You go to plug in your external hard drive into your Mac to either back up your computer or access some data off of it and nothing happens. You unplug it again and plug it back in and still, your Mac won’t recognize the external hard drive. What do we do now?

connected external drive to MacBook

The first thing that we need to take a look into is why would the external hard drive not be showing up on our Mac.

Why Is My External Hard Drive Not Showing Up on Mac?

There are various reasons that your external hard drive may not show up on your Mac. Some of these can be a simple fix while others may involve a couple of steps to get things working again.

Below, is a list of the most common reasons why your external hard drive isn’t showing up on your Mac. After talking about some of the common reasons, we can then go into troubleshooting them.

  • 💽 The external hard drive is damaged: An external hard drive can be damaged if it’s dropped or maybe it just mechanically failed due to an error.
  • 🔌 A bad or not working cable: The cable that you’re trying to use to connect the external hard drive to your Mac may have a short in it and a new one may be necessary to get things working again.
  • 💻 Not functioning port on your Mac: There is a chance that the USB port on your Mac may be damaged due to use or maybe something such as water got into the port. This could cause the external hard drive to not connect to your Mac correctly.
  • 👩🏼‍💻 Software glitch: Sometimes our Mac may experience a software glitch which could be the reason that our external hard drive is not being recognized. The storage device may be working just fine but it’s our Mac causing the issue with this one.
  • 💾 NVRAM, PRAM, or SMC: There are various system preferences on our Mac that can sometimes not operate correctly. A simple reset on our Mac should fix an issue such as this. We will walk through this later.
Let’s take a look at how to troubleshoot and fix some of these issues. Before we get into that though, it would be important and a good idea to try and recover our data from the external hard drive before we attempt to fix it.

How to Recover Data From a Hard Drive Not Showing Up on Mac

Even if our Mac can’t see our external hard drive, we can use third-party data recovery software such as Disk Drill that may be able to see the hard drive and recover data from it.

I like using Disk Drill because it’s simply the best data recovery out there. Some of my favorite features are:

  • APFS and HSF+ support.
  • The ability to scan for lost partitions and scan system drives of M1-powered Macs and T2-encrypted Macs.
  • Runs natively on Apple Silicon.
  • Support for almost every file format that can be possibly stored on an external hard drive, including native macOS file formats (for example MOV) and RAW photos and videos.
Now let’s move into how to use Disk Drill. This step is important because if the hard drive is in fact experiencing a hardware issue, then the time that we can still use the external hard drive may be limited.
  1. Download and install Disk Drill onto your Mac.
  2. Launch Disk Drill and scan the storage device that you would like to recover your data from. In this example, I’m scanning the external hard drive that I use to backup my Mac with via Time Machine. You can scan any other device such as an iPhone, iPad, and SD card, a Windows machine, or really any device that can be plugged into your Mac and has a storage capability.select storage device
  3. Wait for the scan process to complete. This can take some time depending on how much data you have stored on the external device. Mine has a lot of data on it so the scan took a little bit longer, but don’t worry this is normal.scan in progress
  4. Once the scan process has been completed, you can review what Disk Drill was able to find.
  5. Select the files that you would like Disk Drill to recover and then click on the blue Recover button. This ensures that before we troubleshoot the hard drive we already have our data saved and we don’t have to worry about losing anything in the process of troubleshooting the hard drive.preview feature in disk drill
We have a review of Disk Drill that you can check out as well if that’s something that you’re interested in. We also ranked it number 1 in our top 10 best data recovery software apps for Mac that are ahead of the curve.

Now that we have the data that we want off of the external hard drive, let’s take a look into troubleshooting it and seeing if we can fix the issue that is making it not work correctly with our Mac.

How to Fix an External Drive That’s Not Showing Up on Mac

Below I’m going to walk you through how to troubleshoot the external hard drive and in what order I would attempt these steps. If you’ve already attempted one of them then feel free to skip on to the next one.

All of these are free methods and none of them will cost you anything so they’re all worth trying to see if they will make your external hard drive appear on your Mac again.

Method #1: Quick Troubleshooting Tips

These methods are quick and easy ones that only take a couple of minutes to attempt and then you can move on to ones that are more in-depth if these don’t solve the issue.

💨 Clean Out the Ports on Your Mac

Sometimes we can get things such as debris caught in our ports which can cause issues with us not being able to get a stable connection on our Mac when we plug something into it.

I would recommend that you get some compressed air and spray it into the ports on your Mac. If you don’t have any you can bring your computer to a local computer shop and ask them to clean it out for you and you also might be able to purchase some from there as well.

I would advise that you don’t want to put anything abrasive into the port and compressed air would be your best bet for cleaning out the port and freeing it of any debris.

🖥️ Try Using the External Hard Drive on Another Mac

Try Using the External Hard Drive on Another Mac

If the hard drive won’t work on your Mac, try plugging it into another Mac that you own, a work one, or a friend’s Mac, and see if the external hard drive will show up on their machine.

You could also try plugging in another device that you own into your Mac and see if that one will show up. This could be something such as charging your iPhone or plugging in another storage device.

🔌 Replace the Cable That You’re Using

The cable that you’re using could have a short in it or maybe it’s just not getting a solid enough connection. Grabbing a new cable and trying it with the external hard drive may resolve the issue of it not being recognized.

💾 Look in Finder for the Hard Drive

When you plug your external hard drive into your Mac you will have both a Desktop icon and one in Finder that will allow you to access the hard drive.

The one on your Desktop will look like the image below.

external hard drive

You can also go into Finder and find the external hard drive located within there as well and select it if you can’t find the Desktop icon.

viewing backup hard drive on mac

If you’re not seeing either of these icons or options, then we might need to make some changes to our Finder settings to allow them to show up correctly.

  1. Launch Finder and have it as the active window.
  2. Go up to the menu bar and then select FinderPreferences.finder menu preferences
  3. Make sure that you have Hard Disks and External Devices checked under the locations menu.finder preferences

⚙️ Mount the External Hard Drive Using Disk Utility

The external hard drive may be plugged into your Mac but it may not be mounted. If this is the case we can go into Disk Utility and mount the disk.

  1. Launch Disk Utility.
  2. Select your external hard drive from the side and then click on the Mount option.disk utility backup drive
  3. Check your external hard drive and see if it’s working correctly now. This would include seeing if you can access files and or add and take things off of it.

After completing all of these if the external hard drive is still not showing up then it would be time to make our way onto the methods below. Don’t worry, these methods only have a couple of steps in them and are super easy to understand and walk through.

Method #2: Turn Your Mac off and Back on Again

This may sound super simple, but turning your Mac off and then back on again can fix a lot of issues when it comes to things not working correctly.

Sometimes all your Mac need is to have the power cycled on it and be completely shut down and then turned back on again.

If you use a desktop Mac, after shutting it down unplug the power cable and then plug it back in to make sure that it’s completely disconnected from power for a moment.

  1. Unplug your external hard drive from your Mac.
  2. Go to the Apple logo in the upper left-hand side of the screen and then from the dropdown select Shut Down….mac shut down menu
  3. Wait for your Mac to shut down. Then turn it back on and log back in.
  4. Try plugging your external hard drive into your Mac and see if it shows up properly. Make sure to give it a moment to power up and connect to your Mac.

If this didn’t work, you might want to try and do a NVRAM or PRAM reset on your Mac.

Method #3: Reset NVRAM or PRAM on Your Mac

NVRAM (nonvolatile random-access memory) is a small amount of memory that your Mac uses to store certain settings and access them quickly. PRAM (Parameter RAM) stores similar information, and the steps for resetting NVRAM and PRAM are the same.

NVRAM stores things such as your sound volume, display resolution, startup disk selection, time zone, and recent kernel panic information.

Resetting your NVRAM and PRAM might help if you’re having issues with your external hard drive not being recognized on your Mac. The steps are simple and there are only a couple that you will need to do.

  1. Shut down your Mac, then turn it on and immediately press and hold OPTION + COMMAND + P + R and hold these keys for about 20 seconds.
  2. Your Mac will then appear to restart. Let it boot up to the home screen and then log in.
  3. Plug in the external hard drive and see if now it’s recognizable.

If you’re using a newer Mac that has a T2 security chip, you can release the keys right after you see the Apple logo.

If this didn’t fix your issue, let’s move on to resetting your SMC on your Mac as this would be the next step in the troubleshooting process.

Method #4: How to Reset the SMC on Your Mac

Resetting your SMC (system management controller reset) can resolve issues related to power, battery, fans, and other features of your Mac.

This step will only apply to Macs that have an Intel processor so if you’re using a newer Apple silicon Mac then you don’t need to do this step.

This can fix the issue of your Mac not being able to see the external device you’re plugging in and hopefully, it will make it recognizable after trying these steps.

  1. Shut down your Mac.mac shut down menu
  2. On your keyboard, press and hold the Control + Option + Shift keys.
  3. Keep holding down all three keys for 7 seconds, then press and hold the power button as well.resetting the smc on your mac

Try plugging in your external hard drive and see if it’s being recognized now.

If the hard drive isn’t showing up, we might be able to see it in Disk Utility. Within Disk Utility we might be able to run First Aid on the hard drive and get it working 100% correctly again.

Method #5: Using First Aid to Repair Our External Device

First Aid is a repair utility that comes installed on your Mac as part of macOS. We can use it to repair things such as storage devices.

Disk Utility can find and repair errors related to the formatting and directory structure of a Mac disk. Errors can lead to unexpected behavior when using your Mac, and significant errors might even prevent your Mac from starting up completely.

This method will only work if after troubleshooting using the methods above the hard drive is now showing up and we’re able to interact with it but maybe it’s still acting weird or is only connecting some of the time.

  1. Launch Disk Utility by going to the Applications folder and then the Utilities folder. After you’re within the Utilities folder, launch Disk Utility.launching disk utility
  2. Once you have launched Disk Utility, select your external device and then click on First Aid.selecting external hard drive in disk utility
  3. Run First Aid on the external device. Running First Aid on the external hard drive will not cause it to lose any data so you do not need to worry about that.running first aid on an external hard drive
  4. Check and see if the device is working correctly.
If you still can’t get it to work correctly, then it may be time to send the hard drive to a professional if the data on it means a lot to you.

Sending Your Hard Drive Into a Data Recovery Center

Sometimes external hard drives break and no matter what you try to do, you might not be able to get the data off of it and that’s okay.

I would recommend that you take a look at the best hard drive data recovery services and see which option would be the best for you and your circumstance. You can’t put a price on your data if it’s important enough to you!

Conclusion

Plugging an external hard drive or any device for that matter into our computer and it not showing up can be frustrating. Hopefully, with the steps learned above, if this happens to you in the future, you will know how to troubleshoot and get your data back.

If you think that your external hard drive might be corrupted, we have an article on that as well that you can take a look at and it might give you a deeper insight and more knowledge on how to troubleshoot your data.

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