Sep
15
2012

Fix : External USB Hard Disk drive not detecting / not working properly problem in Windows 8 , 7 , Vista & XP

After reading this article you will be able to fix some of the problems that stop a user from using their external USB hard disk drives properly & will also help in the situation where your Windows Operating system based computer does not detect your external Hard disk drive.

There are quite a few explanations for this problem & I have compiled this guide to address almost all of the known issues & help a user get rid of these problems for a smoother computing experience.

This guide addresses the most basic & the complex procedures to resolve some problems with your external hard disk drive. Follow the steps below:

Checking USB Connection

  • If you External drive is USB powered, make sure that your cable is connected properly and the USB slot is a powered slot.
  • Try replacing the USB Cable
  • If your external drive is powered through an adapter, make sure your adapter is working fine, replace and check, if necessary.
  • Try plugging your drive into another USB port

USB Drivers

  • Always make sure that you have the latest USB & Chipset drivers installed in your computer.
  • To check, run windows update to update your computer
  • or
  • Go to your motherboard / system manufacturer’s support website, download & install the latest drivers from there.

Device Management

  • If you plug-in your device & it does not show up in my computer. The first thing to check is that whether your device has been detected in your computer or not.
  • To check
  • Go to start menu & type Device Manager
  • device_m
  • Now, there are two things to check here. The first thing is whether your device is listed within disk drives of not. Check the screenshot above to confirm that my Seagate Go Flex USB device is listed there. In a similar way, you external USB device should be listed here.
  • Just to make sure click the last button, just under Help menu, to refresh the hardware listed there & to install any newly added device.
  • Second, thing to check is your Universal Serial Bus Controllers, list therein ( device manager ) & make sure all USB ports and enabled and are working properly.

Now,

  • Go to start menu and type device management or right click the computer icon and click on device management ( you might have to provide administrator password here )
  • Double click on storage
  • Double Click on Disk Management
  • management
  • Refer the screenshot above and make sure all of your drives listed here have a drive letter assigned to them,
  • if you see a drive that does not has a drive letter assigned to them
  • Right Click that drive
  • Click on Change Drive letters & paths
  • Now, add a drive letter here.

Running Disk Diagnostics

  • Sometimes due to a error in file system or on the disk, your hard disk might just fail to detect in your computer system.
  • An easy way is to gain access to a diagnostic software that might be available free to you on the hard disk manufacturer’s website.
  • Download & install such software.
  • Run the software to detect issues with your drive

Using a Live Disk, just to check

  • If you have any live disk with you, you can boot from that disk to check if it detects external drive.
  • Gparted live CD is a good tool to start with
  • If a Live CD detects your drive, it’s time to repair your Windows installation.
  • Check your disk for errors before exiting the live CD

Repairing Windows File System

  • If you have a Windows CD / DVD with you or if you have a Windows 7 repair disc, boot from it
  • On the first menu press Shift + F10
  • This will open up the command prompt
  • type diskpart
  • type list disk
  • If you see your external disk here
  • type select disk n ( n being the no. example 0 , 1 ,2 listed besides your disk )
  • if everything seems fine here ( size, file system etc. )
  • type exit
  • type exit again
  • Run CHKDSK with the drive letter
  • Boot back into Windows
  • Go to, Run ( Windows key + R )
  • Type, SFC /SCANNOW
  • wait for the process to complete

IF this does not solve your problem

  • check if you can open up your external enclosure
  • Take your drive out and plug it directly into your computer system
  • If your drive works, backup your data
  • Buy another External enclosure
  • Plugin your drive to check if it works
  • Make sure you backup your data before doing any of this.
  • Format your drive ( repartitioning is also recommended )
  • NOTE: Do any of the above said steps at your own risk. Do not open your computer hardware or your HDD external enclosure, if you are not comfortable with it. Hire a professional to do it instead. If any damage or warranty violations occur, the author of this article will not be held responsible for it.

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About the Author:

Shantanu is a Windows Enthusiast, a troubleshooter & a writer. He is a Microsoft MVP in Windows Expert - IT Pro from 2007. You can check out his other work @ www.shantanukaushik.com

71 Comments+ Add Comment

  • when I right click on a USB to format it “L” for instance it shuts down windows explorer and returns to the desktop after a few minutes I have installedd all Vista service packs and updates. Any Idea’s?

    • Have you tried formatting it via Command prompt ?
      To do this : go to start menu and in the start menu search type cmd, right click the CMD ( command prompt ) that appears in start menu -> right click it and click on run as administrator

      let say your device is L

      format L:

      ( you can also /q for quick format )

      There can be quite a few reasons for Explorer to stop working :
      1. File system problems ( try running SFC /SCANNOW ) type this command in RUN
      2. also you can run chkdsk /f in command prompt to check your disk for errors
      3. Update your Chipset / USB drivers

  • Hello,

    Thanks for the info.

    I’ve just had a PC die on me, so I extracted the HDD from it, in an attempt to save all my data. I then went out and bought a new portable PC (it was long overdue anyway), and ended up with… Windows 8. I bought an empty SATA disk case, mounted the old HDD in it and plugged it to the *new* and shiny portable PC. And the (now external) HDD seems to be running, its diod is lit (meanig there’s power going through), but the drive doesn’t show anywhere – AT ALL. Help, please?

    • Hello,

      The first thing I would suggest you is that you check in device management and device manager. You can find device manager in control panel and find device management by right clicking computer icon and clicking on Manage, then click on storage.

      if this does not help, you will have to find a desktop computer & plug this drive directly to a SATA port and check.

  • hey dude..my extenal hard disk was woring prpoerly since yesterday…but now it shows that it needs to be formatted…but it is not formatting also…what should i do now??

  • i have removed my external hdd without safe removal..now it shows that it needs to be formtted..but it is still not formatting…what should i do now??please suggest me some ideas…

  • My seagate free agent 500gb hard disk is not getting detected, everytime i connect, it shows USB not recognized. Even in device manager its showing unknown device. I have data in my HDD which i want to restore, please provide me a solution how can i restore my data.

    • Hi,

      1.Try changing your cable

      The step mentioned below will void your warranty. So please do it at your own risk.
      1. Buy a 2.5″ external enclosure
      2. Open your Seagate Free Agent drive to remove the casing.
      3. Take the HDD out and plug it into the new external enclosure you bought or if you have a desktop PC, you can plug it directly to a SATA port as well & recover your DATA. ( this will work if your HDD is ok and only the USB casing has a problem )

      PS : Do this at your own risk. I take no responsiblity for any damage to your HDD or any warranty issues

  • Still Win8 can’ t detect my usb hard disk drive but on my other laptops, i have no problem accessing it. Even my usb flash disks are not detected by Win 8, but on Win 7 everything is okay! Why does Microsoft let this thing happening despite many complaints on similar issues?

    • i still experiencing it today. i have 500gb hdd that is in my enclosure, it is working in other pc, xp and windows 7. but in my latest laptop toshiba p875-s7102 pre installed win 8 it does not recognize it. it is a hassle that i need to use my old computer just to use it.

      i thought new gadget are always much better and convenient.

      i hope there will be answer for this.

  • My hdd is listed in my device manager, but I can’t open it. it just doesn’t react.
    What to do?
    Win 7…

  • Its a 1TB hdd and Elements hdd…

  • Thanks a lot it worked!!

  • my external hard disk is completely recognised by my comp……but cant play the contents like videos or music files from it….can’t even copy the contents of the external hard disk….can u plz help me out???

  • Hi,
    I have a toshiba external HDD canvio basics. It shows up in device manager but when i try to access it, windows says that drive is corrupted or unreadable. I have really important data on it that i dont want to lose. Also, it worked fine on my brother’s win8 pc yesterday. But today in my winxp, it is showing probs. Plzz help me

  • it says that my device is unknown in the device manager ….. and i cant see it in my computer but the device is working and when i plug it the computer makes a sound….. so what shoul i do ?

    • You can follow the link in my comment just above your comment. It will help you in this situation

  • the problem with my Avante hdd is when connect it will make sound but when i open my computer it does not show pls help to repair it.

  • hi I got a problem with my USB flash , today in winxp appears like unknown device and the problem is that I need the files. how I can take files . thanks for your time

    ps data recovery keeps names of files ?,if not is like to search a screw in whole space …. I have a lot files and this is important for my Job please help me thanks again

    • ps I can’t find like disk or flash or storage space
      only like unknown device appears thank you

    • 1.Have you tried using this drive in some other computer ? try that.
      2.some data recovery softwares do keep the file names intact
      3.You can use a good recovery software like stellar info or recover my files.
      4. If you are good with command line tools, you can use Test disk for Windows to recover your data

      • thank you for response , I try in 5 computers but in all appears like unknown device. the problem is how I make the USB to appear like storage space ? .
        if you have any solution to try. thank you for your time

        • It seems like a hardware problem to me. What’s the capacity of your drive ? How much GB ?

          • 16 gb.

          • It seems like a hardware problem. You could try to take the drive to the authorized support center near your location and ask them for a reset

  • Hi, I a total of 3 eHDDs.One of it is USB 3.0.

    I reformated my notebook and my 2 USB 2.0 eHDDs works fine except for my USB 3.0 eHDD.
    The system detects it as a CD Drive.

    Any solution?

  • Hi, I got a Buffalo Ministation extreme USB 3.0 eHDD.

    I was able to access the disk before I reformatted my notebook, after I reformatted my note book, the system detects it as a CD Drive and I can’t access my disk to access my important files.

    I have a lot of pictures and other stuff inside the disk that I need to use for my project.
    Your help would be appreciated.TQ!

    • Hello,

      The first thing you should do is, to download and install the latest Chipset, storage controller & USB 3.0 driver ( USB 3.0 drivers are the most important in these ) drivers for your computer from the manufacturer’s support website. Next, make sure that your computer is connected to the internet and go to device manager ( control Panel ) and right click your conflicted hardware ( the USB 3.0 ehdd) and click on update driver. Also, make sure that your windows installation is updated.

      Special Note : I have faced a similar problem & have noticed that USB 3.0 devices are detected as some other devices if and when the proper USB3.0 ( motherboard ) drivers are not installed or are not properly installed.

  • Hi,
    Have a laptop with usb 2.0 ports (win XP SP3) and an external 3.0 hdd. The transfer speed seemed slow so I bought an express card adapter with 2 usb 3.0 ports and installed the associated software, “renesas electronics usb 3.0 host controller driver”; since then my external hdd is not seen at all when connected to the usb 2.0 ports, not even in the Computer management. All other flash disks and usb 2.0 hdd’s are working ok, except this 3.0 hdd.
    Any idea of what may have happened?

    Thanks for help.

    • Try this : Remove the USB 3.0 card you recently installed and uninstall any associated driver software that came with the card. Now, restart your computer and update your chipset and USB drivers or simply run Windows update and select any hardware driver updates ( from the optional updates section ) and install them. Now, try plugging in your HDD. It should work, even if in USB 2.0 mode.

      This might have happened due to device driver conflict in the system.

  • With a problem of this kind, the first step is to check the physical connections. Unplug and reconnect the drive in each available USB socket one after another, keeping an eye on the drives list in My Computer. Try swapping out the USB cable with a spare.

    If no luck, then attach the drive to a different computer. If it doesn’t show up there then the problem is almost certainly related to the hardware or the connection. If it does appear on the second computer then it’s a system problem and you should then use the configuration tools mentioned above, beginning with scanning for hardware changes in Device Management.

    If nothing works then you might consider rolling back recent changes to the operating system using System Restore. With such a common piece of plug-and-play equipment as an external hard drive updating drivers is really clutching at straws.

    As a last resort reinstalling Windows is practically guaranteed to clear the problem.

  • Hi, I have an old Hitachi HDD SATA which I converted to an external drive. I use it for backup (mostly MS and flv files) accessing it via USB.

    Recently I am unable to access it. My old ACER PC running on Windows VISTA says it needs to be formatted which I can’t afford (to lose all my files). The Hitachi Help Desk recommends to run chkdsk /f /r, but I’m concerned it may corrupt all the files in the HDD. Help please.

    Thanks for your help.

  • Hard Disk Access Problem:
    When I connect my hard disk to the usb port, it does not show any drive letter and I cannot access my files. But in the “Safely remove hardware” button in the taskbar area the disk connection shows “00@ETE-00A0HT0″ and I can dismount my drive from there.

    Can you help me in this regard?

    • This means that your hard disk is ok, but there is a file system error that is preventing it from being read in your system. Download test disk for windows from the internet ( or access the link in my previous comments ( RAW ) and downlod test disk from there. you can also follow the same article to fix your drive.

  • I tride all the procedures but my external hdd tell me that usb not recognized and when i go to disk management it doesnt appear also so what is the problem. help me

    • USB not recognized is most of the times, related to power, cable or USB port issue. Are you using a laptop or a desktop ?

      1. Try updating your windows and your USB drivers.
      2. If it’s a desktop, try connecting directly to the back of the machine ( back panel USB ports )

  • what if my external hard drive cannot be detected? but sometimes my laptop reads it but i cant access it. my pc hangs whenever im trying to access/repair it. please help all my files are ther

    • Try booting from a linux distro ( magic parted should work fine ) and run disk check from there ( or use test disk )

      • is that an os? or an app? please help

        • Magic parted is a Live disk ( based on Linux ) and Test Disk is an application which you can find for Windows and for linux

          • tried magic parted and run the test disk. it still cant fix it. got any other ideas? Im starting to think that my files wont be recovered….. #hopeless

          • Have you tried a recovery software ? Stellar info has a good image when it comes to Raw partition recovery

  • in my system display drives are not working properly when i open an internet this prompt is displaying what i have to do pls help me

    • Go to your computer / motherboard manufacturer’s support website and download install the latest drivers from there. If you are unable to locate the drivers, please share your computer model /configuration and i will locate the drivers for you. Alternatively, you can run windows update and select any hardware updates from the optional and recommended updates section.

      OR

      Go to device mangaer in control panel -> expand Display Adapters -> Right click the adapter and click on update driver -> choose automatically locate option ( make sure you are connected to internet)

  • I have a Hitachi 1Tb hdd and when I plug it into my Hp laptop for windows 8 it doesn’t show up. Before it was working fine and I don’t have that much data on there. Yesterday, before it stopped showing up completely on my computer it said cyclic redundancy check error. I looked some solutions and figured I try to do it today, however its just not even being recognized. The power is on and I hear it running whenever I plug it up and its getting frustrating. Plz help.

    Thanks

    • hello,

      Have you tried this drive with another computer ? Also, Plug the drive in and restart your computer, now, Press DEL, F2 or F10 to boot into the BIOS (( The key for booting into the BIOS will vary according to your Computer )). Locate the information section and locate the hard disk drive information. Check if your External Hard disk is listed there. if its listed there, it means that your hard disk is ok and there is some problem with Windows.

  • After reading all the issues I do not have a very good feeling after buying this new laptop with windows 8 on it. I want to get some information off the old hard drive and want to know what adaptor to buy, but from the sound of it, nothing is going to work. I need some way to get the information off the OLD hard drive and onto the NEW computer, has windows 8 made this impossible? It not what cables should I buy?

    I feel like I have been dooped buying this computer with windows 8 on it.
    Please help.

    • It depends on what type of Hard disk your old computer was using. Is your old computer a desktop or a laptop ? The best way is to take it to a computer store and buy an external enclosure for it.

      Remember two things :
      1. is it a 2.5″ or 3.5″ drive ?
      2. Sata or IDE ?

  • Hi, i have problem with my external hard disk. This is the thing. When i try to copy files on Hard disk everything is normall, but when i try to get them back, they will not be copied. I tried to copy on another pc, its all the same. But there is one catch, when I put to copy smaller files up to 400 MB then all works. Im confused, obviously my hard is working, but i dont understand why cant copy big files, like more then 400 Mb, can you help me with this?

    • Hi, I think this is related to the file system. somehow your file system is following the older Fat file system architecture. Can u confirm that you are using NTFS file system ? Also share the capacity / make and model of your drive.

  • Yeah, im using NTFS(Deafault) system, my Hard disk is Toshiba, with 320GB capacity… What should i do? Thanks in front.

    • There seems to be a problem with file system on your disk. Will get back to you asap

  • Hi,
    have a new hard drive sonnics 1TB not in device manager not working on other laptops or p.c have swapped cables and tested usb ports on another sonnics hard drive(400gb). does not appear when touble shotted either.
    Any thoughts?

    • Sounds like a hardware issue. If its a new hard disk drive, you should get it RMAd

  • Thanks for the note but still I couldn’t fix my hard drive. My hard drive is WD ( My Passport) when I plug it I am not able to open it and I have a message saying my hard drive is corrupted and I should format but it so hard for me to format I have too much data on it. If thereis another solution please to tell me, thanks.

    • Yes, Check the link to fixing the Raw partition in the above comments, that should help

  • Hi shantanu, i have tried again but i couldn;t fix because i have some problems to follow you: i have device manager instead of device management and USB mass storage device instead of storage thanks very much.

    • Go to Control Panel -> Right top corner ( select small icons ) -> Administrative tools -> Computer Management -> Storage . Now check

  • Worked like I charm for me, dude. Thank you very much for sharing this!

    Best regards,

    Sergio

  • hi shantanu.,
    i have 2 TB 3,5 toshiba canvio external harddisk,
    it detect well until last day i forgot to “safely Remove hardware”,
    now it’s undetectable in any PC/notebook, not seen in “device manager” even listed as unknown device (no noticed device seen, all work correctly) . :( ,

    any suggestion sir?

    thank u

    • 3.5 means external power ? Check your power adapter and does your drive has a removable desktop cradle ?

  • Sorry my external hard disk is not working I open the disk management but it was just loading saying connecting to virtual disk I even try and open my computer it was just loading but the disk pls what can I do is HP invent

  • Hi ! I just used your troubleshooting guide for my new Toshiba USB 3.0 External HD . It wasn’t being shown by Windows and I thought it was dead. But then I followed your steps and it works now ! Thanks a lot ….:)

  • My external hard disk’s fan is not running so my computer cannot detect the external HDD. So what can I do?

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