled. Click Apply.

When you are done, disconnect and reconnect the external drive.

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3. Format and Create a New Partition on the Drive

If you are connecting an external hard drive to your computer for the first time, or if the drive is new and unused, the PC may fail to detect it, as it has no partitions created. However, you may find that the drive is recognized by the Windows Disk Management utility.

To confirm that the disk management tool has access to the external drive, go to the Start menu search, type diskmgmt.msc then press Enter. If you find your external drive listed within the Disk Management tool window as unpartitioned or unallocated, all you need to do for it to appear the next time you plug it into your computer is to format it with the correct file system.

Warning: If the drive already has data on it, formatting will erase all the information on the external HDD. If the drive contains data you want to keep, you should first extract the data to a supported device.

4. Update or Reinstall Drivers

However, your PC may sometimes fail or simply refuse to recognize an external storage device even if you have confirmed a successful connection. In this case the problem is likely to lie with the device driver. The driver is a piece of software provided by the manufacturer of the hard drive that lets your computer “know” how to communicate with the device. If the driver is corrupted or incorrectly installed, you will have to update or manually install it.

To uninstall and reinstall the device driver:

  1. Open the Start menu search, enter Device Manager and click the result at the top of the list.
  2. Expand the branch marked Disk drives.

  1. Find your hard drive in the list, right click and choose Uninstall.

Unplug the removable disk drive from your PC and restart your computer. Plug the hard drive back in once you have rebooted your computer.

Once you finish the steps above, your computer will automatically detect and configure your drive. However, this should be your last resort, and you should follow the steps below very carefully. Failure to do so could result in an unstable or unusable system and damage to your external hard drive.

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Driver Support is the easiest way to make sure you get the most out of all of the devices you plug into your Windows computer, from printers to hard drives, to webcams and keyboards. Plus, with Driver Support, you get tech support from our team to make sure your devices are fixed with ease.

The fully registered version of Driver Support software will give you a list of outdated device drivers on your PC and download them automatically, so you do not have to carry out a manual installation.

Enjoy the convenience of taking your files wherever you go on removable storage. If you are having trouble accessing your external hard drives, Get Driver Support today to get the latest drivers for your computer.

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