How to fix External Hard Drive Corrupted and Unreadable without formatting

How to fix External Hard Drive Corrupted and Unreadable without Formatting

External hard drives are ubiquitous like PCs and is a huge lifesaver for PC users like you. Among other things, you use it as portable storage to haul your files from device to device. However, the big problem is: it can fail without warning. So here’s the question: how do you fix an external hard drive which is corrupted and unreadable without formatting the drive?

I have an external hard drive which suddenly went kaput. It was working quite fine, until one morning when I plugged it in and got this:

The file or directory is corrupt and unreadable.

I began to frantically search for solutions to the problem. My files were intact, but the problem was that Windows just couldn’t access the drive. A quick search on Google will show you several articles which claim to address this issue. The problem is, most of them will simply advise you to format the drive.

Here’s what to do to fix this issue without losing your precious data. This is a product of my experience and some research. Formatting should be a very extreme measure, and I don’t even recommend it because it shortens the life span of your hard drive.

Why is my hard drive corrupted and unreadable?

A lot of things could be responsible for this problem of a corrupt and unreadable disk, such as power failure, improper cable connection, malware attack, corrupt file system, among other things. Your files are still intact, just that Windows just cannot access them because the file system is screwed up.

The following are my recommendations on how to fix an external hard drive that is corrupted and unreadable, in sequence. What this means is that you should only try number 2 if number 1 fails to correct the problem, etc.

How to fix External Hard Drive Corrupted and Unreadable

Can an External Hard Drive get corrupted?

Yes. A lot of factors can lead to this problem including file system issues, virus or malware attack, power failure, connectivity problem (connecting cable), among other things.

Hard drives don’t last forever, and as such, with time they will eventually wear out and are prone to data corruption. At this stage, it is better to backup what you can from the drive and consider replacing it.

How do I fix a corrupted hard drive without formatting?

  1. Try changing the drive letters
  2. Try reinstalling the drive through Device Manager Utility in Windows
  3. Check the Drive for errors using Chkdsk utility
  4. Reassign privileges
  5. Format the drive
  6. Replace the drive

Change the drive letter

Once your drive shows you the corrupt and unreadable error message. Don’t panic. Open up the disk management utility by typing Disk Manager in the Windows Search bar. You should see the drive listed there. Right-click, select “Change Drive Letters and Paths”.

Choose a different drive letter and assign it to the drive. Click Ok and exit. Try accessing the drive through Explorer. If it opens, great. If not, please continue with the next step.

Try reinstalling the drive through Device Manager Utility in Windows

Next up, try reinstalling the drive through the Device Manager utility in Windows. Sometimes, a reinstall of drives may solve the problem.

Just head over to Control Panel and look for Device Manager. Open it up and look for the section labeled Disk Drives. Right-click on the problem drive and click on Uninstall device. Windows will remove the device immediately.

Next click on Scan for Hardware changes up on the menu above. Windows will immediately reinstall the drive. Try accessing it once again from Windows Explorer. If it opens, problem solved. If not, please continue with the next step.

Check the Drive for errors using Chkdsk utility

Windows has an inbuilt disk checking utility, called CHKDSK in tech language. You can access it from Windows Explorer.

Just right-click on the drive and select Properties. Next click on Tools. Next click on Check under Error Checking. It may or may not run, depending on the mood of your Windows (funny). The system may tell you to schedule it to run when next you boot up your Windows. Approve this and reboot your PC.

On the other hand, you may choose to run CHKDSK from the Command Prompt utility. This is a preferred method. Just press a combination of the Windows key on your keyboard, and the R key. Type cmd and press Enter on your keyboard.

The Command Prompt interface will launch. Next, type CHKDSK /f D: (D being the drive letter of the problem external hard drive). Next, press Enter and allow the tool to check your disk for errors.

The Windows CHKDSK utility is pretty good at finding file system errors and fixing them. The process may take up to 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of your drive.

It will fix the file system errors. In most cases, this will solve the problem of a corrupt and unreadable disk. However, in my own case after waiting patiently, what I saw next was this:

D:\ is not accessible

Access is Denied.

Windows was simply telling me that I didn’t have the privilege of accessing the drive on the PC. WTF.

If you encounter the same problem, please move on to the next step.

Reassign privileges

Privileges are built into the Windows core functionality. It is a security protocol that was incorporated into Windows from Windows 2000. It ensures that users have access to files and folders for which they have security clearance.

So why is Windows reporting that you don’t have access to this drive, even though you’ve been using it on your PC? This is because the security descriptors have been revoked and cleared, and you have to reinstate yourself as owner with full privileges.

Please follow the next steps carefully. This is very important to avoid making mistakes.

First of all, open Windows Explorer. Right-click on the problem drive and select Properties. Next, click on the Security tab. Next, click on Advanced. Then click on Change.

A panel pops up. Under “Enter the object name to select“, type Authenticated Users. Click OK. Next Click Apply. An alert pops up with some bla bla bla (If you have just taken ownership of this object, you will need to close and reopen this object’s properties before you can view or change permissions). Just click OK and then OK again to close the Properties panel.

Windows is just saying you have to close the Properties panel and reopen it again before you can make further changes.

Next right-click inside the Window and select Refresh.

So what do we do next? Please follow patiently.

Next, right-click on the drive again, select Properties, then Security. Click on Edit. Next, click on Add. Under “Click on object names to select“, type SYSTEM, and press OK.

This will close the box. In the previous box, SYSTEM appears under Groups or user names. Make sure it is selected and under Permissions for SYSTEM, make sure you tick all the boxes under Allow. Next click Apply. A box will pop up. Just click on Continue. If any error message appears, click OK.

Next, click on Add, repeating the same procedure but this time, type Administrators.

Close the Properties panel again. Refresh your Window once more.

Finally, go back to the drive Properties and select Security once again. Next to “To change permissions, click Edit”, click on Edit. Next, click on Add. Under “Enter the object names to select”, type Authenticated Users, and click OK.

Click on Continue for the pop ups, close everything out, and your drive should now be accessible. However, if this doesn’t still fix it, you will have to re-format the drive.

Try to recover the drive contents

It is advisable to try recovering the contents of the drive before formatting it. There are a couple of file recovery apps out there, most are paid but some are free.

There are some points to note when using recovery apps. Here’s a quick list.

  • It is not guaranteed that the app will recover all your files.
  • Your folders may not appear in the original structure before the problem.
  • You should install the file recovery app to a different drive other than the one you are trying to salvage.
  • You should save the recovered files to a different drive other than the problem drive.

File recovery is a very time-consuming process, depending on the size of your drive. It can take days to fully recover terabytes of data off of a failed external hard drive, but it’s worth it.

Format the drive

This step should be a last resort when dealing with this kind of problem. Personally, I don’t recommend re-formatting a hard drive for no good reason. This is because frequent formatting reduces the lifespan of your drive.

However, formatting recreates the drive’s partition table using a specific file system, such as NTFS or FAT. This way, Windows is able to access and utilize your hard drive once again. Otherwise, it is just a dead brick.

If you followed the file recovery process through and are sure your files have been recovered, open up Windows Explorer, right-click on the problem drive, and select Format. Under File System, select either NTFS or FAT. Click on OK to format the drive.

After formatting, the drive should open in Windows Explorer easily. In some cases, the formatting process returns the following error:

Windows cannot format this drive.

If this is the case, then the drive likely has hardware problems which means that the drive is physically defective (bricked) and needs to be replaced. Alternatively, you may have to send the drive to experts who have the capability to repair the drive, if at all it’s worth the trouble.

Replace the drive

You can easily replace your external hard drive by purchasing another one. Some good brands include Seagate, Western Digital, Sandisk, Toshiba, Silicon Power, Lacie, and other less visible brands.

Here’s our recommendation if you want one. Please understand that buying through these links would earn us a small commission, at no extra cost to you. This is to support our work.

Seagate Portable 1TB External Hard Drive HDD – USB 3.0 for...
Toshiba Canvio Basics 2TB Portable External Hard Drive USB...
LaCie Rugged Mini 1TB External Hard Drive Portable HDD –...
SanDisk Professional 2TB G-DRIVE ArmorATD - Rugged, Durable...
WD 2TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive HDD, USB 3.0,...
Silicon Power 2TB Rugged Portable External Hard Drive Armor...

Last update on 2022-01-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

How to fix External Hard Drive Corrupted and Unreadable – Final thoughts

External hard drives make our digital life easier, but at the same time, they are not reliable because they are prone to fail. That’s why it is advisable to use them as temporary storage to move heavy files between devices.

Always make it a habit to not keep files you don’t have a copy elsewhere on your external hard drive, to avoid falling victim to file system corruption and the drive becoming unreadable.

If this article helped you in some way, consider sharing it using the share button on this page to your left. Don’t forget to check out our PC build guides for help on building your own PC.

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