Removable disk drives, either USB flash drives or external hard drives, desined to be easy to use. But in some cases, you can connect your drive to a Windows PC or other device with a USB port and discover that the external hard drive does not appear.
This problem has several possible causes: partition problems in the external drive, the use of an incorrect file system, dead USB ports or driver problems in Windows. In the worst case, the drive itself may be dead.
Let’s take a look at how to diagnose external drives not detected in Windows.
Make Sure Your Drive Powers On
This is a preliminary step, but it is worth checking. Almost all flash drives and many external hard drives do not require a separate power supply: they receive power via USB. However, some external desktops have dedicated power cable, or at least one physical power switch.
If this is your case and your external hard drive is not showing up, you could have an issue with the power cable. Try plugging it into another outlet or replace the cable if possible. Check for flashing lights on the unit that indicate activity before continuing.
Does the external hard drive still not appear?
When your hard drive is not displayed, try these points in order. First, we will verify if Windows detects the hard drive when it connects. Connect your removable drive to your computer if you have not already done so.
1. Check the Drive in Disk Management
Open the Disk Management tool. To do so, press Windows Key + X (or right-click the Start button) to open the Power User menu and select Disk Management from the list. You can also open the Run dialog with Windows + R and enter diskmgmt.msc to open this utility.
As the name suggests, Disk Management lets you see all the hard disks connected to your computer. You can review sizes, partitions, and other disk information.
You should see your external drive listed in the Disk Management window, likely below your primary and any secondary disks. Even if it doesn’t appear in the This PC window because it doesn’t contain any partitions, it should show up here as Removable.
If you do see the drive here, jump down to section four, “Create a New Volume and Assign a Drive Letter.” There, you’ll partition and/or format it properly so Windows and other devices can access it.
If your external drive is still not showing up, continue on. You’ll need to determine why your drive isn’t recognized. It’s possible you have a hardware issue, driver problem, or a dead drive.
2. Try Another USB Port and Computer
The problem may not lie with your device, but the port you’re using to connect it to your computer.
Unplug the drive from its current USB port and try plugging it into another port on your computer. If it works in one USB port but not another, you may have a dead USB port.
USB Ports Not Working? Here’s How to Diagnose and Fix It
If you have connected the driver into USB hub, try connecting it directly to the computer. Some USB hubs do not provide enough power for your external drive to work.
What happens if the drive does not appear in Disk Management even after trying these two steps? It is difficult to know for sure if the driver is defective or if your computer has a problem. If you have another computer nearby, try connecting the hard drive to see if it will be detected.
If the driver does not work on any computer on which you connect it, it is likely that the drive itself is likely to be dead and should be replaced. When testing with another machine, be sure to check if it appears in the Disk Management window of the computer, not just on This PC, as mentioned above.
3. Troubleshoot Driver Issues
If the drive does show up on other computers—or you don’t have another computer around to check—Windows may have a driver problem with your device. You can check for this using the Device Manager.
You’ll find a shortcut to the Device Manager under the same Windows + X menu mentioned earlier. You can also enter devmgmt.msc into the Run dialog to open it.
Expand the Disk drives category and check for any devices with a yellow exclamation point next to them. If you see a this symbol, that device has a driver problem.
Right-click the device with the issue, select Properties, and look at the error message. This error message can help you fix the problem; you may want to perform a Google search for the error message you find.
Driver problems are often tricky to fix. If the problem started recently, try running System Restore to roll back the changes.
If this doesn’t work, you can try the Update Driver button to install an updated driver. However, this rarely finds a new driver for generic devices like flash drives. Instead, you may want to check the manufacturer’s website for a specific driver for your external hard drive.
The Driver menu for your drive in the Device Manager has a few other options. Roll Back Driver button will revert any recent driver updates, which probably won’t have an effect if System Restore didn’t work.
As a final resort, use the Uninstall button to remove the device from your system. Hopefully, upon rebooting, Windows will reinstall the driver and configure it correctly when you reconnect the drive.
4. Format the Drive
If the drive appears partitioned, but you still can’t access it, it’s probably partitioned with a different file system.
For instance, you may have formatted the drive with the XFS file system from Linux or APFS on a Mac. Windows can’t read these file systems. You’ll thus need to reformat the drive with the newer NTFS or older FAT32 file system so Windows will be able to recognize it.
To reformat a partition in the Disk Management utility, right-click it and select Format.
Note that formatting will erase all files on your drive, so you should copy any important files on it to another device before continuing. If you formatted the drive on a Linux or Mac machine, take it to a computer running that OS and back up the files before you format it.
When you format, you can give the drive a new name if you like. Leave Allocation unit size as Default; leaving Perform a quick format checked is fine too. More importantly, you’ll need to select a file system. Which one you should choose depends on the type of drive and what you use it for.
If you have a small flash drive, it likely came formatted as FAT32. In most cases, this is the best choice. While FAT32 can’t save files over 4GB and only supports volumes up to 2TB, it’s unlikely you’ll run into either of these issues using a flash drive. More importantly, FAT32 is compatible with all sorts of devices, such as cameras, media players, game consoles, and more.
NTFS is the modern standard for Windows, but there’s really nothing to gain by using it on a flash drive. Many older devices aren’t compatible with NTFS. Thus, we recommend formatting as FAT32 for flash drives and SD cards, and NTFS for large external hard drives.
You do have two other file system options. exFAT is a Microsoft file system that supports larger files that FAT32, but isn’t as widely compatible. We’ve compared FAT32 and exFAT if you’re interested. FAT is ancient, so you can ignore that one.