Data corruption in an external hard drive can be a messy, often unpleasant problem. If your hard drive has become corrupted, chances are that it might be inaccessible, or it could result in severe data loss. This issue is more common than one would think, and you could end up having to format your drive entirely.

However, in a situation like this, there are other strategic methods that you can use to prevent your data from being lost entirely. This article covers how to fix a corrupted external hard drive and the various techniques of how to recover data from it. 

Causes of Corrupted External Hard Drive

Before you repair an external hard drive or recover files from it, you must understand what causes a hard drive to become corrupted. You can experience hard drive failure at any given moment. While these reasons may be different, they can cause permanent data loss. Thus, you must identify the common reasons for hard drive failure to determine the best approach to recover a corrupted external hard drive. 

  • Software Failure – A healthy, well-functioning hard drive can become corrupted due to software bugs. In some cases, these bugs may be limited to a few corrupted files. However, you could end up in a sticky situation if the entire file system on your external HDD becomes corrupt, and it can result in permanent data loss.
  • 🛡️ Bad Sectors or blocks – Sometimes, your drive reports a number of bad sectors on your drive. These are areas on an external HDD that become unusable due to long-term use and can make the drive unreadable. Bad sectors or blocks also act as a warning that you may need to replace or format your drive immediately.
  • 💾 Read/Write Issues – A traditional hard drive works using a spinning disk mechanism to write data to the drive. This mechanism relies on the rotating platters attached to an arm which facilitate the read/write action. Usual wear and tear or something interrupting this process can result in read/write issues and even cause the hard drive to become corrupted.
  • 🦠 Virus Attacks – Some virus or malware infections from unknown sources are programmed to corrupt file systems and cause severe data loss. Reliable antivirus software should help prevent such an attack and maintain caution.
  • 💿 Improper Drive Usage  –  Any technology, if misused, will become prone to damage. If a hard drive is not ejected correctly or doesn’t have suitable operating conditions – for instance, excessive heat or unexpected power supply interruptions – the hard drive’s lifespan can reduce significantly and becomes prone to corruption.
  • 🔧 Firmware or Manufacture Faults – Sometimes, even if the user does everything right, a few hard drives can have manufacturing or firmware faults that cause them to become corrupted. Manufacturers often release firmware updates online to solve such issues.

How to Recover Data from the Corrupted External Hard Drive

Before thinking about external hard drive repairs, you should consider backing up your data. If you don’t have backups, the next step is attempting to recover files from the corrupted external hard drive. While the process may seem complicated, retrieving lost data from the external HDD is pretty straightforward. 

The most efficient way to restore lost files is data recovery software, but if that doesn’t work, you can always go to a professional data recovery service center. Let’s look at the various methods that can help recover a corrupted external hard drive. 

Way 1. Data Recovery Software

Disk Drill Hard Drive Recovery is one of the most reliable data recovery tools available on the market. It offers users a free trial and can assist you in successfully recovering lost data from your corrupted external hard drive. What’s more, Disk Drill allows data recovery from several file types, including partitions, RAW or unformatted disks, and even formatted external and internal devices. 

Follow these instructions to learn how to recover files from a corrupted external hard drive using Disk Drill:

  1. Download and Install Disk Drill from the official website. The free version allows you to recover up to 500 MB of data for free!
    Disk Drill
    Data recovery for free
    Your Companion for Deleted Files Recovery
  2. Ensure that your external drive is plugged into the computer. Now, launch Disk Drill and select your external hard drive.
  3. Choose All Recovery Methods, then click Search for lost data to begin the data recovery process.
    selecting drive on disk drill
  4. Disk Drill will now scan your external HDD for recoverable files. Once the scan is complete, click Review Found Files.scan window in disk drill
  5. Preview the files you wish to recover by clicking the eye button. You can filter through the results to find specific files.
    selecting files in disk drill
  6. Finally, click Recover to retrieve files from the external hard drive. Disk Drill will ask you to choose a recovery location. Ensure you pick a folder on a different storage device than the external HDD from which you’re recovering data. Finally, click Ok.
    selecting destination for recovering files

Way 2. With Another USB Cable / PC

Sometimes, you can be unsure as to whether your external hard drive has an issue or not. Before beginning the data recovery process, you can check this by connecting the external HDD to a different USB cable or a different PC altogether. If the drive can be read, you can quickly create a backup of all the data on your corrupted external drive before you attempt to fix it. 

  1. Go to the Start menu and type in Disk Management. Press Enter when the Create and Format Hard Disk Partitions option appears.
  2. Once the Disk Management window loads, scroll down to check if your external drive appears in the list. If it does, make sure it’s online and formatted.
  3. But if the drive is offline, right-click the disk’s name and choose Online.

Way 3. Data Recovery Center

If you cannot recover lost files using data recovery software or any other method, perhaps the final option is to get in touch with a data recovery service. Your external HDDs can often store crucial information; thus, contacting a professional recovery service for broken external hard drive recovery is best.

However, keep a note of these pointers for the best possible experience before you approach any data recovery services:

  • Choose a trusted Data Recovery Center.
  • Be aware of the average price for data recovery services, and inquire about the price quote in advance.
  • It’s advised to approach a company with a “no data/no charge” policy.

➡️ Interesting Read: Here are more methods on how to recover data from an external hard drive.

How to Repair Corrupted External Hard Drive (with and without formatting)

Now, let’s look at how you can repair a corrupted external hard drive. While some methods allow you to fix a corrupted hard disk without formatting, others may require you to format it. While the ideal situation is to repair the hard drive without losing your data, sometimes such methods may not work out. 

How to Fix Corrupted External Hard Drive without Formatting

Method 1: Assign or Change the drive letter

If you cannot access the corrupted external hard drive, you can attempt to fix the problem by changing the drive letter or assigning it a new one. You can do this by navigating to Disk Management. Just follow these steps to assign or change the drive letter manually:

  1. Right-click the Start button and type in Disk Management. Now click the Create and Format Hard Disk Partitions option.
  2. Find your external hard drive, right-click on it and select Change Drive Letter and Paths.
    disk management settings
  3. Select the drive letter and click the Change button. If there isn’t a drive letter, click Add instead.
    change drive path
  4. Change the drive letter to another one from the dropdown list. Finally, click OK
    change drive letter

Method 2: Use the CHKDSK utility to fix file system errors

The CMD or Command Prompt is another method that can be used to repair issues with a corrupted external hard drive. While it might appear slightly technical, you run the CHKDSK command on your PC to fix problems without formatting your external HDD. Follow these steps to run the CHKDSK command and repair your external hard drive:

  1. Connect the corrupted external HDD to your PC. 
  2. Press Windows Key + S, then type cmd in the search bar.
    cmd on start menu
  3. Right-click Command Prompt from the results list and select Run as administrator.
  4. Now, type the following command into the CMD window and hit Enter.
    CHKDSK E: /F /R /X
    chkdsk command on cmd

When the scan is finished, it will mention if it found any problems.

Repairing Corrupted External Hard Drive by Formatting it

While formatting is the quickest and easiest way of repairing a corrupted drive, we don’t recommend it as a first option because you could end up losing all your data if you don’t have prior backups.

However, if the other methods don’t work, you can follow these steps to fix a corrupted external hard drive by formatting it:

  1. Go to Disk Management.
  2. Right-click the corrupted external hard drive and click Format.
    formatting drive on disk management
  3. Check the Perform a quick format option. Now, click OK.
    performing a quick format on disk management

You can also choose to perform a Full Format by unchecking the Perform a quick format option in the final step. However, this option will likely render your data unrecoverable after it is performed.

How to Protect your External Hard Drive

While you can always use the several available data recovery techniques to retrieve lost data, there are ways to prevent corruption of your external hard drive altogether. Following certain best practices can help protect your external hard drive from corruption and ensure your data is safe.

  • ⏏️ Eject drives properly – Unplugging your external HDD without ejecting it safely can interrupt write operations and even cause your entire drive to become corrupted. To avoid this, remove the external hard drive properly before unplugging it.
  • 🩺 Monitor your drive health – Disk Drill has a S.M.A.R.T. Disk Monitoring feature that allows you to monitor the health of your drive actively and alerts you to problems in its functioning so that you can repair any issues early on.
  • ❌ Don’t overload the Drive – Overloading the hard drive can decrease its lifespan by causing unnecessary wear and tear and even put you at risk of complete data loss if the drive slows down or stops working. So, it’s best to use cloud services as additional backups and stop overloading an external HDD with all your data.
  • 🔋 Insufficient power supply – Sudden electricity surges or power outages in power can cause significant damage to your external hard drives. Always use an outlet with a surge protector when you plug in your external hard drive to avoid drive corruption.
  • 🦠 Use antivirus software – Use reliable antivirus software to protect your data against viruses and malware that cause data corruption. You can use paid software solutions or free alternatives that come built-in with Windows Security.


While external hard drives are one of the best storage solutions, they can be prone to unexpected data loss and corruption. This article gives detailed information on how to repair corrupted external hard drives and recover data from them.

Most of these methods are inexpensive and efficient, provided you have created proper backups of the data on your external hard drives.


Joshua Solomon

Technology, SaaS, and digital marketing are Joshua's go-to niches. He understands the need for simple and easy-to-read articles on the internet. As technologies grow in complexity, guides and how-to pieces must remain com...

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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.