Macs are pretty solid computers that provide reliable service in almost any situation; they’re typically workhorses, pushing onwards in situations that would get a blue screen of death on a Windows PC. However, while rare, issues can and will happen; it’s inevitable, where technology is concerned.
These issues are all the more frustrating because of their rarity, and they may need a little work to figure out. One of the more frustrating issues you can I came across is an external hard drive not showing up on a Mac. Even when you’ve completed all basic troubleshooting tips, it may not appear. In this article, we’ll explain how to get your external hard drive to appear.
How to Connect Your Hard Drive
And for no good reason you can see. Then get rid of the WD Utilities software. Sometimes the driver software just causes problems on Mac. Use the WD Uninstaller. You’ll find it in your Mac’s Application’s folder. And your on and off issues with your WD Elements portable should then go away.
Let’s first ensure that you’ve properly connected your external hard drive, and walk through some basic setup steps. The steps may vary depending on your software version so if we’ve missed a step check out Apple’s article here. We’re using Catalina and Sierra, but the instructions are all fairly similar.
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External drives are a cheap way to expand storage without having to replace the internal hard drive. All you need to do is connect the external hard drive to your Mac or Macbook. You can use the Thunderbolt, USB, or even the USB-C port depending on the model you’re using.
From here, Finder should open showing your external drive. If it doesn’t show up in Finder, though, it will surely show up in the Disk Utility within Utilities.
This is a sub-folder within the Applications folder, with a crossed screwdriver and wrench on the folder icon, while Disk Utility looks like a hard drive being examined with a stethoscope. Both of them will be referenced a lot.
If you have trouble finding it, simply open Finder (the icon that looks like a blue and grey face) and click on ‘Applications’ on the left-hand side. Then, use the search bar in the upper right-hand corner to search for your Disk Utility.
From there you can troubleshoot the problem and usually fix it.
If your external drive still doesn’t appear, we have a couple of simple troubleshooting tips to fix an external hard drive not showing up on Mac.
First, we will check the basics, and from there we make sure that macOS is set up to display external drives, can mount the drive, and that the drive has no errors on either the disk itself or its file structure.
Let us check all the basics first. Get into the habit of doing this with any computer issues, as it can save time, money, and hassle in the long run. After all, no one wants to waste half a day because they didn’t realize something just wasn’t plugged in properly.
- Check that the cable from the hard drive to your Mac is connected properly.
- Check that the external hard drive has power if it needs it.
- Check the condition of the cable and swap it if you have a spare.
- Change the hard drive power cable if you have a spare.
- Try a different wall outlet if there is one nearby.
- Reboot your Mac to see if it was an open program or app stopping the drive from being detected.
- Make sure the drive has been formatted. Some imported drives come completely empty, and while macOS should detect and offer to format them, it doesn’t always work.
- Try attaching the external drive to another computer to see if it works on that one to rule out damage to the drive itself.
- Make sure your drive doesn’t have or use a power-saving or sleep function. Turn it off if it does.
- Check that the drive is receiving enough power. A USB cable carries 5V and if this is the sole power source for the drive, it may not be enough. Use a USB power cable if you suspect this to be the issue.
Depending on what you find here, you can troubleshoot either the drive or your Mac.
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First, make sure Finder will display drive icons. By default, it doesn’t display much and the setting to not show external disks may be enabled.
- Open a Finder window.
- Select Preferences and the General tab.
- Make sure the box next to External disks is checked.
If the box is checked, move on to fix the external hard drive not showing up on Mac.
Mount the Drive in Finder
If you think the drive works fine, let us see if we can manually attach it to macOS. For that, we need to mount it. This should be done automatically when macOS detects the drive, but it doesn’t always work.
- Attach the drive if it isn’t already connected.
- Open Utilities and Disk Utility.
- Make sure the disk is listed in the left window. It should be labeled External Disk.
- Check for a volume if the disk is present. If a volume is present but not mounted, it should be grayed out here.
- Highlight the volume and select Mount. The volume should shift from gray to normal to signify it has been mounted.
- Open Finder and navigate to the drive in Devices.
If this doesn’t work, you may need to use the Verify Disk utility to make sure everything is working as it should.
- Open Utilities and Disk Utility.
- Highlight the grayed out volume.
- Select First Aid in the top center.
- Select Run to perform disk diagnostics and fix any issues.
Running First Aid on an external disk is a useful way to make sure the format or file structure doesn’t contain any faults or issues. If there are any, First Aid will fix them and macOS should then mount the disk without any further hassle.
Frequently Asked Questions
Macs, as easy as the interface seems to be, can be quite complicated for an OS. That’s why we’ve included some more information you may need to know here.
My Disk Utility says ‘Corrupt Disk,’ what does that mean?
If you see your external hard drive but receive the ‘Corrupt Disk’ error, solutions are plentiful. Your first issue may be that the external hard drive isn’t formatted properly to work with your Mac. You can reformat the external drive using the Disk Utility.
Simply follow the instructions above to access the drive and click on ‘Erase’ (yes you need to erase the drive to reformat it). Click on the dropdown for format and select ‘ExFat.’ Click erase. Now your external hard drive should appear properly.
I don’t want to erase my external hard drive to fix it. Is there a solution for this?
As we’ve discussed, sometimes you simply need to erase and reformat your hard drive to get it working properly. If you’ve navigated through the steps above and have yet to get your external hard drive working together, you should transfer the content of that drive to another device (such as a Windows PC) if possible.
This way you can off-load any important files, then use your Mac to reformat the hard drive and get it working properly.
Got any other ways to fix the external hard drive not showing up on Mac? Tell us about it below if you do!
Get a data lifeguard for Mac
Most of the time, when you connect an external hard drive to your Mac’s USB port, you soon see it mount on the desktop. Apple likes to ensure these are easy to find, so they also appear in the Finder in the left-hand column under Locations.
However, sometimes, an external hard drive doesn't show up. It’s annoying, especially when you need to transfer something right then. And besides, there can be a risk that data on the external USB pen, hard, or flash drive is corrupt, which means you can’t transfer what you need between devices at all.
Corrupt data can be one reason your Mac won't recognize an external drive, but there are other reasons too. Let’s take a look at why this is happening and how you can fix the external hard drive not showing up problem:
Why your Mac does not recognize external hard drive
Let’s say you’ve encountered the problem of SSD not showing up. There could be a few reasons why SSD isn’t making an appearance (just as any other external drive), the most common being:
- There’s something wrong with the cable
- There’s a power supply problem
- Your drive has been corrupted or broken
- The drive is not readable on macOS
- NTFS read-only problem.
How to fix an external disk drive that won't show up on a Mac
While it’s impossible to instantly figure out why an external disk drive is not showing up, you have to try to fix the problem.
Access an External Drive Not Showing on Mac
Get a huge set of top utilities for troubleshooting external hard drives not mounting on a Mac
Start with the basics:
- Check whether the drive is properly plugged in. It sounds obvious, but since this relies on a wire - either a USB cable or HDMI cable - if it’s not connected properly then it won’t appear on your desktop.
- Faulty cable. Assuming it’s plugged in correctly, not wobbly or loose, the cable could be at fault. Try connecting the same device with a different cable.
- Damaged USB or flash drive port. It could be a hardware issue with the Mac. If you’ve got another port, try connecting the device to that one.
- Reboot your Mac. Sometimes, if a USB disk won't boot, the cause is a macOS issue. Hopefully, some data damage can be fixed by restarting. Choose the Apple menu > Restart. Or press and hold the power button and, when a dialog box appears, click Restart or press R. Restarting your Mac essentially clears your macOS’s memory and starts it up fresh.
- Incorrectly formatted drive. Not every external drive is optimized for Macs. It could be that you are trying to connect something only fit to interact with Windows devices. If you’ve got a PC or laptop, it’s worth connecting and seeing if you can access the files through another device. The best way to look for an incorrectly formatted drive is to go to
Apple (in the top toolbar menu) > About This Mac > Storage.
See if the external drive shows up here. For more information, go to the same menu option, then select System Report.
- Mac not formatted to display external drives on the desktop. It could be that your Mac already recognizes the device, but just isn’t showing its icon on the desktop screen. Even if that is the case, the drive will still appear in the left-hand column of the Finder menu under Locations. You should be able to access your drive that way, and, in the Finder menu under Preferences > General, you can check External Drives to ensure that from now on it shows up on your desktop too.
- Reset NVRAM. To do this, shut down or restart your Mac, switch it back on and immediately press these four keys together for at least 20 seconds: Option, Command, P, and R. It should look as though your Mac has started again; if it has, release the keys when you hear the second startup chime. Hopefully, the hard drive has shown up now.
- Check Apple’s Disk Utility to see if an external drive is showing up. Disk Utility is within System Preferences, or you can find it using Spotlight. If it is visible, then click the option to Mount, which should make it visible on the desktop and in the External Drives option in the Finder menu.
Unfortunately, if none of those options has worked and you continue having the external hard drive not showing up problem, then it could have crashed, or be well and truly broken. But there might still be a way you can recover the data on the external drive.
How to fix new hard drive not showing up in Finder
When you connect a drive to Mac, it should appear in Finder under Locations. What to do if external hard drive is not detected? In most cases, when Finder doesn’t see your drive, you just have to change a few things in Preferences. However, sometimes, there are more serious problems such as insufficient power supply. Let’s see how you can fix these things.
How to show connected devices in Finder
Go to the Finder menu > Preferences
In General, click on External disks to ensure that from now on it shows on the desktop.
In the Sidebar tab, you can choose which folders and devices will be shown in the left-hand column of the Finder window.
How to add cloud storages to Finder
You can also mount cloud storage as a local drive on your Mac. By connecting Google Drive, Dropbox, or Amazon to your computer, you get more space for securely accessing and sharing files. For your ease, add cloud drives to Finder with CloudMounter so that you keep them close at hand. You can read detailed instructions on managing cloud storage as local drives here.
Repair the failed external drives with First Aid
The most direct reason your external hard drive could be detected by macOS but can't be opened is the file system problem. If your drive is having such problems, you can try to fix them yourself with First Aid and therefore get access to your files.
First Aid tool will check the disk for errors and then attempt a repair as needed. It helps to verify and repair a range of issues related to startup HD and external drive problems. If you are able to fix the hard drive or SSD in your Mac (or any external drive) using Disk Utility you will hopefully be able to recover your files.
To run Fist Aid on an external hard drive:
- Open Disk Utility. You can search for it using Spotlight or via Finder > Go > Utilities
- Check on your external hard drive, click the First Aid tab and select Run to start running diagnostics.
How to recover data from a crashed drive
If First Aid has been successful in fixing errors, the external drive should be available to mount. If the utility hasn’t repaired issues, your drive truly is broken or formatted using a file system that the Mac cannot read — in this way you have to recover data from a damaged disk drive.
Thankfully, there is an app for that. Disk Drill is the world’s premier data recovery software for Mac. Powerful enough to retrieve long-lost, mistakenly deleted files from Macs, external hard drives, USB drives, and camera cards.
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An easy way to recover lost files on an external hard drive
Here’s how to recover files with Disk Drill (pro version available on Setapp):
- Connect your drive to the Mac.
- Quit all other applications on the Mac, especially those that may be trying to access the external drive (e.g. iPhoto, Words)
- Launch Disk Drill.
- Click on the external drive that you are trying to recover files from. If it has partitions, you will see all of them. If, however, you still don’t see any volume to the external drive then you may need to try some of the steps above again or read the Disk Drill Scanning FAQs.
- To avoid the external drive being accessed during the recovery process, click Extras next to the drive or drive partition or file, then select Remount Volume As Read Only. A padlock will appear, protecting the drive during the process.
- Now click Rebuild (or Recover) next to the file(s) you are trying to recover. Once the scan is finished - it may take some time if the files are large - a list of files will appeal.
- Next, click Mount Found Items as Disk button on the bottom-left below the scan results.
- Disk Drill 'strongly suggests saving the files to a different drive than the one you are trying to recover files from. Saving to the same drive substantially lowers your chances of recovery.'
- A drive icon will appear, which once you double click will give you the option to open the files as you would do before they were lost. Drag them to another location, such as your desktop or a folder on your Mac.
- Open the files to ensure they have been recovered properly and safely eject the external drive.
Disk Drill does have other ways to recover lost files but assuming there are no complications, this method is the most effective.
A few more tips on getting your files back
- Macs and third-party apps that look after Macs, such as Disk Drill and iStat Menus come with a S.M.A.R.T. (also known as Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology) status monitor. If a SMART check reports errors, then it could mean the hard drive is at risk of failing completely. Within Disk Utility and Disk Drill, there are several solutions for this: Repair Disk Permissions and Repair Disk. If neither of them works, it’s recommended to back up all of the data from the disk, erase it, then run a SMART check again. The external hard drive should show up as Verified.
- Partitions can get lost within hard drives, temporarily hiding all of the information contained within. Disk Drill can help to identify and restore this information.
- Within Disk Drill, you can restore data when a hard drive is damaged or add formatting, which is also something Disk Utility can help with.
- CleanMyMac, another useful app available from Setapp, can help you identify external hard drive errors and repair them. It is an essential tool worth trying when you’re having external hard drive difficulties.
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Alternative ways to recover data from an external hard drive
Reset the System Management Controller (SMC) if your Mac shuts down when you plug in an external hard drive. Then use a different port to connect the external hard drive. If you’ve got a battery that you can’t remove:
- Shut down and unplug the power adapter
- Press and hold Shift-Control-Option and the power button for 10 seconds
- Release all keys
- Plug the power adapter back in and switch your Mac back on.
For Macs with removable batteries, you need to switch them off, remove the battery, then press and hold the power button for 5 seconds. After that, put the battery back in, plug in the power adapter and switch the power on again.
How to fix external drive NTFS read-only problem
External hard disk detected but not opening? One reason your Mac isn’t recognizing the hard drive is the file format. Windows uses NTFS file formats, while Macs, up until the introduction of Sierra, have used HFS+. Now, Apple has introduced the Apple File System (APFS) for newer operating systems.
If you connect an NTFS drive, your Mac will be able to read it but not edit it. This means you can’t really complete your task (move, copy, or delete any files) as long as you experience the read-only problem. There’s an easy way to fix this with iBoysoft NTFS, an app that enables full read/write support for NTFS drives on Mac.
How to make Ext2/Ext3 drives readable on Mac
The common issue is Ext2- and Ext3-formatted drives are not readable on macOS. There are two ways to access such external drives on your Mac — via Linux OS or FUSE system. The easiest would be installing Linux to a secondary drive or virtual machine.
If you go with Linux installation, dual boot your Mac with Linux on another drive and use FAT32 as a transfer intermediary. If you don’t have the drive to install Linux to, use a virtual machine as an interface for it. Transferring can be done the same way – with FAT32, or via network.
Another option for reading Ext2/Ext3 disks is mounting disk with Filesystem in Userspace (FUSE). Basically, it works as an extra interface enabling file system access via specially installed modules. Here’s how to mount drives with FUSE:
- Install FUSE for macOS or MacFUSE as well as a fuse-ext2 module.
- Use the following Terminal command to enable Disk Utility’s debug menu and see all partitions: defaults write com.apple.DiskUtility DUDebugMenuEnabled 1
- Attach your Ext2/Ext3 drive and locate the device name via Disk Utility.
- In your user account, create a folder to be used as a mount point.
- Use the following Terminal command to mount the drive as read-only: fuse-ext2 /dev/disk2s2 /Volumes/mountpoint
- For write support, use the command: fuse-ext2 -o force /dev/disk2s2 /Volumes/mountpoint
And that’s not the only case where Terminal helps you access external drive. Employ the handy all-powerful Terminal, which always comes forward with solutions for difficult problems. Especially if System Information does recognize the USB or hard drive, but continues to hide it from you, disconnect the drive and try to find it using the Terminal, which you can find in Applications > Utilities.
- Once in the Terminal, type in the command diskutil list
- A list with information about volumes and drives should appear
- Look for a section labelled /dev/disk_ (external, physical)
- Make a note of the whole line after the word disk
- Now put the following command into the Terminal diskutil info disk followed by the number or digits assigned to that disk
- Now you should see detailed information about the drive, therefore confirming that your Mac can and does recognize it
- Eject using the Terminal by entering the command diskutil eject disk followed by the number or digits assigned to that disk
- Physically remove the disk from your Mac
- Plug it back in and your Mac should recognize it.
Console is also reliable when it comes to solving tricky problems, although it isn’t always that easy to use. You can find Console under Applications > Utilities > Console or via Spotlight. Console shows if an external drive or any error is detected under the Errors and Faults tab. If no errors show up, then the problem is not caused by the device.
How to fix insufficient power supply
Another thing that might cause USB drive not showing up is that your USB cable is just not powerful enough. Typically, a USB 1.0 or 2.0 works, but there are drives that require more power. In this case, you should get another connector or use some type of USB hub to increase the power supply. If you still can’t access external hard drive, consider switching to another Mac.
Hopefully, we’ve covered the topic so you don’t have to google “external hard drive disappear from the computer” ever again. There are lots of potential solutions for a Mac not reading/writing an external hard drive. If you’re trying to connect an NTFS drive, do it with iBoysoft NTFS for Mac. If you need to add cloud storage, CloudMounter will help you. Most importantly, you’ll never have to worry about a crashed or corrupted external drive because Disk Drill will help you recover all the data stored on it.
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