My Western Digital External Hard Drive Won't Start

By David Casselbury

External hard drives should be used as backups and not as primary storage.
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Backing up your important personal and business files on an external hard drive seems like a good idea -- until it won't start and you can't retrieve the information. Like any electronic device, external hard drives are susceptible to damage to the power and communication ports; if dropped, the hard drive could be damaged internally, as well. However, even a novice can troubleshoot an external hard drive if they know which areas to look.

Bad Power Connection

When your computer won’t recognize your external hard drive, first check the power. Verify that the power supply is firmly seated in both the outlet and the device. If it has an LED power light, you will be able to confirm that power is being received. If your device does not have an LED, note the whirring sound of the the spinning disk in the hard drive that indicates the power is on. If no power is being received, either the power supply or the soldered power connection on the board has degraded.

Bad Communication Connection

If power is not the issue, verify communication between your hard drive and the computer. Make sure your USB cable is plugged into both the computer and the external hard drive. When doing this, you should hear a sound from the computer and a message that the driver for the device is being installed. If the device is not recognized, you might need to download the newest driver. If the computer does not give any indication of communication, it could be a bad port on either your PC or the external hard drive.

External Hard Drive Enclosures

If the connectors are the cause of your issues and you are not comfortable fixing them by soldering, there are external drive enclosures that you can purchase from an electronics store. These enclosures will hold many different styles of hard drives, including SATA, IDE and SCUSI. Simply remove your hard drive from its current enclosure and transfer it according to the directions provided by the manufacturer. With these, you will be able to continue to use the drive and not lose any of the information that it contains.


With all other steps verified, you might find that the hard disk is the cause of your issue. If there is a clicking sound emanating from the device, it is likely damaged. Unfortunately, once this happens, there are few options for retrieving your information from the drive. You can purchase software, which does not guarantee recovery, or you can send your drive to a specialist for forensic recovery. The last option is expensive, so your decision will depend on the value of the information you lost.