How to fix corrupted external hard drives and recover lost data?

By Juno | Posted to Data Recovery, updated on August 28th, 2019 |

Summary: This post will teach you how to fix the external hard drive corruption problem as well as recover lost data from the corrupted external hard drives with iBoysoft Data Recovery.

External hard drives have been one of the most popular portable storage media for people to save their family pictures, work documents, favorite songs, and movies, etc. However, people can expect an external hard drive to be reliable from 3 years to 5 years, depending on the make, model, and conditions in which it is handled. Even though it gives people enough time to do backups, many people often find themselves in hot water over the issue that external hard drives become corrupted. Besides, the issue happens to other external disks too. For example, SD cards become corrupted and unreadable.

Table of contents:
1. How do you know your external hard drive is corrupted?
2. Why did your external hard drive get corrupted?
3. How to recover lost data from a corrupted external hard drive?
4. How to repair a corrupted external hard drive?
5. Effective tips to prevent external hard drives to fail
6. Epilogue

How do you know your external hard drive is corrupted?

We have been seeing a lot of people seeking help for a corrupted external hard disk.

"My 126GB external hard drive shows the message " E:\ is not accessible. The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable" when I try to open it. Does anybody know what's wrong with my external hard drive? I don't have any backup and it's so terrible if I lose all data stored on this hard drive. Please help if you know how to repair corrupted external hard drives."

The user above is not alone. If you have encountered one of the common symptoms of external hard drive failure below, your external hard drive is probably corrupted:

1. The files are missing or corrupted on the external hard disk.

2. You have read or write problem with the external hard disk.

3. Your external hard drive shows 0 used space.

4. Your external hard drive becomes RAW.

Or you receive one of the error messages:

1. "The disk in drive E is not formatted. Do you want to format it now?"

2. "You need to format the disk in drive E: before you can use it. Do you want to format it?"

3. "E:\ is not accessible. Access is denied."

4. "H:\ is not accessible. The file or directory is corrupted or unreadable."

5. "E:\ is not accessible. The volume does not contain a recognized file system. Please make sure that all required file systems drivers are loaded and that the volume is not corrupted."

6. "M:\ is not accessible. The parameter is incorrect."

7. "E:\ is not accessible. The disk structure is corrupted and unreadable."

When the external hard drive is corrupted, the operating system will have trouble reading the files. In other words, you will be unable to access the files on the external hard drive. Then what caused your external hard drive to be corrupted and unreadable?

Why did your external hard drive get corrupted?

The reasons for a corrupted external hard drive vary. We list some common reasons below why your external hard drive suddenly became corrupted and unreadable in Windows.

  • Improper operations. An external hard disk failure can be caused by human's improper operations like removing the disk without ejecting it first or keeping the disk connected during force restart.
  • File system errors. If the file system of an external hard drive is in trouble, it could become corrupted, RAW, unreadable, and unrecognizable in Windows.
  • Malfunctioned computer. This cause usually includes wobbly USB port, the outdated driver, etc. that stops the external hard drive from working normally.
  • Virus and malware attacks. Virus and malware can attack your external hard drives, changing file path and even removing files despitefully.
  • Hardware issues. The external hard drive could be crashed due to physical damages, resulting bad sectors or read-write problems of the disk.

Read ahead, you are going to learn how to fix a corrupted external hard drive. But before you fix the problem, it is very necessary for you to know how to recover lost data from the failed external hard drive first.

How to recover lost data from a corrupted external hard drive?

The golden rule for data recovery is to cut down write operations to the disk or the device as many as possible to decrease the data overwriting. If your original files are overwritten by your further operations to the disk, they will become unrecoverable. Some of solutions provided below will ask you to conduct write operations on your disk and might cause unrecoverable files. Therefore, it is wise to stop using the corrupted external drive and recovering data from it immediately.

All you need is iBoysoft Data Recovery. It is one of the best hard drive data recovery software which will recover your files from the corrupted external hard drives for free. It can recover pictures, videos, documents, audio, email files and other files from the corrupted external hard drives successfully and effectively. Other key features are listed below:

  • Recover lost data from emptied Recycle Bin, external hard drives, USB flash drives, SD cards, memory cards, CF cards, etc.
  • Recover lost data from RAW/formatted/inaccessible/unreadable external hard drives.
  • Recover lost data from BitLocker encrypted partitions or drives.
  • Recover lost data from deleted/lost partitions.
  • Supported file system: NTFS, FAT32, and exFAT.
  • Supported OS: Windows 10/8/7/Vista/XP and Windows Server 2019/2016/2012/2008/2003.

Text tutorial to recover lost data from the corrupted external hard drive

Step 1: Free download iBoysoft Data Recovery and launch it on your Windows computer.

Step 2: Connect the corrupted external hard drive to your computer.

Recover lost data from corrupted external hard drives with iBoysoft Data Recovery

Step 3: Choose the corrupted external hard drive and click "Next" to search for lost files on it.

Note: If your corrupted external hard drive is encrypted by BitLocker, you can choose "BitLocker Data Recovery" button at the upper right corner and provide the correct password to decrypt data from this drive.

Step 4: Click the scanning results to preview.

Recover lost data from corrupted external hard drives

Step 5: Select your important files, and click on the "Recover" button to get them back.

Too many words? Check video tutorial right now!

How to repair corrupted external hard drives?

When your external hard drive became corrupted, the error message "You need to format the disk in drive E: before you can use it. Do you want to format it?" pops up, asking you to format the external hard drive to make it work again. Generally speaking, formatting a disk can solve nearly all disk problems you encounter. If you don't want to format your disk as the first option as Windows suggested, check the other fixes below to see if you can repair the corrupted external hard disk without formatting.

Before fixing the corrupted external drive: check if it is showing up on your PC

Your external hard drive could get corrupt due to either software errors or the tough hardware problems. This difference matters because it almost determines whether you can repair this corrupted external hard drive in Windows or not. Thereafter, before you go further to try solutions to repair your external HDD, you can check if this drive is showing up on your computer. This check can be easily done through the native Windows utility called Disk Management.

Step 1: Right-click on This PC/My computer and choose Manage in the context menu.

Step 2: Select Disk Management in the left sidebar.

Step 3: Check if your external hard drive is detected in Disk Management according to the disk information.

check if the external hard drive is showing up in disk management

If your corrupted external hard drive is not showing up on Windows 10 in Disk Management, you need to send it to a data recovery store and see if they can help. If the Disk Management on your computer can detect this external hard drive, it would be a relief because there is no hardware damage and you can get down to repairing this drive with the following solutions.

1. Check the connection if the external hard drive is not working

Sometimes, your external hard drive is recognized by the computer but it just won't work normally or you just can't access data on this hard drive. In this case, you need to check the connection first before you wrong your external hard drive. Here are some feasible ways to check this.

  • Re-plug this external hard drive
  • Insert your external hard drive into another USB port
  • Change another USB cable to connect it to your PC
  • Connect it to another PC or Mac computer

2. Change the drive letter

Another way to fix the failed external hard drive issue is to assign this drive with a new drive letter, in that this process will try to reload the file system of your external hard drive as well as repair minor file system errors.

Step 1: Go to "This PC"/"My Computer" (right click) > "Manage" > "Disk Management".

Step 2: Find the corrupted external hard drive and right-click on it.

Step 3: Click "Change Drive Letter and Paths…".

Step 4: Click on the drive letter of your external hard drive and choose "Change".

Change drive letter to fix corrupted external hard drive

Step 5: Select a new letter from the drop-down box "Assign the following drive letter:" and then click "OK".

Note: When the Windows computer warns you "Some programs that rely on drive letters might not run correctly. Do you want to continue?", you can just click on "Yes".

3. Reinstall the USB driver on Windows

If changing the drive letter is unable to repair this external hard drive error, you can try to repair the corrupted external hard drive by refreshing the USB driver. Drivers act as a middleman between your external hard drive and the Windows operating system so that this hardware can cooperate with your computer, and if they get up on the wrong side of the bed, it can crash all your peripheral devices and even the computer itself.

Step 1: Go to "This PC"/"My Computer" (right click) > "Manage" > "Devices Manager".

Step 2: Double click on "Disk Drives".

Step 3: Right-click your external hard drive and choose "Uninstall" and click "OK".

Reinstall the USB driver to fix the corrupted external hard drive in Windows

When this process finishes, you can safely remove your external hard drive and restart your computer as soon as possible. Then you can connect your external hard drive to this PC again and see if it is working.

4. Repair the corrupted external hard drive by CHKDSK command

If the listed solutions didn't solve your problem, you may need to fix the corrupted hard drive using cmd. Fortunately, your PC has a built-in utility called CHKDSK which is able to repair some common hard drive errors. Let's check it out step by step.

Step 1: Type "cmd" in the search box of the Start menu and press "Enter".

Step 2: Right-click on "cmd.exe" or "Command Prompt" and choose "Run as administrator".

Step 3: Type in "chkdsk E: /f" (You need to replace "E" with the drive letter of your external hard drive) and press Enter.

Then this tool will repair your corrupted external hard drive. If this operation proceeds successfully, your hard drive will be usable again.

If chkdsk failed to fix the external hard disk problem, it means you can't fix the corrupted external hard disk without formatting. You will have to fix the corrupted external hard disk by formatting then.

5. Format the corrupted external hard drive

As mentioned above, formatting the external hard drive will write a new file system and leave a blank disk for use. It can be easily done with the built-in utility in Windows platform.

Warning: Before you proceed with the instruction of formatting the corrupted external hard drive, make sure that you have a backup of your important data or have recovered data with iBoysoft Data Recovery. Otherwise, you will lose all data on the external hard drive if you directly format it.

Step 1: Go to "This PC"/"My Computer" (right click) > "Manage" > "Disk Management".

Step 2: Find your corrupted external hard drive by disk information and right-click it.

Step 3: Choose the "Format" option.

Fix a corrupted external hard drive by formatting in Windows

Step 4: Fill in the necessary information of this hard drive (like the file system, allocation unit size, volume label, and format options) according to the wizard.

Step 5: Check the "Quick Format" box and click "OK" to reformat this external hard drive.

By now, your corrupted external hard drive should be fixed and can be used as usual again.

Effective tips to prevent external hard drives to fail

To better protect your external hard drive, we list some effective tips to prevent external hard drives from corruption.

  1. Don't remove your external hard drive when it is busy in transferring files, saving files, etc.
  2. Avoid unsafe ejection due to a sudden power outage.
  3. Regular back up your files.
  4. Purchase external hard drives from reliable and established brands like WD, Seagate, Toshiba, etc.

Epilogue to external hard drive recovery

Although external hard drives are convenient and powerful in storing files in daily life, it doesn't mean that you can sit back and just relax because these external hard drives are prone to corruption. Thus, you'd better keep a regular backup, foolproof but workable, if you don't want to lose files in the future. Or if you have lost important files, you can download the all-in-one external hard drive data recovery software - iBoysoft Data Recovery to recover your lost or deleted files before it's too late.