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External hard drive's USB port stopped working, now what?

Sep 14, 2018 3:23PM PDT
What can I do if my external hard drive's USB port stops working?

Hi, I back up the data on multiple computers for my small business on one external hard drive, and then also on a second external hard drive. I primarily do the weekly backups on the first hard drive, and then maybe once a month or so, do additional backups onto the second hard drive in case the first one crashes.

The "in case of" situation finally occurred, and my first external hard drive, where I do the majority of my backups, has crashed. The issue is, I can't tell if it's the hard drive itself that has failed, or if it is that the USB port that it communicates from has failed. It only has one USB port, with no other ports for data transfer. I've tried connecting it to both my PC and my laptop, using different USB cords that work reliably on each of the devices, and none of them are able to make the external hard drive show up on my systems.

If the issue is the drive itself, I would suspect that the drive would at least show up on my computer when I plug it in, but be missing some folders or files, and would not let me access the drive properly without crashing. My guess is then that it is the USB port that's indeed the problem. Aside from taking the drive down to the local Geek Squad-type place to salvage the files that are on there, how can I access the contents if the USB port doesn't work? Looking forward to your insights. Thanks!

--Submitted by Rod H.

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Comments
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Teardown
Sep 14, 2018 4:46PM PDT

It’s either the cable, the enclosure electronics, or the drive, and you’ve ruled out the cable. Search YouTube for your model external drive and you’re likely to find teardown instructions. Then you’ll need a drive docking station to test the extracted drive.

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Try external drive reader
Sep 14, 2018 5:52PM PDT

I have an external USB drive adapter, not a housing for the drive that connects to IDE or SATA drives on different connectors. For older IDE 3.5" drive you will plug power into drive itself, others power into adapter. You will have to remove your backup drive from its current housing. Quick search for "external hard drive adapter" shows many for sale at store of your choice, $12-25. That will answer the question of whether its the drive, or the circuit board/USB connector in the drive housing. Assuming the drive is OK, a replacement housing is needed, 2.5" or 3.5" depending on what format. Make sure you get the correct SATA or IDE internal connector (most under 10 years old should be SATA). If the drive itself has issues, I like Gibson Research Shields Up utility. I have brought back several unreadable drives with it. But - your data is what's important, if the drive itself has to be recovered I would replace it and copy your valuable data to the new drive. You will at least have the drive adapter to assist with the data migration.

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Troubleshoot then narrow it down!
Sep 14, 2018 7:21PM PDT

Most likely the drive I had a 1tb green drive from WD fail on the external enclosure. I bought a newer 3 tb WD My drive and a new 1 tb drive and took out all screws and put new 1tb drive in.

I use both drives to mirror images on both computers. The WD drive lasted 8 years. Sometimes there are drive recovery programs I tried a Seagate one for a Seagate drive I thought failed but it fixed it. Always try the fixer program first from the manufacturer before you suspect the drive. A used 1tb green drive was 35 bucks from newegg and was better than the drive that came with it so go figure.

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It's a drive.
Sep 14, 2018 8:24PM PDT

Basically, remove it from the external case. Plug it into either a new external case ($30 to $50) or into a desktop (hint, even a laptop size drive uses the same SATA cable as a desktop drive). If the drive is good, it should appear. If the drive is bad, don't waste money on a data recovery attempt. The USB interface on an external drive is usually a tiny circuit board plugged into the SATA and power on a standard laptop drive. The drive itself is totally compatible with pretty much anything, if it's a laptop drive, I've had good luck with $20 to $30 enclosures on Amazon/Newegg.
I've been using this one since 2013 without any problems, including with SSDs (bonus, not screwdriver needed to swap drive):
Silverstone external laptop drive case

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Something Else to Check
Sep 14, 2018 10:08PM PDT

You're doing a good method for eliminating possibilities. I'd like to suggest something a bit different:

Try using the device manager and look under hard drives. Do you see your HDD? If yes, it probably isn't the USB. You can try unplugging the drive and re-plugging it in to see if the device manager changes. As others have suggested, you can try another external case. That can also eliminate an issue with the SATA cable in the case.

You didn't mention what OS you are running. Win 10 has some recovery options you can pick up from the boot menu. If its XP, try recovery console from the installation disk, then run CHKDSK /F /R followed by FIXMBR.

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USB drive not found
Sep 15, 2018 1:42AM PDT

Probably your USB drive lost the drive letter. Run a Partition Manager, and add a drive letter, and your PC will open the drive again.

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usb drive not found
Sep 15, 2018 5:00AM PDT

My problem was the same and was ready to throw the drive away when the suggestion came.....Change the power pack....Finding the correct one was the problem (I keep ALL power packs )
My Telstra phone died but the power pack was the same and it worked perfectly and instantly found the drive
I do not understand how the power was in the pack but was not able to use it!
BUT it did work
Please try this!
Best regards
Lindsay(Australia)

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Probably NOT the drive itself
Sep 15, 2018 8:45AM PDT

I have found that, with external drives in a largely stationary environment, it is far more often a failure of the enclosure than the drive itself.

New enclosures for hard drives are readily available and don't cost very much. But that is not the first step I would take.

What I have done is to obtain a SATA/USB converter from your local electronics store -- these are pretty cheap, and the one I have found that is both most reliable and easy to use carries the "Apricorn" brand. You are going to need to break the drive out of the enclosure in any event, and some of these enclosures are pretty tough. They are seldom assembled by screws or any other method that presumes that you'll ever want to get inside, so you will need something to penetrate whatever small seam you can find and pry it open by force. This will likely break the case, but so what? It's broken already.

After you've gotten the drive out, use the adapter, which will plug into the wall, into the two SATA connectors on the back of the drive (one for power and one for data), and plug into the USB port on your computer. After you get it plugged into your computer, you should see it as a removable drive, and you should be able to obtain the directory listing.

Assuming you see the drive (if you don't, it IS the drive and you're screwed), now you can do whatever you want with it -- transfer the contents to your internal drive or a new external drive, or install the drive as a new internal drive on your PC (assuming you have a SATA cable, an available head on your motherboard, and an available SATA power plug on the cable coming out of your power supply.

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Mini USB Sockets
Sep 15, 2018 10:36AM PDT

Mini and micro USB sockets are a pretty common fail point on various pieces of equipment. (particularly charging port on my grand daughters bluetooth speakers) As previously mentioned, do a search on You Tube or Google then either DIY a new socket or take it to an independent repair place and get a new socket fitted. You could also just use a usb to SATA hard drive connector on the drive when you remove it from case or fit to a new hard drive case. . Generally, the hardest part is getting cover off external drive without breaking any tabs holding things together.

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External USB drive not recognized.
Sep 21, 2018 6:20PM PDT

I have had that Problem in the past with W10, and submitted a bug report to Microsoft and they did finally correct the problem. I had the drives connected to a USB hub and that was the problem, and they did something to software and now all of my drives are usually recognized.I keep a direct link so that I can easily check if they are being recognized. As far as Backing up my data, I use a Western Digital external Drive and it backs up every hour all day long while the computer is on. It does that automatically, and then since W10 still uses the same back up program that they used on W7. That is too flaky for me, so I use AOMEI backer upper and it also runs automatically every week or so. If you are mainly concerned about Data, it is nice to have an image file of each file in your data drive and that is back up every hour. The Windows 7 Backup is not directly readable and you need to do a complete reinstall from the back up drive. When you use something like WD drive, you have an image of every file on your data drive.

Wish that Microsoft would replace the current W7 Backup on W10 with a more modern version of back up. The W7 backup must go back to 2010 or earlier. Too many back up programs seem to be clumsy and not very helpful. For all the other updates they are doing to W10, the fact that they keep the same back up program reverts back 10 years or so. You can never have too many back ups, and that is why having at least 2 seems the minimum to me.

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It Happens
Sep 21, 2018 6:23PM PDT

Wear and year of plugging the USB cable in and out over time but the fix is easy
run down to local computer store and pick you up a external hard drive enclosure sata or ide ,
crack open the old one unscrew the hardware and transfer it to the new home plug it all in and badabing badaboom your back in business everything you need is in the box.
Remember you get what you pay for so spend the extra bucks and get the speed you want , durability , etc etc I use the power adapter with sata to USB plugs first to make sure the drive is good still too

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Disk Management
Sep 21, 2018 6:26PM PDT

I've found that my Win10-Pro didn't see some of my external drives and accidentally/purposely destroyed the drive before I figured out to use the Disk Managament Console, to see and re-assign the drive! An expensive loss of data for no reason. I suspect, you will see the drive and then just need to give it a new Drive letter?

Now I see and can access all of my five external drives. Work's great.

Mark
Toronto, ON, Ca

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One caution about new enclosure
Sep 21, 2018 7:40PM PDT

I agree with the other posters that the problem is almost certainly the enclosure, and if so the drive is probably fine.

I'm also going to assume that you're using a 3.5" drive for backing up, not a 2.5".  I'm also going to assume you're not trying to back up just 20-30 GB total per PC.

Be sure a new enclosure has ventilation! I've bought several enclosures of different brands that looked like they had a grill on the front--but it turned out it was only a design.  There was no ventilation at all.  I recently opened a 2.5" external case made of wire mesh. On the inside there were plastic sheets--no ventilation!

Don't get conned by 'but the case is aluminum'. Unless the metal of the drive is flush against the aluminum case there won't be significant heat transfer.  And with the paper labels on the metal drive and the slight ridges, etc., you won't get flush contact.

One other caveat, ... and I assume this is probably limited to this particular model ... I bought four external 3.5" enclosures that contain fans.  The drives don't spin down. Once a backup is done (usually started after midnight), the drives keep spinning until I disconnect them and power them down.  (The reason I have 4 is that the 4TB was purchased for backup and the other 3 are smaller disks originally bought for data.)

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First thing: Run another backup!
Sep 21, 2018 8:19PM PDT

It is excellent practice - as became apparent here - to have a second backup to fall back on. So, just in case, get an additional drive (it looks almost like you will need it anyway) and create another current backup. Then update you second backup if it is about due. After this the backups on the "presumed dead" drive are no longer critical and the attempts to get them back are mostly an academic exercise.

You already have a fairly complete if unsorted list of things to check and do in the previous posts here. One other thought that I haven't seen here yet: There are some - mostly 2.5" - drives that have no SATA (or IDE) interface and unstead go "straight to USB." Tere is nothing you can do for those drives short of handing them over to a data recovery company - which won't be necessary if you managed to do a current backup onto the new drive.

If, however, you find a proper SATA (or IDE) drive in the enclosure you can test it in the standard ways: install it in a desktop computer as an internal drive, use an external adapter and/or mount the drive in a new external enclosure. Then see what you find on it - if the USB adapter in the enclosure was the problem the drive will most probably work perfectly. If it still won't show up on the disk manager's console give it a respectful burial.

Ah, but there is one other thing - someone mentioned it above briefly: it hapens from time to time on systems with a lot of USB drive traffic that Windows recognozes the drive under a drive letter that may currently be in use by another drive - in such situations he disk manager will show the drive but not give it a drive letter, which then could appear as if the drive was not recognized. In that case you can make disk manager assign a different, currently unused drive letter and all is good.

(Disk manager - there are many ways to get to it, the fastest for me is to right click on "(My) Computer" or "This PC" and select "Manage." A management console appears (possibly only after your affirmation that you want to make changes to your computer.) Click on "Disk management" and study the resulting display. Find the drive in question - if it won't appear even after a bit of a wait it probably is time for the final ceremony. If it shows up with a drive letter assigned use it, if there is no drive letter right click on it and assign one.)

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Try a *brand new* cable
Sep 21, 2018 8:50PM PDT

I've had devices stop working, or work intermittently, when either the tiny (mini or micro) USB port built into the device or the plug that goes into it wears down a bit -- and I'm talking about microscopically-small wear The same cable may work just fine in another device. (I suspect the port built into the device is built with an opening that's a bit "large" or "loose", again just microscopically so.) Since it's not possible, as a practical matter, to replace the port/jack on most small devices, I keep on hand a couple of brand-new, never used, high quality cables. Since the micro/mini connector has never been used, it should meet specifications, or maybe even exceed them; it's your best bet for resurrecting the drive one last time. And we always need an extra cable anyway, right?

If that doesn't do the trick, you'll need to remove the drive from its enclosure and connect to a computer using a dock or a SATA-to-USB cable. If the drive itself is still working, you'll be able to copy everything to a new external hard drive.

If you'd liket to avoid this problem in future, switch to using a "desktop" external hard drive that connects using either an old-fashioned USB 2.0 "B" connector or an Ethernet jack; or either a portable or desktop drive that uses a Type C connector.. All three of these connector types should be much, much more long-lasting than the micro and mini connectors.

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Same for me
Sep 22, 2018 8:17AM PDT

Same thing happened to me. I removed the drive and installed it in my PC. It Saw the drive. I ran WD check disk program and verified that the drive was fine. Enclosures are cheap so I just replaced it and I was good to go.

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Multiple possible issues
Sep 22, 2018 8:30AM PDT

I have had similar problems over the years with external drives, esp Western Digital external drives, which is why I have a drive for data backups only inside my desktop enclosure. But maybe you don't have the room for that inside your PC/Laptop or worry that the desktop will disappear and want to keep the backups in a more secure location?

A list of the problems I have encountered with external USB drives:
1) power supply of the external drive - made in China cheaply - it was the internals of the power supply not the cord or plugs that failed - I checked the terminal voltage. WD replaced that one for free when I contacted them. Only had that issue once so probably not a common problem.

2) USB driver issues/Windows updates. Yes, MS and WD can't seem to keep up with each other on external drive USB drivers. Plug-and-play is only as reliable as the drivers. Did you have a Windows update between the times the drive worked and then didn't? I have had to roll back drivers Windows Update installed from time to time with various devices, including external USB drives.

3) You didn't say if other external devices work with your PC's USB socket(s). If this is a desktop PC, be sure to use the USB sockets on the back of the PC. For complicated reasons, the add-on boards sometimes cause issues - probably driver issues, but sometimes cables shake loose or get corroded enough to cause problems - you could locate the cables inside your desktop and un-plug-re-plug them if the PC USB connection does not work with other devices besides the external HD.

4) Sometimes I have had to use Device Manager to uninstall a USB device - if one is not functioning, you should see an indication in device manager, a yellow warning flag next to the problem device. After uninstalling with device manager, reboot and the operating system will detect and reinstall the device. Not sure why this problem occurs, but from time to time there is a software conflict apparently that glitches the hardware drivers.

5) Another issue I had with WD external drives is if you put a system image with the built-in Windows create system image backup, during recovery, the external drive will not be recognized - the recovery software MS uses apparently does not include drivers for the WD external drives. Not your problem, but just thought I'd point that out for others who might encounter it.

Given the reliability (generally) of modern HD's, I'd guess it is not the HD itself inside the enclosure (unless you dropped it or it received an electrical surge for example). I'd bet that 9 out of 10 times it is drivers/software.

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Warranty support?
Sep 22, 2018 8:57AM PDT

Often, external drives for backup come with extensive warranties against data loss. How old is the drive? I'm surprised no one suggested this: contact the manufacturer. If you drive is still under warranty, the manufacturer may do one or possibly all of the following for free: replace the cable. replace the enclosure. replace the drive inside. replace the power adapter. replace the entire unit. copy over your old data. forensically recover your old data. We don't know what you have or what the warranty is, but you should look into it.

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Open it and get a new enclosure
Sep 24, 2018 5:15AM PDT

The storage in the external HDDs are regular HDDs all packaged up with some USB components. Buying a new enclosure and placing the HDD in it is your cheapest option.

You will have to crack open the old casing if there are no screws

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