It’s now almost impossible to imagine how people stored and transferred data before high-capacity external hard drives became readily available. From a lifetime’s worth of pictures to complete discographies of all your favorite bands, it’s mind-boggling how much data a single external hard drive can store these days. The only problem is that the more data it’s possible to store on a single external hard drive, the more data it’s possible to lose in a single moment.

recover data from external hard drive

Hardware errors, accidental formats, and malware attacks are just three common causes of external hard drive data loss, and even they can’t be reliably avoided, which is why it’s paramount for you to learn how to recover data from external hard drives.

Is Recycle Bin Recovery Possible?

Yes, when you delete a file from your external hard drive, you can usually recover it from the Recycle Bin just like you would recover a file that was stored on your system hard drive.

That’s because each hard drive has its own Recycle Bin folder. When you click on the Recycle Bin icon located on your Desktop, what Windows shows is actually a combined view of all Recycle Bin folders that are present on your computer, including Recycle Bin folders located on external hard drives.

You can see a list of all Recycle Bin locations by right-clicking the Recycle Bin on your Desktop and selecting Properties.

how to recover files from external hard drive

The problem is that when most people realize that they need to recover data from external hard drive, the files they’re looking for are no longer present in the Recycle Bin.

What’s more, some people are used to using the Shift + Delete key combination when deleting files to erase files permanently from the system without first moving them to the Recycle Bin.

In such cases, it’s best to immediately use a data recovery software solution like Disk Drill, which we describe in greater detail later in this article. Disk Drill is an excellent external hard drive recovery software because it can recover hundreds of file formats with just a few clicks, making it great for everyone from novices to pros.

Tips to Recover Deleted Files from an External HDD

External HDD recovery doesn’t need to be difficult, but there are certain precautions to make to ensure that it ends with success:

✅ Stop using your external hard drive as soon as you discover that your missing data. The more time you spend using your external hard drive after data has been lost or accidentally deleted, the greater the chance that some application or even the operating system itself will overwrite the data and make it impossible to perform external hard drive recovery.

✅ Don’t format the external hard drive. Many hard drive issues can be solved by formatting the hard drive and starting from scratch, but data loss isn’t one of them. When you format a hard drive, all storage space on the drive is marked as empty and a new partition table is created, making it much more difficult to recover deleted files.

✅ Don’t try to repair your hard drive. Hard drive repair is a complicated process, and it’s not guaranteed to go smoothly every time. That’s why most data recovery software vendors recommend their customers to create complete hard drive backups before repairing their hard drives.

Ways to Recover Deleted Files from an External Hard Drive

Let’s take a closer look at three methods that you can use to recover data from external hard drives. The first two external hard drive recovery methods don’t require any third-party software, but there are not guaranteed to deliver great results. The last method — Disk Drill — is used by data recovery professionals because it works virtually every time and is so simple that even complete beginners can use it to avoid disastrous data loss.

how to retrieve data from external hard drive with Command Prompt Way 1: Use the Command Prompt

Also known as CMD, the Command Prompt provides you with much finer control over your operating system by allowing you to give your computer text commands. This comes in handy when dealing with data loss caused by malware, which often affects the attributes of files stored on internal and external hard drives alike, making them either invisible or impossible to open.

Instead of painstakingly fixing the attributes of each and every file on your computer, you can simply use a single command to fix them all at once.

To recover deleted files using CMD:

  1. Connect your external hard drive to your computer.
  2. Press Win + R keys to launch the Run program.
  3. Type cmd and click OK.
  4. Type the following command in the CMD window and hit enter:
    "ATTRIB -H -R -S /S /D X:*.*"

Make sure to replace “X” with the actual drive letter of your external hard d

how to retrieve data from external hard drive


how to recover files from external hard drive via File History Way 2: Restore a Previous Version

File History is an incredibly useful Windows feature that allows you to go back in time and restore previous versions of files, even if the original files have since been deleted. For File History to work, it’s necessary to first manually activate it, which can be done by opening the Control Panel and going to System and SecurityFile History. There, select the Turn on an option and make sure to include your external hard drive among active file history locations.

To restore a previous version of a file using Windows file history:

  1. Navigate to the folder where your files were stored before deletion.
  2. Right-click inside the folder and select Properties.
  3. Open the Previous Versions tab.
  4. Select which previous version you want to recover.
  5. Click the Restore to recover files from external hard drive

how to recover data from external hard disk via Disk Drill Way 3: Recover Data from an External Hard Drive Using Disk Drill

If you want guaranteed results, it’s best to use a third-party data recovery software that has been designed to solve even the most difficult data loss scenarios, and there’s no better choice than Disk Drill.

With Disk Drill, anyone can recover data from both internal and external hard drives with just a few clicks, and you can be sure that all common and not-so-common file formats are supported. Disk Drill even lets you preview your files before recovery so that you don’t waste your time and storage space on files you don’t need.

To recover deleted files from an external hard drive:

Step 1. Download Disk Drill for Windows or Mac OS X and install it.

Step 2. Connect your external hard drive.

Step 3. Launch Disk Drill and click the Search for lost data button next to your external hard to recover data from external hard disk

Step 4. Select which files you want to recover.

Step 5. Start the recovery process by clicking the Recover button.recovering external hard drives


What are the causes of data loss from external hard drive?

The most common causes of data loss from external hard drives include user error, malware, hardware issues, software corruption, and natural disasters.

Is it possible to recover data from an external hard drive that isn’t detected?

Yes, in many cases, you can recover data even from an external hard drive that isn’t detected.

  1. Simply open the Start menu, type "disk management", and hit Enter.
  2. There, right-click on your external hard drive.
  3. Select "Change Drive Letter and Paths".
  4. Pick any available letter.
 recovering external hard drives with Windows

How much does it cost to recover data from an external hard drive?

With Disk Drill, external hard drive recovery is free if all you need is to recover 500 MB of data or less. In comparison, some professional data recovery services charge hundreds of dollars for just a few files.

Can I recover data from my external hard drive for free?

Yes, the free version of Disk Drill allows you to recover up to 500 MB of data for free.

How to restore data from a dead external hard drive?

Restoring data from a dead external hard drive is a very complicated process that often requires the hard drive to be disassembled in a dust-free environment. If you’re experiencing data loss due to hardware failure, it’s best to contact data recovery professionals and ask them for help.

Jeff Cochin

Jeff Cochin is a data management and recovery expert. He also serves as a technical writer, testing and reviewing tech solutions in various fields.Jeff Cochin is a professional data management, warehousing and recove...

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Approved by
Brett Johnson

This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.