External Drive Not Recognized? This Is How To Fix It In Windows

External drives — either USB flash drives or external hard drives — should be easy to use. In some cases, you may connect your drive to a Windows PC or another device with a USB port and find that it’s not recognized. This problem can be caused by partition issues on your external drive, using the wrong file system, dead USB ports, driver issues in Windows, or other problems. In a worst case scenario, the drive itself may simply be dead.

The steps below will be the same for both USB flash drives and larger external hard drives, which work similarly.

Does the Drive Show Up in Disk Management?

First, let’s check whether Windows detects the drive when you plug it in. Plug your removable drive into your computer. If it’s an external hard drive, you may have to flip a power switch on the hard drive to activate it. Some heavy-duty removable hard drives may even have to be plugged in with a separate power cable before they’ll work.

Next, open the Disk Management tool. To do so, press Windows Key + R, type diskmgmt.msc into the Run dialog, and press Enter.

open disk management tool   External Drive Not Recognized? This Is How To Fix It In Windows

You should see your external drive listed in the Disk Management window. Even if it doesn’t appear in your Computer window because it doesn’t contain any partitions, it should show up here.

disk management removable drive   External Drive Not Recognized? This Is How To Fix It In Windows

If you do see the drive here, you can continue to the last section where we’ll format it properly so Windows or your other devices can access and recognize it.

If you don’t see the drive here, continue to the next section where we’ll try to determine why your drive isn’t recognized.

Making Windows Recognize the Drive

If Windows doesn’t see your drive at all, it’s possible there’s a hardware issue with your computer’s USB port, a driver problem with your Windwos computer, or you may just have a dead drive.

First, unplug the drive from your USB port and try plugging it into another USB port on your computer. If it works in one USB port but not another, you may have a dead USB port. If you’ve plugged the drive into a USB hub, try connecting it to the computer instead. Some USB hubs won’t provide enough power for your external drive to function.

If the drive doesn’t show up in Disk Management even after you skip the USB hub and connect it to another USB port on your computer, it’s tough to know for certain whether the drive itself is bad or the computer is having a problem. If you have another computer nearby, try plugging the drive in there to check whether it’s detected. If the drive doesn’t work on any computer you plug it into — be sure to check whether it appears in the computer’s Disk Management window — the drive itself is likely dead and will need to be replaced.

If the drive does work on other computers — or you don’t have another computer around to test this with — Windows may be having a driver problem with the drive. You can check for this using the Device Manager.

To open it, press Windows Key + R, type “devmgmt.msc” into the Run dialog, and press Enter.

open device manager   External Drive Not Recognized? This Is How To Fix It In Windows

Look under Disk drives and check for any devices with a yellow exclamation mark next to them. If you see a yellow exclamation mark, you have a driver problem. Right-click the device with a yellow exclamation mark, 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.

device manager removable drives   External Drive Not Recognized? This Is How To Fix It In Windows

Such problems can be tricky to fix. If the problem started recently, you may want to run System Restore. You may want to use the Update Driver button to install an updated driver, use the Roll Back Driver button to revert any changes, or use the Uninstall button to uninstall the device from your system and hope that Windows will reinstall the driver and configure it correctly when you reconnect the drive.

usb device properties   External Drive Not Recognized? This Is How To Fix It In Windows

Partitioning and Formatting the Drive

We can use the Windows Disk Management tool to fix partition and file system issues with the drive. If you see that the drive is unpartitioned and is full of “unallocated space,” you’ll want to create a new partition on it. This will allow Windows and other operating systems to use it.

To do so, right-click inside the unallocated space, select New Simple Volume, and go through the wizard to create a new partition.

create partition on flash drive4   External Drive Not Recognized? This Is How To Fix It In Windows

If your drive is partitioned and you still can’t see it, ensure you’ve set a drive letter so you can access it in Windows. This should happen automatically, but if you’ve manually unset the drive letter, the drive may not show up and be accessible in Windows.

To do this, right-click the removable drive’s partition, select Change Drive Letter and Paths, and add a drive letter. For example, add the letter G: and the removable drive will be accessible at drive G:.

give partition a drive letter   External Drive Not Recognized? This Is How To Fix It In Windows

If the drive does appear to be partitioned, it may be partitioned with the wrong file system. For example, you may have formatted the drive with the ext4 file system from Linux or the HFS Plus file system from a Mac. Windows can’t read these file systems. Reformat the drive with the newer NTFS file system or older FAT32 file system so Windows will be able to recognize it.

To reformat a partition, right-click it, select Format, and select your desired file system.

Note that this will erase all the files on your drive, so you’ll want to copy any important files off of it first — for example, if you formatted the drive on a Linux or Mac computer, take it back to a computer running Linux or Mac and copy your important files off of it before continuing.

format a partition   External Drive Not Recognized? This Is How To Fix It In Windows

If you can’t access the drive from another device, such as a DVD player, smart TV, game console, or media center device, it may be formatted as NTFS. Many devices, even Microsoft’s own Xbox 360, can’t read the Windows NTFS file system. They can only access drives formatted with the older FAT32 file system. To fix this problem, simply reformat the NTFS partition as FAT32. The drive should then be recognized by other devices when you connect it to them.

Note that this process will erase the files on your external drive. Copy the files off the drive to back them up first, if necessary.

format removable drive as fat32   External Drive Not Recognized? This Is How To Fix It In Windows

Following this process should solve most of the disk recognition issues you’ll encounter. If a drive isn’t recognized by any computer you connect it to and never shows up in the Disk Management window, it’s probably dead.

Have you ever had to do any of the things here to fix an unrecognized external drive? Leave a comment and let us know what worked for you!

Image Credit: Vincent Wei on Flickr

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43 Comments -

0 votes

kammak743

Thank you so much for this article, perfect timing.
I got an external HDD a few days ago and it only worked on linux not windows.

0 votes

tl

Unable to mount SD card with an internal SD card slot; done all of the above but still unable to get it back! From usbdeview this drive is simply not connected. Don’t know how to connect it as it come from my mb! Seems I need to do it from bios level but would like to know what alternatives

0 votes

Robert Nelson Lightle

Most likely it is actually a problem with your reader. Depending on the capabilities of your reader it may not be able to read SDHC (4 to 32GB) or SDXC (32GB to 2TB)cards. So if you have a SD only reader you are limited to 4GB max. So to combat this you can get a USB SD reader for very cheap that can read HC and XC cards. Check Amazon or TigerDirect.

Check this article out for some more info.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secure_Digital
Hope that helps.

0 votes

Muhammad A

I found this article very informative. It’s new to me. Thanks for helpful information.

0 votes

Mohammad W

Thanks for this pretty solution

0 votes

Merlin

Good article.
You should have mentioned though that for all of these actions, you need administrator rights.
Now that’s where the real problem lies when you are working on a company PC where you only have user rights.
If there are issues with the drive itself of course, you’ll need other tools to recover the partitions or data on the drive.

0 votes

Dennis

Hence if you have problems with a company pc, I suggest it’s not your problem, but it’s a problem for the company administrator!!

0 votes

Armin A

Nonsense !
Most of the problems are because of bad Drive ….
Which can be solved through returning via RMA (if it is under warranty ) or by reprogramming the chip with some tools out there …
For example Transcend company has a flash recovery tool for reprogramming the chip.
Silicon power also has some tools on their website.

0 votes

Beau W

Sometimes people find usb drives or other portable hard drives in a pile of unused hardware. Who knows what people did to it before that. Could have been used on a mac or linux. Hardly nonsense. This article is great.

0 votes

Daniel

Most problems are from the OSes in my experience. I have 3 external hard drives, they first worked and then the computer quit recognizing them.

0 votes

Kevin Ke

This article should also include the case when you need to reflash the IO chip…
The “checking under device manager” part is kinda wrong. Most of cases when window can’t recognize the usb, it won’t even know if it’s a disk or not then how can it put that device under “Disk drives”? Instead, check under the USB controllers.

0 votes

Bradlee TheDawg

Yeah…. well…. If Windows doesn’t recognize the drive, there’s a good chance going through all this trouble isn’t going to get you much. It’s probably toast, along with whatever was on it. That’s why anything important should be backed up continuously to the cloud and not stored on a USB thumbdrive.

0 votes

Claire

I had higher hopes than just being told to reformat my hard drive… I work in academic science and so have to switch large data files around between a mix of all OS types. I formatted mine and my minions’ external hard drives into exfat to facilitate this, but there is one PC that randomly states the hard drives are improperly formatted and can’t read/write files on them.

0 votes

Robert Nelson Lightle

If you are working with Mac and Windows you will run into compatibility issues. One of your best ways around this kind of problem is to use something like Apache Open Office or something similar that is capable of being run on most systems (I know you can run it on Linux and Windows). I am not sure of how reliable MS Office for Mac is that is the only reason I did not mention it here, but I know there are many cross platform Office programs for just this kind of problem. Now since Mac and MS Windows do not use the same type of partition table it is difficult to take flash drives from one to the other, so in your case I would advocate after finding an office program that you can run on all your systems, using a cloud storage such as Google Drive or Mega, or ADrive etc, to save your files too. You can log onto these from any system and as long as you have the appropriate software installed in the target machine you can then download your file to that machine and work with it. no need to reformat drives and other than the initial setup and sync of the file all you have is upload/download time. I think this would be your best choice. Well, hope that helped.

0 votes

Scott

@Claire exFat is not as universally supported compared to FAT32 but it is improving. NTFS is also not universally supported but it is improving. Ofcourse if your individual files are > 2GB and you don’t want to segment them using RAR or ZIP then exFat or NTFS are your choices.

0 votes

aboufethy

I am very grateful for this information which is very useful and I intend to use later

0 votes

Ellen O

Thanks much for this. My desktop recently decided to stop recognizing my external HD. Everything on it was backed up offsite, so I plugged in a new external drive and downloaded all the backed up files. But I will go through the steps you suggest with the old one to see if it’s toast or recoverable (rather than just tossing it – while storage media have come down in price a lot, a 1TB drive still costs a fair bit).

0 votes

Smurfy Dog

If you have followed all the steps here and it appears you have a dead USB flash drive, there may still be hope. Try the HP USB disc storage format tool. Very handy free little utility from Hewlett Packard.

0 votes

Bob Young

I didn’t read all the comments and other problems, so it may have been pointed out, already.
You address problems with flash drives formatted by a Mac. You didn’t address the problem of a flash drive PARTITIONED by a Mac. It appears to use a GFI partition. This is not recognized by Windows, will not mount in Windows and will not assign a drive letter in Windows, so the suggestions above don’t work in Windows.

0 votes

derrick

what do you do if it is read only

0 votes

Rick

I have a 128 MB cruzer glide that windows will not recognize on a computer but will on all others.
I put it in a USB slot, explorer and disk management will not see it. If I go to device manager, open up disk drives, it’s there.
Now if I uninstall it, physically remove the USB fob from the slot and put it into another one it will appear and work normally. If I pull it out again, I need to repeat the above steps. I’ve tried to format it in several versions but get the same. Inconvenient but it works

0 votes

Anonymous

my external hard disk cannot be detect by windows anymore . it also doesn’t appear on diskmgmt.msc or devmgmt.msc. do you have any solution for this?

0 votes

K,

For windows 8, there is a problem with certain flash drives that are not recognised. The problem comes from the usb host controller software. I had a flash drive working on windows 7, linux and osx but was not recognised by windows 8 (tried on different computers running windows 8). This fix helped: http://plugable.com/2012/12/01/windows-8-and-intel-usb-3-0-host-controllers/
Although it is not recommended for windows 8.1, it still worked for me.

0 votes

Zach

Does anyone have a rec for a USB port that provides enough power? I have a PC with only one USB port free. I must use a USB hub. My 2 drive enclosure plugs into the hub. Unfortunately, the 2 drives in it are only sporadically recognized by my PC. I think I need a new USB hub. Any suggestions? Thanks.

0 votes

Jamie

Thanks for your solution. Drive letter worked for me.

0 votes

J

Thanks very much for posting this. My laptop is 8 years old(I plan on recycling it), so I removed the 40 gig IDE hard drive, purchased an external enclosure, and my computer wouldn’t recognize it. It had Linux on it, but that wasn’t the issue. I formatted with the dskmgmt and assigned a letter and NTFS system(it was between that and exFAT), and the plug and play window appeared immediately. I hope to use this for my music.

0 votes

ChrystinP

Very handy information. I learned a lot from the article and the additional comments.

I’m having this problem intermittently with a drive and found that the issue was the cable being used; nothing at all, apparently, to do with the external hard drive or the computer. Just a reminder to check the simple things first, which won’t help flash drives, but may help solve the larger external drive issue when a cable is used.

0 votes

Neha

Lovely! Thank you so much for writing this! my problem is solved.

0 votes

James

Exactly what I needed, thanks

0 votes

Angel

This was amazing. You just saved me!

0 votes

JesusofOz

I think it’s great that you recommend copying files off the dead USB stick before formatting it..

0 votes

Vijay Gawde

Thanks. This was very helpful to me to get the external drive working with windows 8

0 votes

Monica Keirn

Do you have a similar tutorial for formatting an external hard drive (that is formatted for Windows) for Linux?

0 votes

Chris H

Linux can read Windows-formatted partitions just fine. That said, for formatting an external drive on Linux, I recommend GParted. Install Gparted from your distribution’s package manager — it’s a pretty simple graphical partition manager. (At least, as simple as partition management programs can get!)

0 votes

Michael

This process helped me turn an old PS3 HDD into and external HDD these steps are easy to follow and help a great deal. i looked for weeks to find a solution to my problem stumbled across this and it is by far the best step by step out there.

0 votes

Chris H

Thanks!

0 votes

Noah G.

Hi,
Thanks for the article; I’m having a different problem. When I insert the usb flash drive, the computer recognizes it and says it is working correctly. The LED on the flash drive which previously glowed solidly when it was working now flashes quickly non-stop. If I try to open the drive, my computer displays “Please insert a disk into removeble disk (F:)”.
In disk management, the drive appears as Drive 1 but it displays “No Media” rather than stating the size of the drive and “Online”. When I right click, the only options I have are “Change Drive letter and Paths”, Properties, and Help. It seems to have a drive letter and I’ve tried changing it with no success.
Also, under the My Computer tab I’ve tried format the drive but again, it says I must insert a disk. I’ve also tried scanning the usb drive for viruses but the virus checker seems to scan zero files and then report no threats found. Any ideas? Thanks!!

0 votes

Chris H

Between the flashing and “no media” indications, my best guess is that the drive itself may be damaged.

You may want to try asking on Answers: http://makeuseof.com/answers

Or, better yet, try contacting the drive manufacturer’s support. They’ve probably seen such an issue before and will be able to say whether the drive is damaged, hopefully.

0 votes

Gordon

Many thanks for this great article. Really helpful!

0 votes

Olga

Wow, great explanation. I fixed my problem. Many thanks!

0 votes

RKK

I am having an issue with only one computer. The drive was yanked out while in operation and since then it is no longer recognized on that computer. It works fine on my laptop. I am using windows 8.1 and trying to figure out how to get the drive back online. I tried system restore and no luck. I also tried a registry fix that someone had posted on youtube without any success.

Still looking for a solution.

0 votes

Chris H

Hm, not sure about this. It’s possible that the USB port itself is damaged — maybe try inserting the drive in another USB port?

Try asking on Answers: http://makeuseof.com/answers Maybe someone else has seen the same problem.

0 votes

P

Reassigned drive for thumbdrive to a free letter and good to go. Thanks so much!