How to recover files from external hard drive [2023] – 3 ways

Author photo

This article is written by Norma Woods 2023/06/09

The article approved by Elena Pakhomova

In fact, an external hard drive is the same as an internal disk placed into an external enclosure. An external drive consists of three main parts: the drive itself, USB-to-SATA controller, the disk box (enclosure).

External drive main parts

External hard drives usually use 2.5” disks – they have less weight and therefore they are easier to carry around. The disk box can be different – the manufacturers try to create it outwardly attractive so that the disk is not perceived as a boring box but is a beautiful accessory.

In addition to typical external hard drives, there are also so called external drive for computers (desktop drives). These are boxes standing on a table and providing an additional storage space for data. It is not implied that the user will carry them around, thus such boxes usually contain a usual 3.5” disk.

One more difference between desktop and portable external drives is in power consumption. Usual external drives take energy from a PC via USB-cable, while desktop drives have their own power supply.

Types of external hard drive failures

Each part of an external hard drive can fail. Let's look at the failure cases one be one.

External drive enclosure damage

External hard drive enclosure in fact consists of plastic box, USB-to-SATA controller and connection cable. You can suspect that an enclosure is broken if:

  • The LED-light of the drive doesn't work.
  • The drive doesn't make any sound.

If the drive is still under warranty, try to contact the warranty service to replace or repair the drive.

If the warranty period is over, you need to disassemble the box, pull the hard drive out and connect it to your PC. On the video below you can watch how to disassemble a Transcend external drive. If you have a different drive it's better to look for a YouTube video about your specific model.

To connect an external drive without enclosure to a PC you need an USB-to-SATA adapter. You can buy it in any computer store.

If the problem with a drive is in an enclosure, connecting the disk directly to a PC gives you instant access to your data. Make sure the data is OK and buy a new enclosure, put the disk inside and use it as before.

Filesystem failure

Filesystem failure is a fairly common situation faced by users all over the world. It happens because often external drives are removed from a PC ignoring safely remove hardware function. Doing so can lead to a situation when the filesystem has no time to write metadata. As a result, when you connect the drive next time, you'll see a message that the drive can't be used and you need to format it.

To get access to the data in case of filesystem failure you need to use a special data recovery software like ReclaiMe File Recovery. Notice that, unlike many other data recovery software, offering their products by subscription, ReclaiMe license key, support and updates are lifetime. Besides, you can install the software and activate it on all the computers you own.

ReclaiMe software is easy to use with intuitive user interface and supports all wide range of filesystems and data storage systems.

  1. Connect the external hard drive to a PC via USB using a USB-to-SATA adapter or directly to a motherboard.
  2. If Windows offers you to format your external hard drive, don't do that. Quick formatting will not destroy your data but make recovery quality worse (file names can be lost or folder tree structure can be destroyed) while low-level formatting will erase the data completely. Read more information about differences in formatting process modes on this page.
  3. Download and install ReclaiMe external drive recovery software.
  4. Select the external hard drive in the device list of the software and start the scan.
  5. How to recover data from external drive
  6. Check the recovered data after you see the message that Initial scan is completed. Usually, all the user's data is already restored at that moment. However, if you see that some files are not there, click the Resume button to continue scanning. User files will be shown in the filesystem folder, for example, NTFS, FAT or others. Besides, you'll see the RAW folder. It contains files not recognized by the software as belonging to any filesystem. Usually, these are long time ago deleted files or files with damaged metadata. Typically, a user does not need to copy this folder.
  7. external drive recovery
  8. Activate the software with a license key and save the recovered data to another storage device. You need to provide the storage device with a space equal to the size of the recovered data.

Once you save the data to another device, check that data can actually be opened and then you can format your external hard drive and move your data back to it.

In the video below you will find the detailed course of actions you need to do to recover data from an external hard drive.

External hard drive damage

Physical damage of a hard drive is the worst of all damages. You can understand that you are dealing with mechanical damage to the disk if you hear the disk makes unusual noises – clicking, repeated spin up and down or clacking sounds. First thing you need to check in this case – whether the drive warranty is over or not. If the warranty is still valid, you can send the disk for repair. Although, in fact, data recovery is not included in the list of services. Usually, your drive is replaced with a new one, and you'll just have to put up with the data loss. If the warranty is over or the data is very important for you, contact a reliable data recovery service, as any attempt to recover data from a physically damaged drive only exacerbates the damage. We recommend contacting our partners – SalvageData.

External hard drive deleted data recovery

Such a case of recovering data from an external hard drive, by and large, differs little from recovering deleted data from pen drives or an internal hard drive.

In this case, the following is important for all devices:

  1. Filesystem type – you can read about the recovery specifics of deleted files from various file systems on this page.
  2. How long the device was used after the deletion – the longer you use the device after any file deletion the less chances to recover deleted data because new files overwrite files marked as deleted.
  3. How much the device was filled with data – the less free space on an external hard drive the more possibility that the files were fragmented. When deleting files, information about where fragments of files are stored may be erased makinng it impossible to restore the file in full.

The process of deleted files recovery from an external hard drive is given in detail in this video tutorial - How to undelete.

External Drive Recovery Feedback

I used many times this software ,it…

I used many times this software ,it handle many probles also tech support is so professional.

özgür çetiner

Absolutely fantastic product

The Reclaime application works. It saved over 15 years and over 10,000 pictures and videos as well as notes and applications we had on a disk...

marc levante

Very happy with Reclaime

I just found my new favourite recovery tool After trying the trial i took the plunge a bought a license. I have a large collection of old drives with several issues, the drives that i scanned and recovered so far have a very high succes rate using ReclaiMe...


overall user rating - 4.8

You can see more reviews about ReclaiMe software on the Trustpilot site.