How to Access External Hard Drive not Showing up or Recognized by Windows?

By Vivian | Posted to Data Recovery Tips, updated on November 30th, 2020 |

Summary: It's about external hard drive not showing up on Windows computer. Whether it's an used or new hard drive that is not detected, you'll find a way to make it recognized, showing up, and access it in Windows. To prevent data loss caused by hard drive corruption, you can download iBoysoft Data Recovery and recover files before you repair this external hard drive.

Hard drive issues like external hard drive not showing up have been a pain for Windows users. It's because we can't access our data if the external hard drive doesn't seem to be recognized.

We say "seem" because Windows might have detected the external hard drive but it's just not showing up. To solve the problem, we need to first figure out what's happening exactly inside recognizing external hard drive.

Find more details about the listed situations of external hard drive not showing up in this article:

  • 1. External hard drive is not showing up in File Explorer
  • 2. External hard drive is not showing up in Disk Management
  • 3. External hard drive appears but is not recognized by Windows

A closer look at Windows recognizing external hard drives

To make it simple, we describe the process of recognizing external hard drives mainly in three parts.

  • Windows detects an external USB device
  • Windows reads and recognizes the external hard drive
  • The external hard drive is mounted and shows up in My Computer
external hard drive not showing up windows

The First Stage: Windows detects the external hard drive

Before the external hard drive gets recognized, it's only detected by Windows as a USB device asking for power supply from the USB or Type-C port. And we'll notice the external hard drive lighting up or spinning up. If not, check if any connection problems.

The Host controller creates a USB controller device to take control of the powered-on USB device and makes it visual on the computer. But if it fails, we'll see a notice "USB device not recognized" from Windows and an unknown device in Device Manager.

The Second Stage: Windows reads and recognizes the external hard drive

If it goes well, an external USB storage device will be recognized and created under Disk Drive in Device Manager. Later, Windows reads disk information, knowing how disk space is allocated through partition table.

If the information is lost or damaged, the external hard will be shown with unallocated space when checking in Disk Management. Of course, the new SSD that is not initialized doesn't show up partition information.

The Third Stage: The external hard drive is mounted and shows up in File Explorer

Then, the system reads file system to know how data is organized on the external HDD and mount it. However, If the disk file system is corrupted or RAW, the mounting process is failed, which makes the external hard drive inaccessible and ask for formatting in File Explorer.

Finally, an entrance (mount point) is required to access data, which usually is a drive letter or reparse point, while a disk without a drive letter won't even appear in File Explorer (My Computer).

Note: If the external hard drive is formatted from other OS and the filesystem can not be recognized by Windows(such as APFS, HFS+, EXT4, etc.), the system won't assign drive letter to it.

We see all kinds of problems could occur and result in the external hard drive not showing up issue. But hopefully, we'll troubleshoot them with the following guide and make our external hard drive visible on Windows PC.

Complete Guide to Fix external hard drive not showing up

When the external hard drive is not showing up on Windows PC, here is how to fix it (Windows 10 computer as an example).

What to do if external hard drive is not showing up in File Explorer?

When we can't find the external hard drive in File Explorer, My Computer, or This PC, we may find it in Disk Management (Windows 10/8/7 and some Windows server). This built-in tool allows us to check, initialize, partition and format hard drives. So, let's see if the external hard drive is showing up in Disk Management or not.

  • 1. Right-click on My Computer / This PC and choose Manage.
  • 2. When it enters to Computer Management, select Disk Management in the left sidebar.
  • 3. Check if the external hard drive is listed in Disk Management.

check external hard drive in Disk Management

When Windows 10 computer not recognizing the external hard drive, we could see one of these symptoms in Disk management.

The external hard drive is not initialized

A hard drive needs to be initialized before you can access it, otherwise, the disk is unknown and its storage space is unallocated. And we can't open the external hard drive in File Explorer. That external hard drive is not initialized or unknown in Disk Management is the main reason for new hard drives not showing up on computers. In this case, we can simply initialize this hard drive in Windows and then access it in File Explorer.

new external hard drive not showing up uninitialized

However, if it's not a new hard drive while it's "Not Initialized", great chances are that the hard drive is damaged or not recognized due to hardware issues. In this case, the external hard drive won't show its full capacity, not thing in the right column. Then' we need to check hardware problems like connections or replace the external hard drive

external hard drive not showing up no space information

The external hard drive has unallocated space

An external hard drive should have at least one new partition before saving and deleting files. The unallocated space on the external hard drive doesn't belong to any partition, which means that space can't be used to store data.

external hard drive not showing up unallocated

To make use of the unallocated space of a new external hard drive, we can simply right click to create a new simple volume. However, unallocated space on the used external hard drive means the partition is lost or damaged. In this case, we need to first recover data from the lost or deleted partition to prevent data loss, and then reformat this drive.

The external hard drive has no drive letter

Each partition has a driver letter as a mount point and entrance to access files. However, if for some reason, the drive letter is missing, the external hard drive won't show up in Windows 10.

external hard drive not showing up no drive letter

Fortunately, we can change or assign a new drive letter for this external hard drive. This operation also reloads the file system of the external hard drive and repairs some minor disk errors.

Here is how to fix the external hard drive not showing up issue by changing its drive letter.

  • 1. In Disk Management, find your external hard drive by the disk information and right-click on it.
  • 2. Right-click on it and choose the Change Drive Letter and Paths option. If this option is greyed out, the external hard drive might be hidden by a third-party disk management tool. You can unhide the drive and show it up on your PC.
  • 3. If your external hard drive doesn't have a drive letter, click Add and choose one. If it already has a drive letter, click Change and try another one.

The file system of this external hard drive is RAW

Normally, the file system of your external hard drive should be FAT32, exFAT, or NTFS. But now it becomes RAW, which means this file system is not recognized nor supported by Windows. Except for reformatting it with a recognizable file system, nothing will help.

But reformatting will wipe your data off this drive. Therefore, you need to recover data from the RAW external hard drive before reformating this drive.

What to do if external hard drive is not showing up in Disk Management?

What if the external hard drive doesn't appear in Disk Management at all? Then, the first place you should check is Device Manager.

1. Check the external hard drive in Device Manager

External hard drive not showing up on Windows 10 could be a result of hardware and software issues. So, Device Manager is the key point of distinguishing software and hardware problems.

  • 1. Press Win + R to open the Run dialogue box.
  • 2. Type in devmgmt.msc and press Enter to go to Device Manager.
  • 3. Expand Disk drives and find your external hard drive is listed here.
  • 4. Right-click on the external hard drive under Disk drives.

One case is that the external hard drive appears here but you can't open the external hard drive still. Then you should check if your USB driver on this PC is up to date, especially if you have recently updated the Windows.

update and uninstall disk driver of external hard drive in Dsik Management

If there is a sign that indicates a problematic driver, or if you find any Unknown device, you need to right-click and select Update Driver software….

If there is no abnormal sign, you can right-click your external hard drive and choose Uninstall. The external hard drive should be detected after you restart the PC.

2. Run Hardware and Devices Troubleshooter

Possibly, no difference is made after the disk driver software update. Then, it should be a hardware-related issue. Serious hardware problems could make an external hard drive dead. This is where you need to run the Hardware and Devices troubleshooter to fix common issues on Windows 10. External hard drive disappearing is one of them.

  • 1. Open the Windows search bar and type in Control Panel.
  • 2. Select Control Panel from the search list to launch this app.
  • 3. In the Control Panel screen, search for troubleshooter using the search bar on the top right corner.
  • 4. Click on Troubleshooting from the search result.
  • 5. Choose the Hardware and Sound option, and then click on Configure a device option.
  • 6. After you provide the right password of administrator, you'll be able to access the Hardware and Devices Troubleshooter.

This hardware troubleshooter would prompt you to fix the issues once any problem is detected. Then, you'll see and open the external hard drive on your PC as you usually do.

3. Check the connection of the external hard drive

If you can't find the external drives on the PC, try to check the connections. For an external desktop hard drive, you can check if it powers on. If it's a USB external hard drive or USB flash drive, you can check if the USB port is dusty and if the USB cable is damaged. You can change another USB port or even computer to connect this external hard drive.

What to do if the external hard drive appears but is not recognized by Windows

To be honest, this is easier to fix if you can see the external hard drive on the computer. At least, it's detected by Windows. Just for some reason, Windows can't read and recognize this hard drive. Here, "some reason" often refers to hard drive corruption.

To make the second hard drive work again, you can first repair the error inside the drive.

1. Repair the external hard drive with CHKDSK command

Windows not reading this disk results from factors like file system corruption, bad sectors, partition table lost, etc. You can't open the external hard drive until disk errors are repaired. CHKDSK, a native disk repair tool, allows you to repair corrupted external hard drives using cmd.

  • 1. Go to the Start menu of your computer, type in "cmd" in the search box, and press Enter.
  • 2. Right-click on cmd.exe or Command Prompt and choose Run as administrator.
  • 3. Type in chkdsk in the command prompt and press Enter.
  • 4. Type in chkdsk G: /f (you need to replace "G" with the drive letter of your external hard drive.) and press Enter to repair disk errors.
  • 5. When it repairs the error successfully, type in exit to quit this window. Then you can check if your external hard drive is showing up after restarting the computer.

Fix Hard Drive Errors with CHKDSK

2. Rescue data and reformat this external hard drive

Sometimes, the 'external hard drive not showing up' issue can't be solved by the solutions above. For example, the external hard drive is too corrupted to be fixed. Or the external hard drive becomes RAW. Then, formatting is the last solution you can resort to.

Warning: Don't jump to reformat if you have important files on this inaccessible external hard drive because reformatting will wipe your files off this drive. So, it would be better if you firstly recover lost data from this hard drive with data recovery software.

How to recover lost data from the unrecognized external hard drives?

It's difficult to fix this unrecognizable external hard drive without reformatting, but it's easier to fix it without data loss. iBoysoft Data Recovery, the best external hard drive data recovery software, will help you.

iBoysoft Data Recovery can recover lost data from the hard drive that is not showing up, inaccessible, unreadable, formatted, or unmounted. With some simple clicks, you can restore your emails, documents, pictures, videos and many other files efficiently.

So, if your hard drives, external hard drives, USB flash drives, SD cards, and CF cards are not recognized by Windows, here is how to recover data.

Steps to recover lost data from the external hard drives with iBoysoft Data Recovery?

You can simply download iBoysoft Data Recovery on your computer and recover lost data from the external hard drive with 3 simple steps.

  • 1. Connect your corrupted external hard drive to your computer properly and launch iBoysoft Data Recovery.
  • 2. Check if the external hard drive is listed by this software. If so, select it and click Next to scan for data on this drive. However, if the external hard drive is not showing up here, it's a dead external hard drive. You should send it to a local data recovery lab and try your luck.
  • Recover lost data from unrecognized external hard drive

Note: BitLocker Data Recovery is provided by this software if your external hard drive is encrypted with BitLocker with password available.

  • 3. When you find your files in the scanning results, you can double-click on this file and preview it. It shows if your files are corrupted or not before you finally recover data from this external hard drive.

Recover lost data from corrupted external hard drives

Then, it's time to fix the external hard drive not showing up issue by reformatting.

How to reformat external hard drives on Windows computers?

In addition to computer not recognizing external hard drives, many other problems can be easily fixed by reformatting.

Learn how to reformat an external hard drive on a Windows computer

Nevertheless, if the external hard drive shows up nowhere on your PC, it should be physically damaged. Replacement is the last choice.

Final thoughts

To sum up, when external hard drive is not showing up in File Explorer, try to check it elsewhere on the Windows computer. But anyway, you'd better first use external hard drive data recovery software to prevent data loss. Probably, for some users, this is more important than fixing the unrecognized external hard drive itself.