Reading Time: 7 minutesAn inaccessible external hard drive may seem like a cause for worry, but there are various ways you can fix this issue and get back your data. In most cases, the drive is not accessible due to fixable issues such as outdated drivers, or a virus infection. There may be other, more severe issues, but even then, you can still recover your data and resolve the problem using our guide below.
Why Does a Drive Become Inaccessible
Your external hard drive can become inaccessible due to a plethora of reasons. Here are the most common reasons behind an inaccessible drive:
- ⚙️ Incorrect Permission Settings: Many times, the permission settings on your Windows PC may be incorrectly configured, leading to a “Access is denied” error message. The solution to this, is to change the permission settings using an administrator user account.
- 🔌 Improper Usage: Doing things such as not ejecting your drive before physically disconnecting it, removing it in the middle of an operation, and leaving the drive connected to your PC 24/7, can all contribute to a drive that is not accessible.
- 📆 Outdated Drivers: Regular driver updates are important to ensure smooth communication between your computer and the external drive. Outdated drivers can result in Windows not detecting the drive, as well as a host of other issues.
- 🗃️ Incorrect Formatting: A drive that is not formatted to a format that is recognizable to the OS, will not be read by the device, or it may simply ask you to reformat the drive.
- 🖱️ Malfunctioning Connector Ports: USB ports can malfunction and result in a disk that’s not accessible. Thus, it’s always best to test the external drive on different USB ports and another computer, before labelling it as inaccessible.
- 🦠 Logical Corruption: Logical corruption can happen due to multiple reasons. These include file system corruption and virus attacks. Usually, these can be fixed by formatting the drive or removing the virus.
- 🔨 Physical Damage: An external drive damaged due to water, power surges, shock, etc. will often become inaccessible. Users are advised not to attempt DIY recovery of a physically damaged drive at home. It’s better to take the help of a professional data recovery service and let them handle it.
How to Get Data From a Drive That Is Not Accessible
Even though your drive may not be accessible in Windows Explorer, it’s likely that Windows can still detect the drive, but is simply unable to read the data on it. In order to recover data from a drive that is not accessible, you first need to check whether it’s visible in Disk Management:
- Press Windows + R to launch the Run application. Type diskmgmt.msc in the textbox and press Enter.
- In the Disk Management window, check and see if the external drive is visible and the storage size is displayed correctly.
- Close Disk Management and proceed to the next section.
After confirming the drive is indeed visible in Disk Management, let’s see how you can recover the data.
We recommend you use Disk Drill, which can detect your external drive as well as help you recover all your data with a few clicks. You can also preview your files before recovery. Windows users can take advantage of a free trial that allows them to recover 500 MB of data at no cost.
Here is how to recover data from an external drive, using Disk Drill, even if Windows can’t access the disk:
- Download Disk Drill and run the installer.
- Open Disk Drill, select the external drive you want to recover data from, and click on Search for lost data. Disk Drill’s scan times are relatively short, so you won’t have to wait for a long time.
- You can wait for the scan to complete, or view recoverable files in real-time. Regardless, click on Review found items to view the recoverable files. Users can also directly click the file type option on this screen (Pictures, Videos, Music, Applications, and Archives) to filter the results.
- Select the files you want to recover using the checkbox. Double-click on a file to see a preview. Click Recover after you’re done with your selection.
- Choose a recovery destination for your files and click OK. Remember not to recover the files to the same drive.
- Disk Drill will recover the selected files.
How to Fix a Hard Drive That Is Not Accessible
Depending on the reason for your external drive becoming inaccessible, there are a few ways you can get it back to a readable state. The sections below describe the various ways in which you can do this. Most of these allow you to fix your hard drive without formatting it, so your data should be secure.
Solution 1: Edit Ownership of the Drive
You can fix a drive that is visible in Windows Explorer, but displays the “Access is denied” error whenever you try to open it, by editing its ownership so that it’s accessible to you.
- Open Windows Explorer, right-click the external drive and select Properties.
- Click on the Security tab, and click on Advanced, as shown in the image below.
- On the next screen, click on Change Permissions.
- Click on Add.
- Now, click on Select a principal.
- Type the name of your user account or the user account you want to assign permissions to in the Enter object name text box. Click the Check Names option and then click OK.
- On the next screen, tick the Full Control option and click OK.
- Click OK on the next window as well.
- Close Properties and you should be able to access the drive.
Solution 2: Unlock the Drive
Depending on whether you’re using a Home or a Pro/Enterprise edition of Windows 10 and 11, your drive may be encrypted using Device Encryption or BitLocker Drive Encryption, respectively. You should be able to access the inaccessible drive, after disabling Device Encryption or BitLocker Drive Encryption.
Here is how to proceed:
- Depending on your version of Windows, type Device encryption or Manage BitLocker in Windows Search (Windows Key + S).
- Select Device encryption settings or Manage BitLocker, whatever is relevant for your device.
- Simply turn the slider for Device Encryption to OFF. For BitLocker Encrypted drives, select the partition from the list, then click on Turn off BitLocker. Note that you’ll need your BitLocker decryption key to turn off the feature. Here is how you can find your BitLocker recovery key in Windows.
Solution 3: Run CHKDSK
CHKDSK is a Windows command line utility that can detect and fix problems causing a hard drive is not accessible issue. Here is how you can use it:
- Type cmd in Windows Search (Windows Key + S). Right-click on Command Prompt > Run as administrator.
- In the console, type CHKDSK /f /r X: (replace X with the drive letter for your drive, as shown in the screenshot) and press Enter.
- Windows will find and fix any issues on the drive. The process can take a long time, depending on the size of the drive.
Solution 4: Update Drivers of the Drive
A simple update of the external drive can enable you to access a hard drive that is not accessible. You can do so, using Windows Device Manager:
- Press Windows + R to launch the Run application. Type devmgmt.msc in the text box and press Enter.
- In the Device Manager window, expand the Disk drives section, right-click on the external drive and select Update driver.
- When prompted, click on Search automatically for drivers. Windows will automatically download and install the latest drivers.
Solution 5: Format the Drive
As a last resort, you can opt to format the drive and get a fresh start. However, be sure to first recover your data because formatting will remove everything from the drive.
You can format a hard drive that is not accessible, using Disk Management:
- Press Windows Key + R to open the Run program. In the text box, type diskmgmt.msc and press Enter.
- In Disk Management, right-click the drive you need to format, and choose the Format option.
- Adjust the format options according to your needs, and press OK.
Fixing an inaccessible external drive is relatively easy. It helps to know the reason behind an external drive becoming inaccessible, so you can tackle the problem directly, instead of having to experiment. Even if you require expert assistance to fix the drive, you can still recover your data from a hard drive that is not accessible, by using data recovery software.