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External Hard Drive Not Showing Up on Mac? 15 Best Ways to Fix It

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Last updated: September 18, 2023

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Uh-oh, your external hard drive is playing hide-and-seek with your Mac, and it’s nowhere to be found. Whether it’s important work files, cherished family photos, or a collection of movies you’re trying to access, the problem can throw a wrench in your plans and induce a mild sense of panic.

To get you out of this pickle, I’ve compiled a comprehensive list of quick and easy fixes for your external hard drive not showing up on Mac. From quick USB connection checks to diving into the nitty-gritty of Disk Utility, I’ll guide you step-by-step to resolve this digital hiccup.

Before We Begin

One common culprit for your Mac not recognizing your external drive is malware on your computer. For robust protection, consider using MacKeeper. It provides on-demand and real-time security measures to fend off viruses and other harmful software. Plus, it comes with additional features like system cleaning and privacy options.

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

If your external hard drive is not showing up on your Mac, various reasons could be causing the issue. Here are some common factors to consider:

  1. 🔌 Connection Issues: The USB cable or port could be faulty. Make sure you’ve securely connected the external hard drive to your Mac.
  2. 🔋 Power Supply: Some external hard drives require an external power source. Ensure it is correctly plugged in if needed.
  3. 💾 File System Compatibility: Your Mac might not recognize the file system of the external drive. Ensure it’s formatted in a Mac-compatible format like exFAT, FAT32, or HFS+.
  4. 🔄 Outdated Software: Out-of-date operating systems or drivers could cause compatibility issues. Make sure your Mac is up-to-date.
  5. ❗ Disk Errors: The external hard drive could have errors or bad sectors that make it unreadable.
  6. 🛡️ Malware or Viruses: Malicious software can interfere with external devices. Run a security scan to rule out this possibility.
  7. 🚨 Hardware Failure: The hard drive and your Mac’s hardware can fail, causing the drive to be unreadable.
  8. 👤 User Permissions: Incorrect user permission settings may prevent the drive from showing up.
  9. 👁️ Hidden Drive: Sometimes, the drive might be “hidden” in Disk Utility or Finder preferences.
  10. 🚫 Other Software Conflicts: Some third-party software may interfere with the system’s ability to recognize external devices.

How to Fix an External Hard Drive Not Showing Up on Mac

Ready to take action and get that external hard drive to appear on your Mac finally? In the following sections, I’ll delve into a comprehensive range of solutions to tackle this nagging issue head-on. So, let’s roll up those sleeves and get started—your files are waiting to see the light of day again!

1. Check the Connecting Cable

It may sound basic, but sometimes, the simplest issues are most often overlooked. Start by ensuring the cable connecting your external hard drive to your Mac is secure.

If the drive still isn’t showing up, the issue could be power-related. Generally, a device may require up to 500 mA, which a standard USB 1.0 or 2.0 port can provide.

Different cables and USB ports provide varying energy levels, so make sure your cable meets the hard drive’s power requirements. If not, try using a more robust cable, a different USB port, or even an external power source to meet the drive’s energy needs.

It’s a good idea to keep your Mac plugged into its charger while attempting these fixes.

2. Try Plugging It in Slowly

Yes, you read that right. Sometimes, plugging the USB cable in too quickly can result in an improper connection, causing your Mac not to recognize the external hard drive.

Here’s how to approach this:

  1. Insert the USB cable into the port slowly and deliberately, ensuring it is securely seated in the port.
  2. Give your Mac a few seconds to recognize the device. Look for any on-screen prompts or indications, like the hard drive icon on the desktop or in Finder.
  3. Pay attention to any audio cues. A successful connection often triggers a sound, indicating the device is recognized.
  4. If your external hard drive has an indicator light, ensure it’s on. No light could mean no power, signaling a failed connection.

3. Change USB Ports

It’s easy to overlook, but the USB port you’re using could be the weak link in this connectivity chain. If a Mac USB port is faulty or underperforming, it can prevent your external hard drive from showing up on your Mac.

Unplug the USB cable from the current port and try plugging it into another one on your Mac. To determine if the issue is with the port, try using it with another device, like a USB flash drive or a different external hard drive.

connecting usb to a laptop

After changing ports, restart your Mac and reconnect the external hard drive.

4. Try Another Mac or Windows PC

Sometimes, the best way to isolate the issue is by plugging the external hard drive into a different computer. Doing so will help you determine whether the problem is with your hard drive or specific to your Mac.

Here’s how to go about it:

  1. Plug your external hard drive into a different Mac to see if it shows up. If it does, the issue likely lies with your original Mac.
external hard drive connected to macbook
  1. Trying the drive on a Windows computer can further help you isolate the problem. Just remember, file system compatibility could be an issue, so don’t be alarmed if you can’t access all files.
  2. If the drive shows up on another computer but not your Mac, it might be formatted in a file system your Mac can’t read natively.
  3. If the external hard drive doesn’t show up on any computer, it’s a strong indicator that the drive itself may be the issue.

5. Try a Different Hard Drive

If you’ve tried multiple ports and even different computers, but your external hard drive still isn’t showing up, it might be time to test another hard drive. This will determine if the issue is specific to the hard drive you’re currently using or a broader issue with your Mac.

Here’s how to go about it:

  1. Connect a different external hard drive to your Mac. If this one shows up, the original hard drive is likely the issue.
connect an external hard drive with mac
  1. Ensure the new hard drive you’re testing is compatible with your Mac. Your original hard drive might be outdated or incompatible if it works well.
  2. While at it, plug the different hard drives into various USB ports to rule out the possibility of a faulty port affecting the original drive.
  3. Observe how well the new hard drive functions. It can indicate hardware failure or corruption on your original drive if it performs without issues.

If a different hard drive works fine on your Mac, you’ll have a clearer idea that the issue probably lies with your original external hard drive, guiding you on what steps to take next.

6. Reboot Your Mac

Sometimes, the classic “turn it off and back on again” method can work wonders when all else fails. Rebooting your Mac can resolve minor glitches and potentially solve the issue of your external hard drive not showing up.

Here’s how to reboot your Mac:

  1. If any other external devices are connected, properly eject them before rebooting to avoid data corruption.
  2. Click the Apple menu in the top-left corner of your screen and select Restart.
click the apple icon and select restart
  1. Wait for your Mac to completely reboot.
  2. Reconnect the external hard drive once your Mac is up and running.
  3. Look for any signs that your Mac is recognizing the drive. This could be an icon on the desktop or a sound indicating a successful connection.

7. Edit Your Settings

Sometimes, the reason your external hard drive isn’t showing up could be due to Mac settings preventing it from being recognized. Your current settings may be configured to prevent external hard drives from appearing on your desktop.

To change this, please proceed with the following steps:

  1. Open Finder from your Dock.
click finder in your dock
  1. Click Finder in the menu bar and select Settings.
select settings from the dropdown menu
  1. In the General tab, check the boxes next to External disks and Hard disks to display these items on your desktop.
check the boxes next to hard disks and external disks
  1. Next, click the Sidebar tab and check the boxes next to Hard disks and External disks.
check the boxes next to hard disks and external disks in sidebar tab

8. Change the Drive Format

Your external drive not showing on Mac may be due to an incompatible file system format. macOS can natively read and write to certain formats like APFS and HFS+ but may have issues with others like NTFS.

Here’s how to format a drive on your Mac:

  1. Before you proceed, back up any important data on the drive, as formatting will erase all content.
  2. Navigate to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility.
from the utilities window select disk utility and click continue
  1. In Disk Utility, select the drive you want to format from the list on the left-hand side of the window.
select the disk with permission issues
  1. Click the Erase button at the top of the window.
click the erase button at the top of the window to Format a Drive on Mac
  1. It will bring up a new window where you can choose the format for your drive. As mentioned earlier, choose the format that best suits your needs.
  2. You can also give your drive a new name in the same window. It is optional but useful for multiple drives with the same format.
  3. Once you have selected the format and named the drive, click the Erase button. Depending on the drive size, it will begin the formatting process, which may take several minutes.
type your drives name choose its format and scheme and click erase

9. Boot Your Mac in Safe Mode

Booting your Mac in Safe Mode can identify issues with software and drivers that might prevent your external hard drive from showing up. Safe Mode only loads essential software, allowing you to isolate the problem.

Here’s how to boot your Mac into Safe Mode:

Intel-Based Macs

  1. First, shut down your Mac completely.
click the apple icon and select shut down
  1. Turn your Mac back on and immediately hold down the Shift key.
macbook air shift key
  1. Release it when you see the login window.
  2. You’ll see Safe Boot in the menu bar on your first or second login window.
safe boot mode on mac
  1. Connect your external hard drive and check if it appears. You can look on the desktop, in Finder, or in Disk Utility.
  2. While in Safe Mode, your Mac will run certain checks on the startup disk, so pay attention to any messages or issues flagged.
  3. After performing these checks, restart your Mac normally to exit Safe Mode.

Apple Silicon Macs

  1. Click the Apple icon and choose Shut Down from the drop-down menu.
click the apple icon and select shut down
  1. Wait for your Mac to shut down and press the Power button to turn it on.
macbook air touch id
  1. Keep holding the Power button until you see the Loading startup options screen.
loading startup options screen on mac
  1. Select a volume from the options.
select a volume
  1. Press and hold the Shift ⇧ key and click Continue in Safe Mode.
macbook air shift key
  1. Your Mac will restart automatically, and you will see Safe Boot in the menu bar when the login screen appears.
safe boot mode on mac
  1. Connect your external hard drive and check if it appears. You can look on the desktop, in Finder, or in Disk Utility.

If your external hard drive is recognized in Safe Mode but not when your Mac boots up normally, the issue may lie with a software conflict that only manifests in the standard operating environment. This gives you a clue where to focus your troubleshooting efforts next.

10. Use Terminal

For those comfortable with command-line operations, Terminal can provide another layer of diagnostics and potentially fix issues that prevent your external hard drive from appearing on your Mac.

Proceed cautiously, as incorrect commands can lead to data loss.

Here’s how to use Terminal to fix the external hard drive not showing up on Mac:

  1. Open Terminal by navigating to Finder > Applications > Utilities > Terminal.
launch terminal from utilities
  1. Type the following command in Terminal and press Enter.
diskutil list
type diskutil list in terminal

This command will show you a list of all connected drives, including external ones.

list of all connected drives in terminal
  1. Search for a line that reads /dev/disk_ (external, physical). The underscore here represents a unique digit assigned to your external disk.
  2. Type the following command and press Enter:
diskutil info disk_

Replace the underscore with the specific digit for your external disk.

This will reveal information about the drive if your system recognizes it.

type diskutil info disk in terminal
  1. To safely eject the drive, type the following command and press Enter:
diskutil eject disk_

Substitute the underscore with your disk’s unique digit.

type diskutil eject disk in terminal
  1. Run the diskutil list command again. If the drive is no longer on the list, it has been successfully ejected.
  2. Finally, remove the drive from the USB port and reconnect it. Your drive should now mount normally.

11. Repair Disk Permissions With Disk Utility

Disk permissions issues can prevent files and folders from behaving as expected and cause an external hard drive to not appear in Finder. Repairing disk permissions can be an effective way to troubleshoot this issue.

Here’s how to repair disk permissions on Mac using Disk Utility:

  1. Open Disk Utility by navigating to Finder > Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility.
from the utilities window select disk utility and click continue
  1. From the left-hand panel, choose your Mac’s internal hard drive.
select the disk with permission issues
  1. Click the First Aid button in the top tool bar.
click the first aid button in the top toolbar
  1. Click the Run button to initiate the repair process.
click run on the dialog box
  1. Tap Continue to confirm your decision.
tap continue to confirm your decision
  1. Disk Utility will scan the disk and repair permissions if necessary.

This action repairs the disk on newer macOS versions, as permissions are automatically managed.

  1. Once the process is complete, reconnect your external hard drive to see if it shows up.
  2. If your external drive appears in Disk Utility, you can run First Aid to repair any issues.

12. Reset the NVRAM/PRAM

NVRAM (Non-Volatile Random-Access Memory) and PRAM (Parameter RAM) store settings like display resolution, audio volume, and kernel boot. Sometimes, corrupted or incorrect NVRAM/PRAM settings can interfere with properly recognizing external devices. Resetting them may resolve the issue.

Here’s how to reset the NVRAM/PRAM on your Mac:

Resetting the NVRAM/PRAM manually is only applicable for Intel-based Macs. For those with an M1 or M2 Mac, simply restarting the system should automatically handle the process for you.

  1. Turn off your Mac completely.
  2. Press the power button to turn on your Mac.
macbook air touch id
  1. Turn on your Mac and immediately press and hold down the Option ⌥ + Command ⌘ + P + R keys simultaneously.
macbook air option command p r keys
  1. Hold the keys down for about 20 seconds or until you hear the startup chime again or see the Apple logo appear and disappear twice.
  2. Release the keys and let your Mac continue to boot as usual.
  3. Once your Mac has fully restarted, reconnect your external hard drive to see if it is recognized.

13. Reset the SMC

The System Management Controller (SMC) is responsible for low-level hardware system management functions like thermal, LED indication, battery, and system performance. If your external hard drive is not showing up on Mac, resetting the SMC might help.

Here’s how to reset the SMC on your Mac:

For MacBooks with a Removable Battery

  1. Turn off your MacBook.
click the apple icon and select shut down
  1. Unplug the MagSafe adapter and remove the battery.
remove macs battery
  1. Hold down the power button for 5 seconds.
press and hold the power button on your mac
  1. Insert the battery and connect the MagSafe adapter.
reinstall macs battery
  1. Turn on your MacBook.
press and hold the power button on your mac

For MacBooks without a Removable Battery and with a T2 Chip

  1. Turn off your MacBook.
click the apple icon and select shut down
  1. Ensure your MacBook is connected to the MagSafe adapter and plugged into a power source.
  2. Press and hold the Shift ⇧ + Control ^ + Option , and Power keys on the keyboard for 10 seconds.
macbook air power shift control option keys
  1. Release the keys and then press the Power button to restart your MacBook.

14. Run Apple Diagnostics

Apple Diagnostics is a built-in utility that can identify hardware issues and suggest potential solutions. This can be particularly useful for determining whether the problem with your external hard drive not showing up is due to a hardware malfunction.

Here’s how to run Apple Diagnostics on Mac:

On Intel-Based Mac

  1. Remove all external devices except the essentials like keyboard, mouse, and display.
  2. Turn off your Mac completely.
click the apple icon and select shut down
  1. Turn your Mac back on by pressing the power button and immediately press and hold the D key.
Press the power button and D
  1. You can release the D key once you see a screen asking you to select your language.
  2. Choose your language and proceed with the diagnostic tests. This can take a few minutes.
select a language touse apple diagnostics
  1. After the tests are completed, Apple Diagnostics will display a list of error codes and their meanings, if any are found.
report listing any issues detected
  1. Make sure to jot down any error codes you see; these can be helpful when seeking further technical support.
  2. If Apple Diagnostics identifies an issue, it will recommend the next steps you should take.
  3. Once you’re done, you can exit Apple Diagnostics and restart your Mac.

On Apple Silicon Mac

  1. Disconnect all peripheral devices except the keyboard, mouse, Ethernet, display, and power cable.
  2. Turn off your Mac.
  3. Start your Mac and hold the power button until the startup options screen with the Options icon appears.
startup options screen
  1. Press the Command ⌘ + D keys.
Press the Command D keys

After running Apple Diagnostics, reconnect your external hard drive to check if the issue has been resolved. If the diagnostic tool flags any issues, consult Apple Support for further guidance.

15. Scan Your Mac for Malware

Believe it or not, malware or other malicious software could be the culprit behind your external hard drive not showing up on your Mac. Malware can disrupt normal system operations and block access to external devices. To rule out this possibility, perform a comprehensive scan using reputable antivirus software.

Here’s how to run a virus scan on Mac using MacKeeper:

  1. Download and install MacKeeper.
  2. Launch MacKeeper and navigate to the Antivirus tab in the left sidebar.
click antivirus under the security section
  1. Initiate an instant virus scan by clicking the Start Scan button.
click start scan in mackeeper antivirus
  1. If any viruses are detected during the scan, click the Fix Items button to resolve the issues.
  2. If your system is threat-free, you’ll see a No threats found message. You can tap the Restart button to run the scan again.
no threats found in mackeeper antivirus
  1. Enable real-time antivirus protection to safeguard your Mac from future threats by clicking the Enable button.
click enable to allow real time protection

Once you have configured your security settings, MacKeeper will continue to operate in the background, diligently scanning for threats and actively blocking any malicious activity.

What Else Can MacKeeper Do?

Besides scanning your Mac for viruses, MacKeeper can do many other Mac maintenance tasks. You can use it to connect to the internet privately via VPN, remove cache files, and delete login items. Learn more about its features in my detailed Mackeeper review.

How to Avoid External Hard Drive Not Mounting on Mac

While it’s not always possible to completely eliminate the risk of your external hard drive not mounting on your Mac, certain best practices can significantly reduce the likelihood of encountering this problem.

Here are some preventive measures to consider:

  1. 🛡️ Use Reliable Antivirus Software: Regularly scan your Mac for malware and viruses that could potentially cause system disruptions, including issues with external hard drives.
  2. 📌 Safely Eject Drives: Always use the Eject option in Finder to properly unplug your external hard drive and minimize the risk of file corruption.
  3. 🔄 Keep Your Software Updated: Ensure your macOS and any relevant drivers or software for your external hard drive are updated to the latest versions. Updates often contain important fixes and optimizations.
  4. 🎛️ Check Cable Connections: Use high-quality, compatible cables to ensure the connections are secure. A loose or damaged cable can cause intermittent issues.
  5. 💾 Regular Backups: Back up important data stored on your external hard drive to another secure location. This ensures you don’t lose crucial files if the drive fails to mount.
  6. 🕵️ Monitor Drive Health: Use Disk Utility or specialized software to check the health of your external hard drive occasionally. This can help you catch and rectify issues before they become serious problems.
  7. ⚙️ Format Properly: When setting up a new external hard drive, format it in a file system that is fully compatible with macOS. Compatibility issues can result in the drive not mounting.
  8. 📞 Consult Professional Help: If you notice any recurring or persistent issues, it may be best to consult technical experts for diagnosis and repair rather than attempting DIY fixes that might exacerbate the problem.

Connect Your External Hard Drive to Your Mac Without Hassle

Dealing with an external hard drive that won’t appear on your Mac can be frustrating and worrisome, especially when important data is at stake. However, the issue is often solvable through straightforward troubleshooting steps.

Here are some more tips for you:

  • Sometimes, an external device may malfunction due to your Mac USB ports not working. So, first, fix the ports, then try again.
  • If you suspect the hard drive is at the end of its lifespan, it’s a good idea to clone your Mac’s hard drive to prevent data loss.
  • Keeping your Mac up to date often solves many issues. So, make sure you update your macOS regularly to avoid connectivity issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why is my external hard drive not readable on Mac?

    Your external hard drive may not be readable on Mac due to various issues such as incompatible file format, cable problems, or hardware failure. Corrupt data or outdated software can also cause the drive to be unreadable. Running diagnostics or updating your system often helps resolve the issue.

  2. How do I revive a dead hard drive?

    Reviving a “dead” hard drive can be complex and depends on the cause of failure. For software issues, try connecting the drive to another computer or using data recovery tools. For mechanical failures, professional services are usually required. Always back up important data to prevent future data loss.

  3. Why does my Mac shut down when I connect a hard drive?

    If your Mac shuts down when you connect a hard drive, it could indicate a power supply issue or a conflict between the drive and the system. Faulty cables, malware, or corrupted files on the drive can also trigger this. You should diagnose the issue systematically or seek professional assistance.

  4. Do all hard drives work with Mac?

    Not all hard drives are immediately compatible with Macs. Some come pre-formatted for Windows and may need reformatting for use with macOS. The connection interface (USB, Thunderbolt, etc.) should also be compatible with your Mac’s available ports. Always check a drive’s specifications to ensure Mac compatibility before purchasing.

  5. How can I find external hard drive on Mac?

    To find an external hard drive on a Mac, connect it via a compatible USB or Thunderbolt port. Once plugged in, the drive should automatically appear on your desktop or in the Finder sidebar. If it doesn’t show up, you can access it through Finder by navigating to Go and then Computer.

Hashir Ibrahim

Author

I'm Hashir, a tech journalist with a decade of experience. My work has been featured in some of the top tech publications like MakeUseOf and MakeTechEasier. I have a bachelor's degree in IT, a master's in cybersecurity, and extensive knowledge of Apple hardware, specifically MacBooks. As the senior writer at MacBook Journal, I write in depth guides that help you solve any issues you have with your mac and unbiased reviews that help you make the right buying decisions.

Ojash

Reviewer

Hi there! I'm Ojash, a tech journalist with over a decade of experience in the industry. I've had the privilege of contributing to some of the world's largest tech publications, making my mark as a respected Mac expert. My passion lies in exploring, using, and writing about MacBooks, and I enjoy sharing my expertise to help others make informed decisions and get the most out of their MacBook experience. Join me as we delve into the fascinating world of MacBooks together!

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