External drive not showing or not found? 6 fixes for testing (2023)

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Removable drives—such as USB flash drives, SD cards, and external hard drives—should be easy to use with your computer. However, in some cases, you may connect the drive to a Windows PC or other device with a USB port and find that the external hard drive does not appear.

This problem has many possible causes: partitioning problems on the external drive, using the wrong file system, dead USB ports, or driver problems in Windows. In the worst case, the drive itself may be dead.



Let's look at what to do when the external hard drive does not appear in Windows.

1. Make sure your external drive is powered on

This is an initial step, but still worth checking out. Almost all flash drives and many external hard drives do not require a separate power source - they are powered by USB. However, some external desktop drives have dedicated power cables or at least a physical power switch.

If this is the case and the external hard drive does not appear, there may be a problem with the device's power cable. Try plugging it into a different outlet or change the cable if possible. Check for signs of activity such as flashing lights on the device or noise inside the device before proceeding.

If you don't see any signs that the drive is working no matter what you do, the device may be dead. Make sure you knowsigns of hard drive failureso you can catch it early if it happens again.

Assuming the device turns on but still doesn't show up, follow the steps below in the order listed.

2. Check the disk in Disk Management

First, check if Windows detects your hard drive when you plug it in. Connect the removable drive to your computer if it isn't already.

Then openDisk managementtool. To do this, pressWin + X(or right-click the Start button) to open the Power User menu and selectDisk managementfrom the list. You can also open itStartdialog zWin + Rand go insidediskmgmt.mscto open this tool.

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As the name suggests, Disk Management allows you to view all the hard drives connected to your computer. It allowscheck disk sizes, partitions and other information.

You should see your external drive listed in the Disk Management window, possibly below your main drive and any additional drives. Even if it doesn't show upThis computerwindow, since it contains no partition, it should appear here as onePortableVolume.

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If you see a drive here, skip to section 5 below. There you will partition and/or format the drive accordingly so Windows and other devices can access it.

If the external drive still does not appear in Disk Management, continue. You need to determine why the drive is not recognized. You may have a hardware problem, a driver problem, or a dead drive.

3. Try a different USB port and computer

The reason the external drive is not being detected may not be the device but the port you use to connect it to your computer.

Remove the drive from its current slot and try plugging it into a different USB port on your computer. If it works on one USB port but not another, you may have a dead USB port. I seehow to diagnose and repair dead usb portsif you suspect it.

If you connected the drive to a USB hub, try connecting it directly to the computer. Some USB hubs do not provide enough power to drive an external drive.

What to do if the drive doesn't show up in Disk Management even after doing both? It is difficult to know for sure if the drive is damaged or if there is a problem with the computer. If you have another computer nearby, try connecting an external drive to it to see if it's detected.

If the drive doesn't work on any computer you plug it into, the drive itself is probably dead and you need to replace it. When testing another machine, don't limit yourself to testingThis computer; make sure to check that it appears in your computer's disk management window as described above. Even if it works, the drive may not appear in Explorer if there is no Windows-recognizable volume.

4. Troubleshooting device drivers

If the drive shows up on other computers—or you don't have another computer to test it on—Windows may have a problem with the device driver. You can check this using Device Manager.

You find a shortcut to itDevice Managerunder the sameWin + Xpreviously mentioned menu. You can also come indevmgmt.mscin the Run dialog box to open it.

Expand it in Device ManagerDisk driverscategory and look for devices with a yellow exclamation mark next to them. It's worth checking outUniversal Serial Bus controllersdepartment as well.

If you see an error symbol for an entry, the device has a driver problem. Right click on the affected device, selectpropertyand see the error message belowDevice status. This information can help you troubleshoot the problem.

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We investigatedhow to fix "This device cannot start (code 10)" error.HowFixes for "Unknown USB Device"which contains good troubleshooting steps for drivers. There are a few more general steps you can take if these drivers don't fix the problem, although driver issues can be difficult to troubleshoot.

If the problem started recently,try doing a system restoreto undo the changes. If that doesn't help, you can right-click on the affected device in Device Manager and use itUpdate the driverbutton to install the updated driver.

However, it rarely finds a new driver for generic devices such as flash drives. Instead, you can check the manufacturer's website for a specific driver for your external hard drive. see ourInstructions for updating the Windows drivermore help.

TheGuidetab appearspropertythe menu for each device in Device Manager has several other options.Roll the driver backwill roll back any recent driver updates (if any) which probably won't work if System Restore doesn't work.

As a last resort, you can use the so-calledUninstall the devicebutton to remove the device from the system. After restarting, Windows will reinstall the driver and hopefully configure it correctly when you reconnect the drive.

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5. Create a new volume

If your device previously appeared in Disk Management in step 2, or one of the troubleshooting steps above caused Windows to detect it, you can initialize the disk to make it usable. In addition to displaying basic information, Disk Management can also fix partition and file system problems on a disk.

If only removable disk is displayedNo allocationspace, you will need to create a new partition in it. This allows Windows and other operating systems to use the device. To create a new partition, right-click anywhere onNo allocationspace, selectNew plain bindingand go through the wizard to create a new partition.

Once the disk has a partition on it, you should be able to see it in the fileThis computertable and use it normally.

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If your disk is partitioned (meaning it contains everything butNo allocationspace) and you still can't see it anywhere else in Windows, make sure it has a set of drive letters. This should happen automatically, but if you manually removed a drive letter for some reason, the drive may not be accessible to Windows.

To change the drive letter, right-click on the removable drive partition and selectChange drive letter and paths. If your device doesn't already have a letter, click itAdd onand select one. If yes, clickChangeand try another one.

Something later in the alphabet, e.gGtheJ, is standard for removable drives and will work fine. Avoid preceding letters, e.gINIDowhich is reserved by Windows for other purposes.

After changing the drive letter you may wantshow all drives on this computerto make sure it appears.

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6. Format the external drive

If the disk appears to be partitioned, but Windows still can't access it, it's probably partitioned using a different file system.

For example, you may have formatted the drive with the ext4 file system from Linux or APFS on a Mac. Windows cannot read these file systems. So you will have to reformat the drive withfile system accessed by WindowsNTFS, exFAT or older FAT32 so that Windows recognizes it.

To reformat a partition in Disk Management, right-click it and select itForm.

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notice itFormatting will delete all files from the drive, so be sure to copy all important files to another device before proceeding. If your drive is formatted for use on a Linux or Mac computer, transfer it to a computer running that operating system to back up your files before formatting.

When formatting, you can give the drive a new name if you wish. PermissionAllocation unit sizeHowPredefined; compatibilityCreate a quick formatmarked is also ok. Most importantly, you should choose onefile system. Which one to choose depends on the type of drive and what you use it for.

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Which file system to choose for an external drive?

If you have a small flash drive, it is probably formatted asFAT32. Despite its age, this file format is still used in small storage devices due to its wide compatibility. However, it is not a perfect choice.

FAT32 has a maximum file size of 4GB and only supports volumes up to 2TB. You're unlikely to experience any of these issues when using a flash drive, but they're still limitations. The main reason to use FAT32 is that it works with almost any device, including cameras, media players, game consoles and more.

On the other hand, exFAT is a more modern successor to FAT32. It does not enjoy the same popularity as FAT32, but it is free from the file size limitations associated with the older format. exFAT also performs faster in tests.

As a result, we recommend exFAT for small removable devices such as flash drives, unless you have a specific compatibility reason to use FAT32. We havecompared to FAT32 and exFATif you are interested in looking deeper into the differences.

Another possibility isNTFS. This is the modern file system standard for Windows, but you gain nothing by using it on a flash drive. Many older devices are not compatible with NTFS and incur high costs that are not necessary for smaller drives.

For large external hard drives that you only want to use with Windows computers, NTFS can be used. But if you ever plan to use the drive with other machines, choose exFAT.

Now your external drive is recognized and reappears!

Following this procedure when external hard drives are not showing up should solve most drive recognition problems you encounter. If the drive has been tested on multiple computers and never appears in the Disk Management window after following these steps, the drive is probably dead. You can take it to a computer store to be sure, but at this point you can be pretty sure it's toast.

Fortunately, there are many good options for replacing external drives that do not cost a lot of money.

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