How to Recover Corrupted External Hard Drive Without Formatting

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Recover Files From External Hard Drive Without Formatting

Why Do Hard Drives Become Corrupted?

There are many reasons why your external hard drive may trigger the “You need to format the disk before you can use it” pop-up window, and you need to understand at least the most common ones to determine the best data recovery approach.

Reason Description
📖 Read/write issues Traditional spinning hard drives are complex electro-mechanical devices that rely on the interaction of platters traveling anywhere from 5,400 to 12,000 RPM and delicate read/write heads hovering just a few nanometers above them. Anything from regular wear and tear to minuscule debris floating inside the hard drive enclosure can result in read/write issues and cause hard drive corruption and errors.
🕷️ Software bugs Files stored on a healthy hard drive can become corrupted because of software bugs. In such cases, corruption tends to be limited to the files accessed by the buggy software. However, things can become very bad if the buggy software has admin privileges and access to system files.
🦠 Virus damage While most viruses and other kinds of malware don’t corrupt data, some are programmed to do just that and cause as much damage as possible by deleting important system files or encrypting personal data. A reliable antivirus should be able to catch most viruses dead in their tracks, but your first line of defense should always be caution and common sense.
💿 Manufacturer faults Even the largest and most reputable hard drive manufacturers make mistakes and occasionally release a hard drive that requires a firmware update to work properly. It’s a good idea to check online if there isn’t an update available for your hard drive or if it hasn’t been recalled.
☔ Poor operating conditions Hard drives require certain operating conditions to work properly and reliably. Excessive heat, high humidity, or electrical surges can significantly reduce their lifespan or instantly cause damage, depending on their severity.

How to Restore Data from External Hard Drive

If you can’t access your external hard drive without formatting, you should use a software solution like Disk Drill Hard Drive Recovery to recover all important files from it. Disk Drill supports all major file systems (NTFS, FAT, FAT32, exFAT, EXT3/EXT4/, HFS, APFS) and lets you recover up to 500 MB for free.

To recover your files from an external drive using software:

  1. Download and install Disk Drill.
  2. Connect your external hard drive to your computer.
  3. Launch Disk Drill, select the external hard drive, and click Search for lost data.recover external hard disk without formatting with disk drill
  4. Wait for scanning to finish.wait for scan to finish
  5. Preview and select the files you want to recover.
  6. Click the Recover button at the bottom.recover external hard disk without formatting
  7. Select the recovery destination and click Next.recover files from external hard drive without formatting with disk drill

How to Fix External Hard Drive without Formatting

If your hard drive needs to be formatted, it means that the drive is not properly recognized by your computer and needs to be initialized and prepared for use. This can happen for a number of reasons, such as if the drive has become corrupted, if it is not properly connected to your computer, or if it has been damaged in some way.

Formatting a hard drive will erase all of the data on the drive, so we will discuss how to fix the drive with other methods.

Method 1:Check the Connection

When troubleshooting external hard drive corruption, it’s easy to get deep into the technicalities and overlook the obvious, such as a connection problem. That’s why we recommend you try the following before you jump into more complex solutions:

  • Make sure the USB cable is intact: Examine the USB cable connecting your external hard drive with your PC for any visible signs of wear and tear. If the cable looks damaged, replace it with a new one.
  • Try a different USB port: Full-size USB ports should survive at least 1,500 cycles of insertion and removal, but that’s not always the case. To rule out this potential culprit, switch to another USB port on your computer.
  • Connect the hard drive to a different PC: Your computer’s system-specific issues might be preventing the drive from functioning correctly. That’s why we recommend you connect your external hard drive to another PC or laptop.

If you’ve ruled out a simple connection issue, you can proceed with more advanced troubleshooting methods.

Method 2:Scan Your Computer for Viruses

To scan your computer for viruses, you don’t need to download any third-party antivirus software solution. You can simply use Windows Defender, which is included in all recent versions of the Windows operating system and outperforms even paid solutions.

To scan your computer for viruses with Windows Defender:

  1. Type “windows security” in the Taskbar search box and press Enter.recover external hard disk without formatting with windows defender
  2. Select Virus & threat protection from the menu on the left.
  3. Select Scan options under Quick scan.recover external hard disk without formatting in windows
  4. Choose Full scan and click the Scan now button to check all files and running programs on your hard drive.recover external hard disk without formatting with antivirus

Method 3:Use CHKDSK to Fix File System Errors

First released in 1980, CHKDSK (short for check disk) is a command-line tool capable of listing and correcting disk errors. When used with the appropriate parameter, it can check the disk surface for bad sectors and mark them accordingly. After fixing all disk errors with CHKDKS, you should be able to access your external hard drive without formatting.

To fix logical file system errors with CHKDSK:

  1. Type “cmd” in the search box on the taskbar and select Run as administrator.recover files from external hard drive without formatting with chkdsk
  2. Enter the following command (make sure to replace X with the letter assigned to the hard drive you want to fix) and press Enter: chkdsk X: /R
  3. Wait for CHKDSK to finish. The process may take several hours depending on the size of your hard drive.recover files from external hard drive without formatting with cmd

The /R parameter tells CHKDSK to checks the entire disk surface for bad sectors and repair them if possible.

Method 4:Replace Corrupted Files with SFC

The Windows System File Checker (SFC) is a command-line tool for repairing corrupted system files in a Windows installation. A corrupted Windows installation may behave erratically and make it impossible for you to access your external hard drive.

To replace corrupted files with SFC:

  1. Type “cmd” in the search box on the taskbar and select Run as administrator.recover external hard disk without formatting with sfc
  2. Enter the following command and press Enter: sfc /scannow.
  3. Wait for SFC to finish. The process usually takes around an hour.recover files from external hard drive without formatting with sfc

Method 5:Change the Drive Letter

Whenever you connect an external hard drive to your computer, it should automatically get a drive letter assigned to it. The rare instances when that doesn’t happen sometimes stem from file system corruption, or they can be random glitches in your computer’s operating system. In any case, you can change the drive letter manually as a quick and easy solution:

  1. Press Win + X and select the Disk Management tool.
  2. Locate your external hard drive and right-click on it.
  3. Select the Change Drive Letter and Paths option from the context menu. changing drive letter for your storage device
  4. Click the Add button and pick a new drive letter.Tap on Add
  5. Confirm by clicking the OK button. Then, click OK again to close the Change Drive Letter and Paths window.

If you’ve ruled out a simple connection issue, you can proceed with more advanced troubleshooting methods.

Symptoms of External Hard Drive Corruption

You can avoid having to restore data from your external hard drive if you learn to recognize early signs of hard drive corruption.

  • ⚠️ Hard drive not recognized: When you connect your external hard drive to your computer, it should be instantly recognized every single time. If the hard drive is sometimes not recognized, it might be corrupted, and you should back up your data as soon as possible.
  • 🔊 Strange sounds: Do you sometimes hear clicking, whirring, or whining noises when using your external hard drive? If so, the hard drive might be developing a mechanical problem that could cause it to stop functioning at any moment.
  • 📐 Wrong hard drive size: It’s normal for a 1 TB hard drive to have an actual capacity of just 931 GB because hard drive manufacturers market drives in terms of decimal capacity. But if your external hard drive is missing an unexplainably large amount of storage capacity, there’s probably something wrong with it.
  • 🔎 Missing or unreadable files and folders: This telltale sign of hard drive corruption is easy to overlook because modern hard drives can store millions of files, making it impossible to check each file manually. Fortunately, there are software solutions like CHKDSK that can scan your entire external hard drive and detect corrupted files and folders.
  • 🚀 Poor performance: Your hard drive should be able to reach its specified read/write speed. Constant performance problems can be caused by the hard drive trying to overcome file system corruption, so you shouldn’t ignore them.

Tip: Don’t Forget to Frequently Back Up Your Data

Your hard drive can become corrupted at any time, and you might not always be able to fix it using the above-described methods. To prevent data corruption from ruining your date, you should frequently and regularly back up your data to another storage device.

You can either back up specific files or use Disk Drill to create a byte-to-byte copy of your entire hard drive. The main advantage of having a byte-to-byte hard drive copy is that you can use it to easily recover all your data, applications, and settings even if your hard drive stops working completely.

To create a byte-to-byte hard drive copy with Disk Drill:

  1. Launch Disk Drill and select Drive Backup from the Extra tools menu on the left.
    recover external hard disk without formatting from a backup
  2. Select the partition you would like to back up and click Byte-to-byte Backup.recover files from external hard drive without formatting with disk drill backup
  3. Choose where you want to save the backup disk image and click OK. Make sure to select a hard drive with enough storage space.recover external hard disk without formatting from disk drill backup
  4. Wait for the backup process to finish.

Conclusion

Dealing with a corrupted external hard drive is never pleasant, but formatting the hard drive and losing your data in the process is usually not necessary. Regardless of why the hard drive has become corrupted, there are several solutions that you can try to regain access to its contents, and we’ve described the most effective ones here in this article. Now it’s up to you to put them into action. Good luck!

FAQ

The data recovery software solution we described earlier in this article, Disk Drill, is available both for Windows and Mac computers. This is what you need to do to recover files from an external hard drive with Disk Drill for Mac:
  1. Download and install Disk Drill for Mac.
  2. Connect the external hard drive to your Mac.
  3. Launch Disk Drill and click the recovery button next to the external hard drive.
Windows To Go provides an easy way to make Microsoft-certified external NTFS hard drives bootable. This feature is available in Windows 8 Enterprise, Windows 8.1 Enterprise, Windows 10 Education, and Windows 10 Enterprise, and this is what you need to do to access it:
  1. Open the Control Panel.
  2. Set the View by option located under the search box to Small icons.
  3. Select Windows To Go.
Yes, a corrupted external hard drive can often be fixed—even without formatting. In situations when the corruption can't be fixed without formatting, you can still copy your data from the corrupted drive to another storage device using data recovery software like Disk Drill.
Command-line tools like TestDisk can be used to fix a raw external hard drive without formatting by repairing the drive's damaged partition table or recovering lost partitions.
To change the file system of an external hard drive without formatting, you need to do the following:
  1. Launch CMD as administrator.
  2. Enter the following command: convert X: /fs:ntfs (replace X with the actual drive letter assigned to your external hard drive)
  3. Press Enter on your keyboard and wait for the convert command to finish.