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Plugged your external hard disk drive into your computer and noticed it’s slower than it used to be? If you use the drive regularly, this could be easily explained: perhaps it’s slowing down because it’s old or needs defragging.
But if the drive is only occasionally used, and you’ve just spotted the speed issue, there’s a chance it might be related to something else. Could your PC have a virus? Is there a setting in Windows 10 that is slowing things down? Or could the problem be something as simple as changing cables?
Let’s find out.
Is Your External Hard Disk Drive Slower Than Before?
If your external hard disk drive’s performance has decreased, several steps can be performed to either diagnose the problem or repair it.
- Defragment your disk drive
- Run a check disk scan
- Look for damage to the case or the drive itself
- Check the cables, replace if necessary
- Too much disk activity
- Check your drive and PC for viruses and malware
- Disable Windows indexing for faster performance
The rest of this article will show you exactly how to do each of those steps. However, should none of these fixes work, then it’s probably a good time to consider a new external HDD.
The sooner you do this and are able to copy the data from your old device, the better. Leave it too late and data on the old HDD may be completely irretrievable.
1. Defrag Your Disk Drive
Whenever you experience hard disk issues, one of the first things you should do is defragment your drive. Windows 10 features the Defragment and Optimize Drives tool, which you can open by typing “defragment” or “optimize” into the Start Menu.
With the troublesome drive listed, select it, and choose Analyze. Wait while this completes; the “Current status” column will tell you if action is required. If so, ensuring the drive is still selected, click Optimize and wait while the disk defragment takes place.
Remember, these instructions are mainly intended for traditional hard disk drives rather than solid state drives (SSDs).
On older versions of Windows, SSDs should not be used with standard defragmentation tools. As SSDs are flash-based, older defrag tools are likely to damage your data, if not the disk itself.
Fortunately, Windows 10 does not have this problem. The Defragment and Optimize Drives tool manages the optimization of SSDs as well as HDDs.
2. Run a Check Disk Scan
If the defrag completes successfully but there is no improvement from your HDD, it’s worth using the Check Disk tool. This is a tool that dates back to early versions of Windows. It’s capable of detecting (and sometimes repairing) problems with a hard disk drive. This often includes damaged sectors, which can lead to corrupt data.
You have two options to run Check Disk:
- Right-click the drive letter in Windows Explorer, and select Properties > Tools and look for “Error checking”. Here, click Check and follow the instructions.
- Check Disk can also be run in the Windows PowerShell (Admin) Access this by right-clicking the Start button.
Once running, input:
chkdsk.exe /f [DRIVE_LETTER]
Make sure you input the drive letter of the disk drive (or partition) that is causing you problems.
Check Disk often requires you to reboot Windows, so ensure you have closed all of your applications beforehand.
3. Check Disk Drive for Physical Damage
If you’ve made it this far, there’s a possibility that your HDD is damaged. You should be able to check this by observing the disk carefully, paying special attention to the following:
- Does the LED light flash or not?
- Does the computer hang when you attempt to browse the disk?
- Does Check Disk fail?
- Is the disk rattling when you hear it spin?
Although protected by the drive enclosure, hard disks are delicate, regardless of the bulky appearance. Not only can the disks themselves be damaged by a slight knock, so too can the read heads (as shown in the photo above).
Meanwhile, the small slivers of circuit board often on show are delicate and sensitive to contact. Even screwing a hard disk drive into an enclosure (or even into a PC or laptop) too tightly can result in problems.
If slower performance is traced to a damaged HDD, you should arrange a replacement ASAP. If you’re likely to have this problem again in future, it might be worth buying a tougher, durable portable HDD.
4. Check the Cables for Wear and Tear
Another problem that can cause the disk to respond poorly is worn cables. With the external HDD disconnected from your computer and the wall, take time to examine the USB cable and power lead.
Any cracks in the rubber insulation can often indicate a damaged cable inside. Cables with broken or damaged connectors (splitting, or hanging off) meanwhile should be discarded immediately.
If these problems occur with a power cable, you’re dicing with death. Meanwhile, if the USB cable is evidently damaged, this could be why your disk is not responding.
Replacement USB cables are inexpensive. Just make sure you buy the right type for your external HDD; modern devices are almost all USB 3.0, while older ones will be USB 2.0. Ideally, you should have already upgraded to USB 3.0.
While we’re discussing USB ports, it’s also worth checking if your external HDD works when connected to a different port. Sometimes one port will work better than another. Alternatively, you might be using a USB 3.0 device in a USB 2.0 port, which often doesn’t work. Switch to a compatible port and try again!
5. Too Much Disk Activity
If you’re using your external disk to copy large quantities of data to or from your computer, this can also result in it slowing down considerably.
For instance, you might be copying huge video files from your PC to the drive. Or you might be using it as a destination drive for torrent files. Either way, if large amounts of data are involved, an external HDD (or an internal one) can slow down considerably.
To find out if this is the case, launch the Task Manager (Ctrl + Shift + Esc or simply right-click the Taskbar and select Task Manager). With this done, click the Disk column header to find what applications are utilizing your disks.
If the answer is Windows Explorer, then the problem is due to copying data. But you could be using a torrent app, image or video editing tool, or even running a video game from a USB 3.0 drive. Whatever the app is, select it and click End task to stop it. This will hopefully return the drive to its usual working speed.
Noticed a lot of disk activity, perhaps as much as 100 percent? This is a known Windows 10 bug, which has its own set of solutions.
6. Check for Viruses and Malware
It can never be said regularly enough: you should be running an active antivirus tool on your computer. Even if you’re not (it isn’t always ideal on low-spec systems), you should have a tool that you can use to run ad-hoc scans.
Check out our list of the top online security suites for help.
Whatever the case, a rogue script could be accessing your hard disk drive and slowing it down. Worse still, the script (what we would usually term malware) might be already on your external HDD, and the slowdown isn’t from the disk itself, but your PC or laptop.
To scan a drive, find it in Windows Explorer, and right-click. Your antivirus or malware scanning tool should be listed in the context menu, along with an option to scan the disk. If not, you’ll need to open the tool and select the disk to be scanned (this differs between security suites).
Note that this may not be possible with Windows running normally; you may have to reboot into Safe Mode.
7. Disable Windows 10 Indexing
Finally, you could kick your slow external HDD back into life by disabling Windows 10’s indexing service. The idea is that when you connect your HDD to your PC, Windows takes forever to display its contents in Explorer because it is busy indexing them.
Disabling indexing stops this and speeds things up. The drawback is that Windows search will be limited to files that are stored on the disk.
To disable indexing, press Windows + R and enter services.msc. Click OK, and wait while the Services window opens, then scroll down to Windows Search. Right-click and select Properties, then Stop. It may take a while for this to complete, but once it has, click the Startup type: drop-down menu and select Disabled.
Disconnect and reconnect your external hard disk drive, and open it in Windows Explorer. It should now load quickly, as if it was an internal drive.
Speed Your External Drive Up to Normal Again!
Following these steps from beginning to end should help to resolve your external hard disk drive issues. For newer drives, disabling Windows 10’s indexing feature is often the most effective solution.