How to rescue a failed external hard drive

With the rise of solid state drives (SSD) as main components of any modern computer, be it a Mac, Windows or Linux system, people are looking to external drives as backup solutions and storage extenders for their unbelievably tiny SSD’s. While an SSD will withstand the most drastic situations one could throw at it, an ordinary disk based hard drive requires more care.

But what if it is already to late? Then fear not, there is a few things you can try in the effort to save your drive.

First things first

The first thing anyone should do before diving into the whole process is to make sure they have no valuable files they need to retrieve. If you do, then the process might be very different to rescue your drive. I would suggest the first step you take is to download a Linux Distribution, such as Ubuntu, and make a live usb drive to boot from. Boot into the Linux Distribution, go into the file manager and choose your hard drive from the panel on the left. Open it and copy any files you want to keep to another drive or usb drive. While we are at it, open from the menu the application – Disks. Choose your hard drive on the left panel and click the gear icon in the right top. Click SMART check from the list and run a quick check. This will give as an idea of the overall damage the drive has received.


The next thing we would like to do is try a full format (if you have saved any data needed), also known as write to zero. This will eliminate most of your problem and might prove to be the overall solution. To do this, click on the gear icon under the listing of all your partitions (next to the – and the ■). And select from the menu, format. Then format the drive as NTFS.

The wild west

Now you can get down to troubleshooting the device in full. If it works as desired, great, you can restart back into your main operating system (Mac, Windows or Linux) and use your drive. If you still encounter problems, the best thing will be to take the hard drive out of it’s casing. Unplug the drive fully and grab a screw driver. Open your device and unplug the actual drive from any main board (green boards). Then take the drive and plug it straight into your computer, here is a guide on how to accomplish this (read from Internal hard disk drives). If you have a laptop, this might not work, try to gain access to a personal computer (PC).

When booting up your computer, try to listen for any noise that might be coming from the hard drive (a scratchy noise is usually heard). If there is a noise, it means the inside of the drive got damage and fixing this is very difficult. If there is no noise, boot into windows and have a look if you can access your drive from the file manager. If you are able to, great, this means there is a problem with your hard drive casing, and not your hard drive. You will need to use your drive inside your computer or try and get a replacement casing with main boards that works.

If, however, you cannot access your drive from the file manager, then you will need to dig deeper into the problem. Right click on my computer and click Manage. Then navigate with the left panel to Disk management. This is where you can create new partitions and format your drive, as well as delete partitions. See if you have any partitions (Usually blue blocks), if there is black blocks, right click on them and then select new partition or new. Then follow the onscreen prompts.


When you already have partitions (blue blocks), right click and select delete volume from the menu. After that right click and select new partition and follow the onscreen prompts.

At this stage you would want to format the drive again (quick format will do). If the drive works, great!

If it doesn’t work, then the actual main board of the hard drive might be faulty or the drive might have internal damage. Fixing any of this is near impossible and might leave the drive weaker then when we started, and storing data on such a broken device wouldn’t be recommended!

There is many alternative routes to fixing a broken hard drive, but I have found this route to be the best and most reliable way, although it takes longer.

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