How to Recover Deleted Files From an External Hard Drive

Robert Agar
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external hard drive data recovery with disk drill

External hard drives offer a great way to extend the storage capabilities of your computer or share data with other users. They are just as susceptible to data loss as any other type of disk-based storage media.

If you make extensive use of portable drives, there is likely to be a time when you need to perform an external hard drive data recovery. When faced with lost or deleted files, recovery software offers a viable way to restore them.

How to Recover Data from External Hard Drive with Disk Drill

Data recovery software is a cost-efficient alternative to sending your hard drive to a professional data recovery service. The application works as an extractor and recovers data from storage locations marked as unavailable to the operating system.

Disk Drill for Windows offers a flexible and effective method to recover data from an external hard disk. Follow these steps to recover your lost and deleted files from an external hard drive.

  1. Download and install the program on your Windows machine. Since you are recovering data from an external hard drive you can install the program on your computer’s main hard drive.
  2. Connect the external hard drive to your machine and launch Disk Drill.
  3. Select the external drive from the app’s list of available disks.
  4. Click the Search for lost data button to start scanning the device.external hard drive data recovery
  5. Preview the files that can be recovered and select those you want to to recover files from external hard drive
  6. Click the Recover button to retrieve the files you selected to a storage location of your choice. Don’t save the data to the external drive during recovery as it may lead to file corruption.external hard drive recovery

That’s all there is to it. In the space of a few clicks, you can restore data that has disappeared from an external hard drive.

Five Alternative Data Recovery Software Solutions

Though we highly recommend Disk Drill, here are five alternatives that can help you get back lost files from an external hard drive. We have looked at all of these solutions and present our findings to help you make an informed choice when searching for recovery software.


PhotoRec is an open-source, multi-platform recovery solution that focuses on the underlying data and can work with any file system. The tool can perform recoveries on damaged file systems by searching for known file headers. It recognizes over 480 different file extensions including those of many video formats.

This is a command-line application that does not provide the intuitive interface of some other video recovery solutions. The lack of point-and-click recovery capabilities may make this a more difficult tool for non-experts to use. Filenames are not recovered which slows down recovery efforts when multiple files are involved.


Unlimited free file recovery Supports many file types Freeware is updated annually and supported by its developers Acceptable recovery results for a freeware product
No preview options are available Does not recover the filenames or folder structure Command-line interface

OS support: Windows, macOS, Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, Sun Solaris

Price: Freeware


R-Studio is a commercial data recovery software tool for the Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. It’s a cross-platform solution that can recover files on any supported operating system from whichever OS you are using at the time.

R-Studio was developed to be used by data recovery professionals and has been redesigned to be more accessible to all users. It provides network recovery capabilities and has many advanced features that may not be needed by the average user.


Cross-platform support for multiple operating systems Customizable known file types for added flexibility Recovers files over a network Advanced RAID reconstruction
Interface and extensive features can be confusing for some users Trial version limited to recovering files of 256 KB or less

OS support: Windows, macOS, Linux

Price: Windows $49.99, Mac $79.99, Linux $79.99


Recuva is a basic file recovery tool that uses a Windows File Explorer type of interface. The pro version of the tool supports many types of devices including virtual hard drives. Users on a strict budget may be attracted by the low price of the paid version of the software.

This tool only supports recovering videos on Windows machines. It may not recover all of your files, so if the lost files are valuable, you might want to try a different solution. In cases where you are not too concerned over recovery results, the freeware and low price of the paid app make it a tool that you might want to try out.


A free version is available Automatic updates Recovers from damaged disks Securely deletes files
Limited recovery capabilities in the free version Does not recover as much data as more reliable paid solutions

OS support: Windows

Price: $19.95

Undelete 360

This freeware tool is designed for data recovery on older versions of the Windows OS. One of its attractive features is the ability to securely erase files from your machine, but it has limited scanning options and has not been updated in several years.


Unlimited free recovery Securely erase files Graphically indicates deleted and lost files in a recoverable file tree
Cannot scan damaged file systems Preview, file properties, and other features are restricted to the paid version No deep scanning mode

OS support: Older versions of the Windows OS

Price: Freeware

Tenorshare UltData

Here is another paid data recovery software application that supports Windows and Mac systems. It recovers data from all kinds of storage devices including iPhones and iPads. UltData has a high recovery rate and uses a simple three-step process for restoring your lost videos. There have been some complaints from users who had problems with the recovery capabilities but, in general, the tool gets positive reviews. It’s a little less expensive than some paid versions if that is one of your concerns.


Preview files before recovery Free lifetime updates 30-day money-back guarantee 24/7/365 help center availability
Potential problems trying to use the money-back guarantee

OS support: Windows, macOS

Price: Windows $59.95, macOS $69.95

Common Fixes You Can Try in Case Your Hard Drive is Undetectable

Problems with your operating system not recognizing your external drive are usually caused by physical connectivity or drive naming issues. Try these fixes if you can’t connect to an external drive.

Fix #1. Physical connectivity

The first thing to do is to try the drive in another port if one is available. You want to eliminate the possibility that the problem is with the interface and not with the drive. It also might be that the cable is bad. Try swapping cables. It just might solve your connectivity problem.

how to recover data from external hard disk by swap cable

Fix #2. Drive naming

The drive needs to have a unique drive name for Windows to recognize it in File Explorer. If the drive has not been assigned a letter or is trying to use the same name as another drive, you need to use Disk Management to resolve the issue. Once the naming conflict is addressed, try accessing the drive again. You should be successful this time. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Open Windows Disk Management.
  2. Locate the drive whose name you want to change. If you are unsure, right-click and select Explore to verify the data on the drive before you rename it.
  3. After verification, right-click the drive and select Change Drive Letter and Paths.
  4. Choose Change and select a name for the drive in the Assign the following drive letter drop-down box.
  5. Click OK and the Yes when warned that some programs may not work correctly with the renamed to retrieve files from external hard drive with drive letter

The Main Reasons for External Hard Drive Data Loss

Data loss on an external hard drive can occur for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the most common issues that lead to lost or deleted files and cause you to recover files from an external hard drive.

  • 🤷‍♂️ Human error – The number one reason that data is lost from any type of storage media is human error. It’s very easy to accidentally delete files or format a partition of an HDD inadvertently. You have probably emptied your Recycle Bin and then wondered if there was anything in there that you may need just a second too late. It happens all too often to even the most careful user.
  • 💧Environmental factors – Exposing your portable hard drive to too much moisture or heat can cause it to crash, resulting in data loss. You might leave a drive in a parked car and return to find it has overheated. In some cases, the device may be irretrievably broken and your only course of action is to engage a professional data recovery service. If you value your data, take care of your external hard drive and keep it in a cool and dry location at all times.
  • 🦠 Malware and viruses – Another major cause of data loss is infection by a virus or malware application. Some of these nefarious programs may randomly delete information from your machine, leaving you searching for an explanation for those missing files. The best protection against this type of data loss is to keep your computer’s antivirus software updated to minimize the chance of a successful attack against your machine.


Robert Agar
Freelance Writer at Self-employed specializing in technology-related subjects. Extensive experience in IT with a focus on backup and recovery, disaster recovery, cloud computing, databases, and data management.
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Senior Data Recovery Engineer. Master's degree in Physics, Information Technology for Science Experiments