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Please help! I cannot access my external drive.

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / February 4, 2011 5:26 AM PST

Please help! I cannot access my external drive.

Hi, I really need help with this problem! 18 months ago I bought a Western Digial external hard drive to run with my desktop computer and laptop, both run XP. At first both machines recognized the drive as soon as I would plug the USB in, although with a warning that it would run at lower performance because my USB ports were not 2.0 ports but that was okay. I wanted it to put all my music, photos, data files etc on, to save storage on my computers, so I would plug it in and when it would ask me what I wanted to do I just select 'view files and folders' (after I had saved all my music, photos, documents etc to it) or otherwise would transfer things onto it.

The past few months when I have plugged it in, my computers go through reading that there is a device, trying to open it, and I see the grey rectangular box with those green squares going left to right with words flying by on top of that, that are obviously the names of files on it being read, when it finishes doing that, the box asking me what I want to do comes up for only a second then collapses before I get to see it and select what I want to do then starts all over again.

But the worst problem is the past couple of weeks when it is attached it does an appearing then disappearing 'dance' from 'My Computer' where all the drives are listed, and when it appears, instead of showing me my files etc, it comes up with a message like 'disk is not formatted, do you want to format it now?'. The first time it asked me that I clicked on Yes but then it warned me that if I continued it would wipe all the data off the drive and did I want to continue, so of course I clicked NO! and when I click on No that box disappears but there is a smaller box directly underneath it that appears and says that the drive is not available or cannot be read. Every photo I have, all my music (not just CDs that I can reinstall but music from other people and the internet etc) as well as university assignments, documents, old emails and chats are on this WD external drive so any help to figure out how to get it to operate properly and let me access my stuff would be greatly and urgently appreciated. Also since Christmas I have bought a new Lenovo laptop running Windows 7 and when I plugged the external drive into it the computer recognised that there was a new device but again only came up with something saying it wasn't formatted and asked me if I wanted to format it, so again I said No. Please Help.

--Submitted by Virginia T.

Here are some member answers to get you started, but
please read all the advice and suggestions that our
members have contributed to this question.

Western Digital interface problem --Submitted by High Desert Charlie

Here is what you need to do --Submitted by yasinghMD

Recovering data from your hard drive --Submitted by snldavis

Make sure you check the drive with another computer --Submitted by dsmeryage

Thank you to all who contributed!

If any of you have any additional suggestion or advice for Virginia, please click on the reply link and submit away. Please be as detailed as possible when providing a solution. Thanks!

Note: This post was edited by forum moderator on 02/11/2011 on 3:24 PM PT
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Recovering data from your hard drive
by snldavis / February 4, 2011 9:00 AM PST

Hi -

I have run into this type of problem several times in the past. It sounds like something has happened to corrupt or damage your Master File Table or File Allocation Table, that tells your system what is on your hard drive and where.

The first time I had this problem, I looked for data recovery software, and downloaded a number of trials to see if any of them could find anything. The one piece of software I found that was easy to use and saw everything on my drive was a product called GetDataBack from There are two versions, one for FAT and one for NTFS. You can download the trial versions and make sure whether it finds anything before you actually purchase it, but the price is reasonable. You would hook up your external drive to your PC, install this software on your internal drive, and use it to find files on the external drive. You can then copy them to another location (your internal drive, or another external drive). It can take a long time to run, depending on the size of your drive, but I have always been able to recover everything with it. As long as your system can see the external drive, the software should work. The sooner you do it the better, though - if you have a hardware problem on your external drive, it could get to the point where it would not be recoverable using this method. Good luck!

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Get Data Back
by morris53 / March 14, 2011 11:49 PM PDT

Next to Spotmau, these are the best two data recovery products on the market. The FAT32 program is great for SD cards. I've recovered both photos and video. Even if you've reformatted the disk, you can still get most of your data back. My Android Phone, a Behold II by Samsung has erased by 4.0 Gb micro SD card twice since I received the phone as a replacement for my dead Sidekick LX from T-Mobile. After completely dying twice within one year, I didn't give them much of a choice. The NTFS version is outstanding. I recently had a volume error on my Iomega 650 Gb Super Max drive. I ran the program and it took 22 hours to recover everything. I also run a 400 Gb Iomega and 1 Tb Iomega Super Max and was able to spread the recovered data around so I didn't have to lose any of it. I then reformatted the 650 Gb drive and haven't had any problems since. I only use Iolo's System Mechanic Professional to defrag my drives. XP sucks for degrag and don't try McAfee. I also have an Iomega 650 Gb that won't turn on and have an ongoing issue with Iomega about this. Your reply was great. I recovered over 600,000 files that were on this disk that most people would have cried over when it wouldn't boot up. iTunes has also been blamed for a lot of disk drive errors and Apple has been put under the gun to keep this issue to a bare minimum. Using XP's safely remove software app works great but you have to remember to select the actual drive and not the two supporting files or you'll get a 'can't stop drive' reply.

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Unreachable drive
by GFW / February 4, 2011 9:24 AM PST

Any good Disk Utility should be able to clean up the file index on this drive, unless something drastic has happened to it.

I used to use Norton Utilities, but I understand that has fallen out of favor in recent years. Any computer store should be able to provide something. Since I use a Mac (Apple has their own disk Utility) I can't advise you since my PC knowledge is limited and out of date.

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External drive -- cannot access
by twmcne / February 4, 2011 9:38 AM PST

It sounds like XP is in an autoplay loop.

Right click on the USB drive under the file explorer and adjust the "AutoPlay" settings to "Ask me what to do Every time" or "Take no Action".

Or you can go to the USB drive under in "Computer Management" -> "Administrative Tools" -> "Disk Management" and select "Do Nothing" for autoplay.

The USB drive may have to be inserted for it to be seen with either method.

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Western Digital Interface Problem
by High Desert Charlie / February 4, 2011 9:56 AM PST

Hi Virginia,

I've worked on multitudes of these Western Digital type external hard drives. In nearly every instance, it was not the Hard Drive that was corrupted, but instead, the interface that Western Digital uses inside the external backup was bad.

What I mean is this. Your data is most probably still intact if you haven't accidentally deleted it. Your next step is to remove the Hard Drive from the case and hook it up directly to the computer.

It's really not easy to take apart, but you can find the instructions using Google and searching for "Disassemble Western Digital". Find the link that describes the type of Western Digital External you have. Follow those instructions to remove your hard drive from its cover.

From here you have a couple of options. The first option is easiest and one I recommend. You can order a new USB hard drive enclosure for under $20.00 and simply and easily mount the hard drive you removed from the Western Digital rig into the new one. From there you can plug it into the USB port and you should be good to go!!! Windows 7 may ask you if you want to assign a Volume to the drive, but beyond that it should work fine.

If you want to be sure the Western Digital drive is working before you spend more money on a new enclosure, you have a second option, but you'll still need a SATA cable to connect the drive to a desktop, and the desktop will have to have an available SATA connector to plug in to. In most circumstances, modern motherboards use SATA connectors.

On your desktop, remove the cover door (Usually just two thumb screws on the back) and look at the motherboard to see if you have SATA connectors (just follow the cable from the existing hard drive already in the computer to the motherboard. It will be either a 3 inch wide ribbon cable or a half inch wide SATA cable. If it's a SATA cable then you're in luck, and there should be more than one. You can use an empty one that's available). You will need a SATA connector cable to connect your hard drive to the desktop motherboard, and you will need a second 1" wide power connector from the power supply of your desktop as well. You can't plug these in the wrong way, so turn of and unplug your computer, connect the SATA cable to the Hard Drive, then connect the SATA cable to an available SATA connector on the motherboard (it should be right next to the one mounted in your desktop), and finally connect a SATA type power connector to the hard drive. Once you've accomplished this, turn on the desktop and it should recognize the newly installed hard drive.

If your computer doesn't recognize the Hard Drive, then the Hard drive has most likely failed. If this is the case, you may be able to salvage some data using data retrieval software described it other posts. Another option (more expensive but much easier for you) is to take the Western Digital External to a small computer shop (like mine) and let them do it for you.

A final word of advice. Never give up on retrieving your data before a qualified professional who you trust tells you it can't be saved. I've run into many circumstances where customers have been told their Hard Drives were trashed, and been able to completely restore the data.

Good Luck Virginia

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Good Job!
by Jeshimon / February 5, 2011 5:56 AM PST

That has been my experience too.

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Last Resort - SpinRite
by si / February 6, 2011 7:52 AM PST
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one other thing
by si / February 6, 2011 8:03 AM PST
In reply to: Last Resort - SpinRite

Just to mention here - one other thing I have found works on dead drives sometimes: put it in the freezer for a couple of hours, then hook it back up directly to the computer (internally, if possible). If you can read the drive, get your data off there right away, because this fix doesn't last long.

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the freezer
by viking vol / February 11, 2011 8:37 AM PST
In reply to: one other thing

I actually used this one today on an external drive and it worked!!

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Freezing hard drives
by christinawatkins_76116 / February 11, 2011 10:19 AM PST
In reply to: one other thing

You can try setting the hard drive in plastic/baggie on ice in a cooler next to the PC, too...just be cautious of the melting ice and water!

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Hi Desert Charlie's Solution for an Unresponsive External HD
by wwgorman / February 11, 2011 8:38 AM PST

I agree with Charlie. Like Lee Koo I use several external hard drives for backup. I had the unfortunate experience of loosing two external drives at once and with them all my archived photos. I did exactly as Charlie says. Mine were IDE drives so I had to be careful with the external plug but I got my computer to recognize the drives with the use of a rescue disk. I could not access the drives directly as something in the file system (FAT 32 at that time I think) was corrupt. I retrieved all my photos and much of the data. Some of the data was corrupt but I got the photos which were the important items.

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Drive not working
by davolente / February 11, 2011 4:54 PM PST

I had virtually the same problem approx. 14 months after buying a WD "Elements" 640 gig external drive. The fault started intermittently with it not rustling up and it didn't appear to be spinning when I had a close listen. It eventually refused to work at all. I took the beast apart and installed the actual drive in an independent external housing and it's been fine ever since. Obviously a similar interface problem and the drive itself was OK. I have since heard that WD are actually quite helpful in this regard, so it may be also worth contacting them, depending on the age of the drive.

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data retrieval software
by cspitser / February 11, 2011 11:38 PM PST

You mention data retrieval software "mentioned in other posts" Can you recommend some, or point me to those posts?


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a different kind of failure
by baltovet / February 12, 2011 11:43 AM PST

Hi, and thanks to everyone for their help. I have a WD external drive I was using as a backup, and it now is not recognized at all. When I plug it in, I hear a somewhat loud clicking sound, as though something is trying to engage. I'm not sure whether the repair that Charlie recommended to Virginia would also be recommended in this case, or whether the clicking sound represents something more ominous. Please let me know. This drive has had very little use in the two years I've had it, since I have used large capacity thumb drives more frequently. However, there are some files that are on the WD drive which I would like to recover, as they are not available anyplace else.

Thanks again.

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Click sound is bad
by waytron / February 12, 2011 7:52 PM PST

This clicking sound usually indicates physical damage to the hard drive mechanism and will require expensive professional data recovery from someone like There may be no hope for it.

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clicking sound
by mattakunobaka / March 12, 2011 11:29 PM PST
In reply to: Click sound is bad

i've had the 'clicking problem' in the past, myself. i found that the drive wasn't getting enough electricity. if it has an external electric plug, you might take it out of the surge/power strip and plug it directly into the wall. if that works, you might want to buy a 'travel-type' surge protector (very small) and see if it will continue to work with that.

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re:Your Drive
by pc2053 / February 4, 2011 12:50 PM PST

If there is drivers that you installed originally, try reinstalling. Make sure that the drive itself is working. Do you hear anything when you plug it in? If it gave you the message about formatting, possible the drive itself has failed. I have one also that have the same characterized that you described. If the tips that I mention don't work, I thing that your drive is dead. Contact the manufacture if it's under warranty. Good luck.

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External drive fails
by gidergodt / February 4, 2011 1:22 PM PST

I have had the same problem whit some external drives (harddisks) . In some cases i could fix it by connekting it before i turned on the pc . if that dosn?t help . you could try to disemple the box and connekt the hard disk direktly to the pc. There is programs that claims the could save your files , but they can bee hard to use.
Kindely regards Allan

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Make sure you check the drive with another computer
by dsmeryage / February 4, 2011 1:29 PM PST
In reply to: External drive fails

I have seen various WD external drives which will fail to connect to one computer but work perfectly with another. In fact, I have one. Used to work fine with my desktop machine but now is not recognized on any USB port. However, it works fine on several of my notebook computers. I suspect it is a USB driver problem on the desktop. Be sure to try another computer before taking it apart for a new interface or using any special disk software!

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Works on one computer and not another
by Gigantor255 / February 11, 2011 9:43 AM PST

I had the same experience with one of my WD externals. It worked fine on my new Windows 7 desktop for a year. Then about three months ago my desktop started taking an extremely long time recognizing the WD, and eventually stopped recognizing it altogether. I plugged it into my Linux computer and it recognized the drive no problem. There was nothing wrong with any of the data, so I've continued to use the drive on the Linux computer.

I'm going to get another hard drive to back-up everything on the WD just in case this is an early sign of failure. But I think the next USB drive I purchase won't be a WD.

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Mine worked the same.way.....
by Bad Tom / February 11, 2011 10:16 AM PST

My WD will NOT function with my desktop, but works perfectly fine with my laptop!! Purchased a Seagate that seems to work fine on both!!! Very odd, tried so many things to get the WD to function on my desktop, but to no avail!!

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It might be a power problem
by mijcar / February 12, 2011 12:17 PM PST

Some USB drives seem to require more power than others. This can sometimes be fixed by trying different ports or by buying a self-powered booster extension.

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Single Best Suggestion Here
by mijcar / February 12, 2011 12:20 PM PST

Anytime you have a problem with an external device (printer, memory stick, whatever), first try it in another computer. If it works there, not only will you have a clue as to where the problem is (probably in a driver), but in the case of storage devices you will have the opportunity to retrieve your data or to copy it to another device that your computer still works with.

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Please help! I cannot access my external drive
by DiDi_2CAN / February 4, 2011 4:26 PM PST

I had the same problem. Retarting the computer with the external hard drive connected and open, seems to solve the problem.
Good luck!!

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The Answer is Simple
by rabino_ / February 4, 2011 8:55 PM PST

I had the same problem with the same WD external drive. The answer was very simple. The battery of my laptop was too weak to operate the power for the external hard drive. But it worked perfectly with my desktop using external AC. Another solution may be the cable connecting the external hard drive. Use only the original cable supplied with the device.

Alex R., AZ

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deja vu
by rplr / February 4, 2011 11:25 PM PST

I'm guessing your post about the WD external drive stands for Western Digital. I had a similar experience with my WD at around 18 months. I had valuable pictures and documents on their drive. Something happened within my system whereby I could no longer access my saved files. Being the drive was under warranty I called WD. They said I had a corrputed file that messed up their entire drive. They said the solution was to reformat the drive and reload their program. But, they quickly said, that in doing so I would loose all stored data. That was the extent of their willingness to help. I called a few places that deal in file recovery. I couldn't afford their prices. I crushed the WD drive and now use jump drives or flash drives. Good luck.

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Re; deja vu
by Kees_B Forum moderator / February 4, 2011 11:35 PM PST
In reply to: deja vu

Yes, that happens with people who use their external disk as storage, without making a backup of the data on it. A VERY common story in this forum.

Some people only learn about backup when it's too late. Sorry to read you were one of them. And no storage manufacturer is responsible for the consequences of losing data. Safeguarding that is your own responsibility. All you get is what you pay for: a one (or 2 or 3) year warranty on the hardware.


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using external disk as storage
by vcat / February 5, 2011 11:12 AM PST
In reply to: Re; deja vu

Isnt the whole point of having an external hard drive to have a place to store and access your data, music, documents, text files, photos etc so you can keep them safe from computer problems, crashes etc, and be able to access all that important stuff by simply attaching and accessing the external hard drive?? If that's not the case then I and most people I know must have completely the wrong idea about what an external hard drive is for..

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Re: external drive
by Kees_B Forum moderator / February 5, 2011 8:18 PM PST

An external drive is a nice way to move large amounts of data between PC's that aren't networked. And it's useful as a quick (but preferably not your only) backup medium.

It's NEVER a good idea to store information on only one place, be it an internal or an external disk. If you read through two pages of this forum, moreover, you'll note that quite a few posts are about "I can't access my external disk anymore", while hardly any is about "My internal hard disk failed". So it can be considered a proven fact of life that external disks are more unreliable than internal disks.

Your data, music, documents, text files, photos etc indeed are kept safe from computer problems. Alas, they are NOT kept safe from problems with the drive itself. And such problems for an external disk are more common than computer problems that damage data on the internal disk. And that's where your idea (and that of most people you know) fails.
Having a backup (preferably: 2 backups, on different media at different places) is the preferred way to keep your data safe.

Sorry, but that's the way it is.


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by vcat / February 11, 2011 11:14 AM PST
In reply to: Re: external drive

Thanks, I learned that the hard way in this instance. I guess I didnt know that because this WD external hard drive was the first one I have ever had or used, and it didnt come with any real instructions, warnings, tips etc in the packaging or from the place where I bought it. I now have a Samsung external hard drive which is twice the size and it was on sale for half the money I paid for the other one. It also has warranty information and a place you can call for help. In fact having read all these posts which have been informative and helpful by the way, I'm thinking of getting a second one, just to be on the 'safe side' from now on.

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