Windows Won't Recognize an External Hard Drive

By Helen Jain

External hard drives are used to take programs from a computer and either back up the programs, files and folders or move the information to another computer. Sometimes, Windows operating systems will not read or recognize the hard drive and will create problems. There are a few potential causes, such as incorrect formatting, needed updates or partitions in the system, that prevent the computer from recognizing the hard drive.

Step 1

Change the external hard drive format. Windows will sometimes have incompatibility issues with one of the two possible formatting options, NTFS format and FAT32 format. The usual original setting is the NTFS format. If the original format is not working, change the format. Connect the external hard drive. Click "Start," type in "cmd," press "Enter" and wait for the Command Prompt window to open. Type "format/FS:Fat32 X:" in the command box, replacing "X" with the drive letter of your external hard drive. The letter will depend on which USB port you use for connecting. Usually it is an E or F drive. This will change the format to the FAT32 format, which Windows systems read. This will reformat so that the drive works.

Step 2

Update the external hard drive software. The hard drive should come with software that is installed on the computer. Once installed, the hard drive might not read because the software needs updates. In this situation, update the software and try again. Microsoft provides updates for all of its Windows systems. Click "Start," type "Windows Update" and press "Enter." Click "Check for updates" and install any relevant updates.

Step 3

Remove disk partitions. Sometimes the problem relates to too many partitions in the computer. The partitions are a protective measure, but they can potentially cause some problems. Click "Start," type in "cmd" and press "Enter." Type "disk command" in the Command Prompt and then "list disk" to see all of the partitions. If the problem is partitions, there are at least two partitions in the list. Type in "clean" to put all of the partitions into one. Hit the small "X" button to close the Command Prompt. Click "Start," "Control Panel," "Performance and Management," "Administrative Tools" and then "Disk Management." Right-click on the disk info, which is on the left of the screen, and select "Initialize Disk." Select all of the unallocated disk drives and hit " OK" to complete the process.

Tips & Warnings

  • Back up any data on your external hard drive before reformatting.