Is your external drive not visible or detected? 6 Possible Solutions
Disk devices that are removable, such as USB flash drives, SD cards, and external hard drives, should be simple to utilize with your computer. However, in certain circumstances, when you connect your drive to a Windows PC or another device with a USB connection, the external hard drive does not appear.
This issue might be caused by a number of factors, including partition errors on the external drive, utilizing the incorrect file system, dead USB connections, or Windows driver issues. In the worst-case situation, the drive may be completely dead.
Let’s look at what to do if your external hard disk does not appear in Windows.
1. Make Sure Your External Drive Turns On
This is a preliminary phase, but it is still worth noting. Almost every flash drive and many external hard drives do not need a separate power source since they are powered through USB. Some desktop external drives, on the other hand, include separate power cords or at the very least a real power switch.
If this is the case and your external hard drive does not appear, you may have a problem with the device’s power cord. If feasible, try connecting it into another power outlet or swapping the cord. Before proceeding, look for evidence of activity, such as flashing lights on the unit or the hum of movement within the drive.
If you don’t notice any indications that the drive is operating, the device may be dead. Know the warning signals of a failing hard disk so you may notice it early if it occurs again.
Assuming your drive turns on but does not appear, go through the steps below in the sequence listed.
2. Check the Drive in Disk Management
To begin, see whether Windows recognises the hard drive when you plug it in. If it isn’t already, connect your portable drive to your computer.
Next, launch the Disk Management utility. To do so, hit Win + X (or right-click the Start button) to bring up the Power User menu, then choose Disk Management from the list. You may also launch the Run dialog by pressing Win + R and typing diskmgmt.msc to access this application.
Disk Management, as the name implies, allows you to see all hard drives linked to your computer. It enables you to examine disk sizes, partitions, and other data.
Your external drive should be listed in the Disk Management window, probably underneath your main and any secondary drives. Even if it doesn’t display in the This PC window because it has no partitions, it should appear as a Removable volume here.
If you see the drive here, go to section #5. There, you will correctly partition and/or format your disk so that Windows and other devices can access it. Continue if your external disk is still not visible in Disk Management. You’ll need to figure out why your drive isn’t being recognized. It’s conceivable that you have a hardware problem, a driver issue, or a dead disk.
The problem with your external drive may not be with the device itself, but with the port you’re using to connect it to your computer.
3. Try Another USB Port and Computer
Remove the drive from its present slot and connect it to another USB port on your computer. If it works in one USB port but not in another, you may have a faulty USB port. If you suspect this, learn how to identify and repair dead USB ports.
If you have the drive hooked into a USB hub, connect it directly to the computer instead. Some USB hubs may not deliver enough power to run an external disk.
What if the drive does not appear in Disk Management after doing both of these steps? It’s difficult to tell if the drive is faulty or the computer is malfunctioning. Whether you have another computer nearby, insert the external drive into it to see if it is identified.
If the drive does not operate on any computer into which it is plugged, it is most certainly dead and must be replaced. When you try another system, don’t just look at This PC; see whether it shows in the computer’s Disk Management window, as stated above. Even though the drive is operational, it may not display in File Explorer if it lacks a volume that Windows can recognize.
If the drive appears on other computers—or if you don’t have another computer to test it on—Windows may be experiencing a driver issue with your device. The Device Manager may be used to check for this.
4. Troubleshoot Device Driver Issues
A shortcut to the Device Manager may be found under the same Win + X menu stated before. You may also open it by typing devmgmt.msc into the Run dialog.
Expand the Disk drives category in Device Manager and look for any devices with a yellow exclamation mark next to them. It’s also a good idea to go over the Universal Serial Bus controllers section.
If you notice the error sign for any item, it means that the device has a driver issue. Right-click the problematic device, choose Properties, and examine the error message under Device status. This information may assist you in resolving the issue.
We’ve looked at how to resolve the “This Device Cannot Start (Code 10)” problem as well as solutions for “Unknown USB Device,” both of which give useful troubleshooting techniques for driver difficulties. If those recommendations don’t solve your problem, there are some more basic measures you may take, however driver issues can be difficult to resolve.
If the issue just begun, try using System Restore to undo the modifications. If it doesn’t work, you may install an updated driver by right-clicking on the afflicted device in Device Manager and selecting Update Driver.
However, this seldom results in the discovery of a new driver for generic devices such as flash drives. Instead, you should look for a particular driver for your external hard drive on the manufacturer’s website; for more information, see our guide to upgrading Windows drivers.
Other settings are available on the Driver tab, which appears in the Properties menu for each device in the Device Manager. Roll Back Driver will rollback any recent driver updates (if any), which will most likely have no impact if System Restore did not function.
As a last option, you may delete the device from your system by clicking the Uninstall Device button. When you reconnect the disk after restarting, Windows will reinstall the driver and hopefully configure it appropriately.
If your device appeared in Disk Management earlier in #2, or if one of the following troubleshooting methods detected it, you’re ready to initialize the drive so it’s useable. In addition to providing basic information, the Disk Management tool may resolve partition and file system problems with your disk.
5. Create a New Drive Volume
If your external drive just displays Unallocated space, you’ll need to partition it. This enables the device to be used by Windows and other operating systems. To create a new partition, right-click anywhere on the Unallocated space, pick New Simple Volume, and follow the instructions.
Once you’ve partitioned the disk, you should be able to see it in the This PC panel and use it normally.
If your drive is partitioned (meaning it includes anything other than Unallocated space) but you still can’t see it in Windows, make sure it has a drive letter assigned to it. This should happen automatically, but if you deleted the drive letter manually for whatever reason, the volume may no longer be available in Windows.
To change the drive letter, right-click the partition of the portable drive and choose Change Drive Letter and Paths. If the device does not already have a letter, click Add and then choose one. If it does, choose Change and try again.
A later letter in the alphabet, such as G or J, is typical for detachable drives and will function properly. Avoid using earlier letters like A and C, which Windows reserves for various uses.
You may want to display all drives in This PC after changing the drive letter to ensure it appears.
If the drive appears to be partitioned but Windows cannot access it, it is most likely partitioned with a different file system.
6. Format the External Drive
For example, you could have used the ext4 file system from Linux or APFS on a Mac to format the drive. These file systems cannot be read by Windows. As a result, you’ll need to reformat the drive with a file system that Windows recognizes, such as NTFS, exFAT, or the older FAT32.
In the Disk Management utility, right-click a partition and select Format.
Because formatting will erase all files on your drive, make a backup of any important files on it before proceeding. If the drive was previously formatted for use on a Linux or Mac machine, take it to a computer running that operating system to back up the files before formatting it. If you want, you can rename the drive after formatting it. Keep Allocation unit size set to Default; keeping Perform a quick format checked is also acceptable. More importantly, you must choose a file system. Which one you should select is determined by the type of drive and the purpose for which it will be used. If you have a small flash drive, it was most likely formatted as FAT32. Because of its wide compatibility, this file format is still used for small storage devices despite its age. However, it is not an ideal option.
FAT32 supports only volumes up to 2TB and has a maximum file size of 4GB. Although you are unlikely to encounter either of these issues when using a flash drive, they are still limitations. The main reason to use FAT32 is that it is compatible with almost any device, including cameras, media players, game consoles, and others.
exFAT, on the other hand, is a more recent replacement for FAT32. It isn’t as widely used as FAT32, but it doesn’t have the file size limitations of the older format. ExFAT is also faster in tests.
Which File System Should I Choose for an External Drive?
As a result, unless you have a specific compatibility reason to use FAT32, we recommend exFAT for small removable devices like flash drives. If you want to learn more about the differences between FAT32 and exFAT, check out our comparison.
NTFS is another option. This is the modern file system standard for Windows, but using it on a flash drive is pointless. Many older devices are incompatible with NTFS, and it adds unnecessary overhead to smaller drives.
Use NTFS for large external hard drives that will only be used with Windows computers. If you intend to use the disk with other machines, choose exFAT instead.
Following this procedure when external hard drives do not appear should resolve the majority of disk recognition issues. If you’ve tried the drive on multiple computers and it still doesn’t appear in the Disk Management window after following these steps, the drive is most likely dead. You can take it to a computer repair shop to be sure, but it’s almost certainly toast at this point.
Fortunately, there are many excellent options for low-cost replacement external drives.
It’s fine to use NTFS for large external hard drives that you will only use with Windows computers. But if you ever plan to use the disk with other machines, pick exFAT instead.
Now Your External Drive Is Recognized and Showing Up Again!
Following this process when external hard drives don’t show up should solve most of the disk recognition issues you’ll encounter. If you’ve tried the drive with multiple computers and it never shows up in the Disk Management window after these steps, the drive is probably dead. You can take it to a computer repair shop to be sure, but at this point, you can be almost sure it’s toast.
Thankfully, there are lots of great choices for replacement external drives that don’t cost a lot of money.
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