Why does Windows 10 not recognize my external hard drive?

Having issues getting your Windows 10 PC to detect an external hard drive is frustrating, but the good news is that this problem can often be fixed with some simple troubleshooting steps.

Quick Overview: Common Reasons an External Hard Drive Isn’t Recognized

There are a few key reasons why your external drive may not be showing up properly:

  • Drive not enabled in System BIOS
  • Drive not assigned a drive letter
  • Problems with the USB port
  • Driver issues with Windows
  • External hard drive damaged

The solutions will depend on pinpointing the exact cause, but they may include:

  • Enabling the external drive in BIOS
  • Assigning a drive letter
  • Using a different USB port
  • Updating drivers
  • Formatting the drive
  • Chkdsk scans
  • Getting a replacement

Follow the step-by-step troubleshooting below to identify the issue and get your external drive back up and running on Windows 10.

Step 1: Make Sure Drive is Powered on and Connected

First, ensure the drive is properly connected to your computer through the USB port. Try using a different USB cable if you have one available.

Make sure the drive is turned on and receiving power. Some external drives have their own power cables that need to be plugged in. If you’re using a desktop PC, plug the drive directly into the rear USB port for the most consistent power and performance.

Step 2: Check for Detection in Disk Management

Disk Management is a Windows administrative tool that can be used to manage hard drives and volumes. You can use it to see if your disk is showing up here, even if it doesn’t appear in Windows Explorer.

To open Disk Management:

  1. Hit Start and type “disk management”
  2. Click on Create and format hard disk partitions

This will open the Disk Management tool. Look for your external drive in the list. Even if it doesn’t have a drive letter or name assigned, it should show up as an unallocated space.

If you see the drive here, you can try assigning it a drive letter or formatting it. This should make it visible to Windows Explorer.

Step 3: Check System BIOS

If the drive still isn’t showing up in Disk Management, it’s possible it’s disabled in System BIOS. The BIOS is configuration software built into your computer’s motherboard. Follow these steps:

  1. Restart your computer and press the BIOS access key during startup – often Delete, F1, F2, F10 or F12 depending on your system.
  2. Navigate to the Boot menu.
  3. Enable Legacy Mode or USB Storage Detect if those options are available.
  4. See if your drive is now listed here. You may be able to enable it at this stage.
  5. Save changes and exit BIOS.

Your computer should now detect the external drive when you get back into Windows. Make sure you enable it in Disk Management.

Step 4: Assign a Drive Letter

If your drive shows up in Disk Management but doesn’t have a drive letter, you can manually assign one. Giving it a drive letter will make it accessible in Windows Explorer.

To assign a letter, right-click the external drive’s partition and select Change Drive Letter and Paths.

Click Add, choose a letter, and click OK. Your drive will now show up with that letter assigned.

Step 5: Mount Drive in Diskpart

Diskpart is another Windows command line tool that can be used to manage disks and volumes. Use these steps to mount your external drive:

  1. Open the Start menu and search “diskpart”
  2. In diskpart, list the available disks with list disk
  3. Identify your external disk and note the disk number
  4. Select the disk with select disk # (use your disk number)
  5. Mount with online disk

This should make your disk accessible in Windows Explorer again.

Step 6: Update or Reinstall Drivers

Outdated, corrupted, or missing drivers can prevent your external drive from being detected properly. To update them, use these steps:

  1. Open Device Manager: right-click the Start button and choose it from the menu
  2. Expand the Disk drives category
  3. Right-click your external drive and select Update driver
  4. Search automatically for updated driver software, or browse your computer for the driver software
  5. Restart your PC and reconnect the drive once the updates are complete

If updating the drivers doesn’t work, uninstall them completely from Device Manager, restart your computer, then reconnect the external drive. This will force a fresh driver install when Windows detects the disk again.

Step 7: Try a Different USB Port and Cable

If you’ve tried the above steps, also attempt plugging the external drive into a different USB port on your computer. Use a port directly on the motherboard if possible. Try switching the cable as well.

Some USB ports can lose power over time and fail to work properly. Connecting the drive to a different port and replacing the USB cable can help isolate the issue.

Step 8: Scan Drive for Errors

If you’re able to access the external drive in Windows Explorer or Disk Management, you can scan it for errors. Corrupted files on the disk may prevent Windows from reading it.

To run a scan:

  1. Open Windows Explorer and right-click on the drive
  2. Choose Properties > Tools > Check
  3. Check both options – Automatically fix file system errors and Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors
  4. Start the scan. This can take over an hour to run.
  5. Restart your computer once it completes.

This will scan and repair any file system errors. Damaged sections on the disk will also be recovered if possible. Afterwards, attempt to reconnect the drive and see if Windows recognizes it.

Step 9: Format External Drive

If the above steps don’t work, formatting the external hard drive may fix the issue. Formatting will erase all data on the disk, however, so you’ll want to backup any important files first.

To format the drive:

  1. In Disk Management, right-click the disk partition
  2. Select Format and choose your desired file system – NTFS is recommended
  3. Give the drive a new name if you want, and start the formatting process
  4. Wait for the format to complete
  5. The drive should now show up as a freshly formatted volume

Step 10: Contact Manufacturer Support

If you still can’t get your external drive detected in Windows 10 after trying all of the above steps, it’s possible the drive itself is faulty. Contact the manufacturer’s support line for troubleshooting tips specific to the make and model.

They may suggest additional diagnostics to run on the drive before exchanging it. Backup any data on the disk if possible before sending it back.


Issues getting an external hard drive recognized by Windows 10 often stem from driver problems or drive errors that can be resolved. Try the troubleshooting steps outlined here to re-enable your drive.

Formatting or replacing the drive may be necessary if all else fails. Contact the manufacturer for hardware-specific issues. With some patience and testing, you should be able to get your external hard drive back up and running properly.