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Addressing External Hard Drive Problems

Bob from Edgewater, Florida asks:

I have “Western Digital” My books, 500 Gig external hard drive. I can not access any of the information that is on the drive. Is there any way I can retrieve the information? Maybe software, freeware or anything that I can do. Thank you for any help you can give. I keep the hard drive hooked up all the time, Was this the wrong thing to do?

Well, let’s start with Bob’s last question. Leaving an external hard drive hooked up all the time should not damage the drive. I have a portable 500 gig hard drive that has been hooked up to my desktop for several years with no ill effects. I use it for my primary document storage.

After that, things become more complex, because I’m not sure what you mean by not being able to access any of the information. So let’s look at a couple of options.


My first question, although it seems pretty elementary, is “Is the light on the front of the drive on?” If it’s on and steady, then your drive is plugged in and powered correctly. If not, and the power cable is tight on both ends, you may have to buy a new power cable.

If it is powering on correctly, and your computer is simply not “seeing” it, then my next question would be “Are you connected through USB or through Firewire?”


This is a Firewire cable – I’m proceeding from the assumption that everyone knows USB by now. First off, try changing the cable that you’re using to connect it. If that doesn’t work, and you’re hooked up through USB, try a Firewire cable if your computer has a Firewire port. If you’re currently connected through Firewire, try hooking it up via USB. There is a speed sacrifice by going with USB, but it shouldn’t be significant enough to make you tear your hair out.

If this is all good, then the only other thing that I can think of is… and I hate to say it… hard drive failure.

If your external hard drive has failed, then there’s really nothing to do but replace it. The good news (if there is good news to be found here) is that a reputable computer repair tech may be able to retrieve some of your data.

If you’re confident in your knowledge of how to do this, you can remove the hard drive from inside the case and hook it directly into your computer as a hard drive and see if you can access it that way. If you can, I would suggest buying a new external and backing up all of the data off of this drive onto your new external.

If you’re not confident in your ability to do this, even a little bit, then don’t try. Just bring it into a tech that you trust and let them see if they can get anything off of it.

Hope this helps.

~Randal Schaffer