How to Connect an iPad to an External Hard Drive

By Diana V. Faustmann

The iPad can give you up to 128GB of storage, but if you have 1TB worth of media and files, that’s a drop in the bucket. While you can consolidate all your stuff, including your entire iTunes library, on a spacious external hard drive -- and reconfigure iTunes to sync your iPad from that location -- you can only enjoy what you can fit on the tablet. However, you access your PC’s external drive directly from the iPad by utilizing an iOS file management app, and get access to all of your stored content.

Step 1

Connect an external hard drive to your PC, and then right-click the Windows logo in the lower-left corner and choose “File Explorer” from the context menu.

Step 2

Right-click the hard drive, listed under This PC, on Explorer’s left sidebar, and then choose “Properties,” followed by “Sharing” and “Advanced Sharing.” Check the “Share This Folder” check box. By default, this gives all of the PC’s users read-only access to the hard drive’s contents; if necessary, click “Permissions” to change these privileges.

Step 3

Right-click the Windows logo again and choose “Control Panel.” Click “Network and Sharing Center,” followed by “Change Advanced Sharing Settings.” In the "Guest or Public" section, enable “Turn On Network Discovery” and “Turn On File and Printer Sharing.” In the All Networks section, activate “Turn On Password-Protected Sharing,” and then click “Save Changes.”

Step 4

Tap “Settings” on your iPad, followed by “Wi-Fi.” Make sure that the Wi-Fi switch is in the “On” position. Under "Choose a Network," select the Wi-Fi network that your computer is using.

Step 5

Download and install the free FileExplorer app from the App Store (link in Resources). Tap the app to launch it.

Step 6

Touch “+,” followed by “Windows.” Wait a few seconds for your computer’s name to display on the screen, under Network Neighborhood.

Step 7

Tap your computer’s name, choose “Registered User” as a connection preference, type your PC login credentials, and then tap “OK.”

Step 8

Touch your hard drive’s name in the next screen. Use the bottom icons to search, navigate, sort, create new folders or transfer files from the drive. Tap any file to view or play it within the app. Use the arrow icon on the upper right to open the file in another app, or delete, print or email it.

Tips & Warnings

  • Apps such as FileBrowser and Remote File Manager work very similarly to FileExplorer, and also offer "lite" versions you can test-run (see Resources).
  • Remote desktop apps can also give your iPad access to a PC’s external hard drive, but from any network anywhere. These apps typically require a paid subscription and installation of special desktop software.
  • Consider upgrading to a wireless portable drive. It uses built-in Wi-Fi capabilities to work with a companion iPad app to give you direct access to the external hard drive’s content. Some wireless drives can further serve as a portable Wi-Fi router for Internet access.
  • Information in this article applies to iPads running iOS 7.1.1 and PCs running Windows 8.1. It may vary slightly or significantly with other versions or products.