External Hard Drive Not Showing Up on Windows – What to Do
Removable hard drives, most commonly the USB sort, are pretty intuitive and helpful to your daily computer use. But, sometimes your PC won’t recognize one when you plug it in.
In that light, we’ll tell you all about this issue and how to fix it.
Why Would an External Hard Drive Not Show Up in Windows?
There can be many reasons why a hard drive might not show up:
- The USB port on your PC is dead or dying.
- You have missing drivers on your device.
- There are partition issues on your hard drive.
- The hard drive is using an incorrect file system.
- The PC is not supplying power.
- The casing lost connection.
- The hard drive itself is dead.
Let’s figure out how to diagnose and fix all of these possible causes for the drive not showing up on your PC.
How to Diagnose and Fix When the Hard Drive Won’t Show Up in Windows
For each of the reasons mentioned above, there are ways to find out if that is the exact issue.
Before anything else, check and see if the hard drive is powered on adequately. If it has an AC power adapter, as is the case with some larger drives, make sure that it is plugged in and working. Otherwise, it won’t show up.
USB Port Dead or Dying
If you believe that your USB port is dead or dying, consider one of these options:
- Plug the hard drive into a different USB port.
- Plug the external hard drive into another PC.
If your hard drive shows up on another the port, it’s most likely that the initial USB port is dying or won’t accept the drive for whatever reason. Sometimes this can be caused by non-matching USB versions (for example, using a USB 2.0 port).
If you’re trying to use a different device to check, consider using one with another operating system. A Mac (if you have one) might recognize the hard drive if it’s formatted for it, while Windows won’t.
To check if your PC has missing drivers, follow these steps:
- Open the Start menu/search bar.
- Type in “Device Manager.”
- Open the application that shows up as a result.
- Locate the hard drive that you’re trying to connect.
- If it is on the list, right-click it, then select “Update Drivers.”
- Follow the steps on the Driver installation.
- When prompted, select the option to “Search automatically” and download drivers online. If your hard drive came with a driver CD, put it into your reader and select the “Browse my Computer” option.
Usually, external hard drives will use your PC’s preinstalled drivers by default, so these steps are often meaningless. However, it can sometimes save you the trouble of trying the more complicated steps first.
A more complicated problem occurs when the hard drive is not partitioned or set up properly. To diagnose this, follow these steps:
- Open the Start Menu/Search bar.
- Type in “Disk Management,” then open the application that shows up as a result.
- You should see the connected hard drive in the menu, often below your primary drives. Note that you’ll be using the visual menu below the list of drives.
- If the drive is offline, right-click on it and select “Online.”
- If the drive says “Unallocated” when you select it (under a black bar), you will need to format it.
- Right-click the drive, then select “New Simple Volume.”
- Your PC will partition and format the drive for your current operating system. Do note that this will remove any data that’s on the hard drive.
- Finally, if the drive is formatted but doesn’t show a letter for its path (like F:, G:, or M: for example), right-click the drive and select “Change Drive Letters and Paths.”
This should make your new hard drive ready and usable on a clean slate.
If the drive appears partitioned but you still can’t access it, it’s most likely using a different file system. To fix that, follow these steps:
- Open Disk Management.
- Select the drive, then right-click and select “Format.”
- For the formatting option, choose FAT32.
- You can set the drive label of your choice, and you can leave the “Perform a quick format” option checked if you want to.
Reformatting your hard drive will wipe all the stored data, so if you’ve previously used it on a Mac or a Linux, use that device to back up the files before reformatting.
What Formatting to Use
You have a few options. FAT32 is the most common format for external hard drives. It’s often used by default on any disks you purchase.
However, it has a few limitations. FAT32 cannot hold files larger than 4GB in size and is limited to 8TB of disk space. The second limitation is often meaningless as most external hard drives don’t go up to that size anyway. Still, if you’re using huge files, you might want to consider a different format.
NTFS is the default format for internal hard drives on Windows. It has no realistic limitations on file and disk size. However, do note that NTFS is Windows-specific, and macOS and Linux devices won’t write on such formatted drives. They will usually have the drive’s read-only permissions, which is often not enough for an external hard drive.
If you want your drive to be cross-compatible with other operating systems and retain NTFS’s increased file sizes, exFAT is your formatting system. Most newer devices will be compatible with exFAT, but some older ones might not.
Generally speaking, for the average user FAT32 is the best choice as you will rarely have files that are larger than its limitations. If you’re using multiple Windows devices to transfer very large files, then NTFS is the better option. And if you want cross-compatibility (to a degree), choose exFAT.
Check the Power Options
If you’re using a laptop or another portable device, you can disable selective USB suspend settings. Follow these steps:
- Open your Control Panel.
- Select Power Options.
- Click “Additional Power Settings.”
- In your current power plan, select “Change plan settings.”
- In the menu, click on “Change advanced power settings.”
- Find the option USB settings, then USB selective suspend settings.
- Make sure that the setting is disabled.
This option is also available on your desktop PC, but it’s unlikely to be the culprit as your PC will have plenty of power for it. Still, it’s a viable option before turning to the worst-case scenario.
Disk Management Not Recognizing the Drive
If the hard drive is not showing up on Disk Management, it’s possible that the casing has lost connection to the drive inside.
You can remove the actual hard drive from its casing and use it like that to check for any issues. You can buy a different SATA to USB dock or plug the hard drive directly into your PC’s motherboard.
If this works, the issue is with the drive’s casing, and you can get a new one or continue using the external hard drive as an internal one.
If this doesn’t work, however, then you probably have a dead hard drive. There’s not much you can do about that. If it’s under warranty, you can contact the manufacturer to get it replaced (although removing it from the casing usually would have voided the warranty).
Cloudy with a Chance of Data Loss
If you’re using many external hard drives, it might be time to switch to using the cloud to store some of that data you’re carrying around.
All it takes is a few clicks to log into one of the many cloud services on the internet. Using the cloud won’t be a faster solution, as your ADSL speed is probably slower than the read/write speed of your HDD, but it can be more secure. Hard drives can degrade over time, and data loss can often be inevitable.
Saving your data online isn’t completely safe, but as long as you use a secure password (and remember it) you shouldn’t worry about it.
Services such as Google Drive and Dropbox can be invaluable when you want to store and share the files needed for collaborative projects. External hard drives can’t match their accessibility, so you should definitely check them out.
Your Hard Drive, Easy to Use
If you’ve followed the steps and instructions above, you should have fixed your hard drive and make it show up on your PC. External hard drives are vital and easy to use if you have to move large amounts of data between different devices, so you must have the best hard drives available.
Which of these solutions worked for you? What external hard drive is your favorite? Let us know in the comment below, and have a great day.