Saturday, September 7, 2019

External Hard Drive Crashed? - Simple Steps to Help Troubleshoot & Possibly Recovery Your Data

Is your external drive not showing up on your Apple Mac or Windows PC computer? If so this article is probably for you.  The reason I am posting this is because I recently experienced one of my mobile hard drives not functioning properly.  Thankfully nothing important was lost because the data was a redundant copy.  Below I provide some steps that could help determine if your external drive crashed. If you prefer a quick video check out my YouTube page online.

In my field as a computer support technician I have seen my fair share of users coming to me to see if I can retrieve their data from their non working external drive.  Most hard drives will fail at some point, both hard disk and solid state drives.  Some hard drives fail due to age, an accidental fall or the enclosure stops functioning all together.  Before going to a retailer or repair shop check the steps below to see if could help. 

Step 1 - If your external hard drive is not detectable within a mac or windows computer then the obvious issue to think of is that the cable is damaged. If you replace the cable, as I did, and your drive is not showing up in your computer some times the drive format is corrupt and needs to be reformatted.  Tools to use to locate your drive and to reformat it for both systems are Disk Utility (Mac) or Disk Management (Windows).  If they are not detectable within these applications its possible that the enclosure and hard drive failed.  Just understand that if you do reformat it on a mac its possible that it may not be detectable on a Windows computer.  I would then suggest to format it as exFAT which will be read on both mac and pcs. Remember that once format the hard drive you will lose all of your data.  Don’t do this and continue reading.  There could be other ways to get your data from your hard drive.

Step 2 - Confirm power going to the hard drive. Most external drives have a light indicator showing us that there is power and activity going to the drive. Some external drives work on a separate power adapter like my Seagate Desktop 3TB drive which are designed to be stationary at the desk.  Some times the power adapter could be the issue and it is the least expensive way to get your drive running again.  If that solved your issue make sure you copy your files over to another working hard drive.  I would not trust the external drive after that experience.  It’s a sign that it could be failing soon or that the enclosure is to die as well.

Step 3 - If you have power and your device shows up intermittently, like one of my drives did, on your computer it is possible that your enclosure is the issue.  I had a really old 1TB external portable drive and found a new USB 3.0 cable and it worked for a bit but noticed it was giving me issues showing up once in a while.  At that point its possible the enclosure is no good and had to recover the data.

Step 4 - If no power is showing up from the enclosure and you have a new power adapter and cable then its possible that the enclosure of the hard drive just died.  No need to worry just yet as its possible to still retrieve the data.  Some external drive enclosure are pretty challenging to take apart so please do your research before doing so.  You dont want to damage the internal drive and its connections.  Thankfully my LaCie was easy enough to take apart but not all drives are the same.

Step 5 - After you remove the internal drive from the enclosure you can get an economical hard drive dock that can connect to your computer via USB, companies like Sabrent make some nice docks that are around $29.99 on that work well.  If you are not too comfortable with this step then see if you have a friend or coworker that likes to work on computers and most likely they might have one.  Don’t go yet to a retailer as they overcharge for things like this or may not provide this service.
Step 6 - If and when you dock your internal hard drive to your computer and you hear a consistent click or buzz then that could be an indication that your hard drive has officially failed.  This is what happened to one of my external drives.  The enclosure still worked but the drive gave a large buzzing sound when connected to the dock.

Now there are services out there for data recovery but some services can be costly.  If your data is priceless then I can understand you going through those channels.  There is no guarantee but there could be ways to get the data from a “crashed” hard drive.  I have been lucky to use a software like Data Rescue to recover data for some users.  I used this only when the hard drives were not detected within my computers while connected to the USB dock.  Only then I was able to recover most of the data, not all, using this software and it took a long time. For some software options on data recovery see the article I found from

When my external drive stopped working I was able to still use my LaCie enclosure and installed a spare 2TB internal laptop drive which was compatible and working great. Good thing it still worked because I didn't have to go and spend $159 on a new external drive.

Most important lesson never save all of your data on one hard drive.  Buy at least one external drive at start with at least 1TB drive but if you have lots photos then go with 2TB or more.  Stay organized if you have multiple external drives like I do for both work and personal use because it can be a bit too much to have multiple external drives.  Also dont forget about cloud services like DropBox, Box, Google Drive, OneDrive, iCloud, etc.  Most of these servers provide a free account but to get more storage you will most likely have to pay a monthly or yearly subscription.  This works great for people like my mother who do not have a computer or external drive to save their files so she purchased the monthly iCloud service to back up her photos and data from her iPhone.  Visit to see other online backup services.