How to Recover Data From an External Hard Drive

When an external hard drive fails, the data loss you face can be devastating. This is because external hard drives are often considered to be our safe storage space. We use them as backup drives or storage drives for photos, videos, and other data that we consider more important than our day-to-day system data. Fortunately, there are ways to recover data from an external hard drive.

hard drive failure
When hard drives fail, you can usually get your data back.
credit: vectorarts/iStock/Getty Images

Types of Hard Drive Failure

The method for recovering data from an external hard drive depends on the cause of the hard drive failure or data loss. Problems can be caused by the hard drive enclosure, interface or power supply. There may also be a mechanical or logical failure on the hard drive itself. For each type of hard drive failure, there are specific steps to take and precautions to observe.

Logical Hard Drive Failure and Accidental Deletion

A logical hard drive failure is when the hard drive and the enclosure are both functioning properly, but the data on the disk has been deleted or corrupted. Cases of accidental deletion or formatting are obvious. Signs of a corrupted hard drive include the system being unable to mount the disk or recognizing the disk as RAW data. Windows may also prompt you to format the drive if it has been corrupted.

For logical failures and data loss, your best bet is to use data recovery software. There are free and paid options available. For accidental deletion or formatting, try R-Undelete, TestDisk, or Recuva. For corrupted partitions, try R-Studio, Restorer Ultimate, or EaseUS Partition Recovery. These are popular data recovery programs that are successful for a variety of data loss scenarios.

Mechanical Hard Drive Failure

A mechanical failure is when the inner components of the hard drive are damaged or malfunctioning. Note that this is different than an enclosure, interface, or power supply failure (see next section). Signs of mechanical failure are clicking noises, drives that can't be detected by the OS, and drives that won't spin up. If a drive has been dropped or subjected to extreme heat, cold, or moisture, it may be physically damaged. If you suspect a mechanical failure of the hard disk drive components, stop using the drive immediately, as this may cause further data loss. A professional data recovery service, such as DriveSavers, will be your best bet. Best Buy's Geek Squad and Micro Center also offer data recovery services. These services can be very expensive.

Enclosure, Interface, or Power Supply Malfunctions

An external hard drive is essentially the same as an internal hard drive, except it includes an enclosure with an interface and sometimes a power supply. If your drive won't power on or your computer can't detect it, then there may be an issue with one of these three components. If the drive is still under warranty, contact the manufacturer's technical support department for proper troubleshooting steps. Sometimes, a faulty power supply or interface cable may be the issue, and replacing these items will bring your drive back to full functionality.

If your drive is no longer under warranty, you can attempt to remove it from the enclosure and install it into into another enclosure or directly into a desktop PC. Note that disassembling a hard drive will usually void the warranty. You can purchase hard drive enclosures (without hard drives) from electronics stores for under $50.