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How To Fix External Hard Drive Not Showing Up on Mac

We have all been there, that moment when you plug in an external hard drive to your Mac, only to find that it’s not recognizing it.

Working out how to access external hard drive not showing up on a Mac can be incredibly frustrating. These things should be plug and play, and in this modern digital world an external hard drive not showing up on Mac should simply not happen.

But, there’s some great news. By taking the series of simple diagnostic steps outlined in this guide, it should be possible to work out what’s going on, and fix it, so you can see the external hard drive on your Mac. So, let’s through those steps right now, so you can hopefully access your data.

How To Fix External Hard Drive Not Showing Up on Mac

External Hard Drive Not Showing Up On Mac: Do This First

Right at the start, the first bit of advice, the thing to do first when an external hard drive is not showing up on your Mac, is to be calm, and not panic or get angry.

It’s easy to get into a rage, or panic when vital data can’t be accessed. You immediately assume it’s lost forever. But that’s rarely the case. Getting angry or panicking could mean you are not methodically trying to find a problem, which could to lead to you inadvertently destroying the data you are trying to access.

The steps we’re going to talk through assume that you are trying to connect an external drive to your Mac via a FireWire port, or USB port. Follow these troubleshooting steps, and you should be seeing your hard drive on your Mac in no time.

Before you start, you should also reboot your Mac. Turn it off completely, disconnect all external devices, and then reboot it.

Understand The Different Types Of File Formats

Different systems use different file formats. Windows PCs use file format called NTFS. This is a totally different format, which Macs cannot recognize at all, and vice versa.

Macs, prior to Sierra, use HFS+. But newer Apple Macs use something called Apple File System (APFS), which is a different format. However, your Mac should be able to recognize both of those native formats.

Even more confusingly, you can format an external drive to be used by both Windows computers and Macs. These are the universal formats exFAT and FAT32.

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So, the only situation in which a Mac won’t be able to read an external hard drive, is if it is an NTFS formatted drive.

Steps To Solve External Hard Drive Not Showing Up On Mac

Okay, so let’s take a look at a set of diagnostic steps to take to help you try and solve the problem.

  1. Check that your Mac is set to display mounted drives on the desktop. To do this, go to Find, then Preferences, then General. Check that there is a tick next to “external drives”.
  2. Triple check that the drive is properly plugged in. Yes, it’s an obvious step that you have probably already tried quite a few times. But it is one of the main reasons why a drive will not show up on any type of device.

    There are a couple of reasons why it not properly being plugged in could be the culprit:
  • If the drive is powered through the USB cable, then it won’t have the power it needs. Some older Macs need a USB power cable, this is a cable that splits into two USB connectors. These both need to be plugged into the Mac.
  • You’ll also need to check that it’s not just a faulty USB cable. Get hold of another one, and see if that works.
  • If you are connecting through anything else, like a USB switch box, check the connections on that as well, to make sure everything is plugged in correctly and working.
  1. Check that the USB port on the Mac itself isn’t at fault. If there is a different USB port, try that. If you’ve only got one USB port on your Mac, plug in a different USB/FireWire device to see if that is found.
  2. It’s unlikely you would not be aware of this, but is there a possibility that the drive you are trying to plug into the Mac is formatted for PCs? If it is, then your Mac simply will be able to read it. We’ve already told you about different file formats, so if there’s any suspicion this could be the case, then that could be culprit. If there is any suspicion of this, you need to get your hands on a PC to test it.
  3. Use the disk utility program on your Mac to try and find the drive. Open Spotlight (cmd + spacebar), and type in “disk utility”. Have a look through the list and see if you can spot the drive there.

    If the hard drive is recognized, you will see it in the list. Have a look underneath it for a volume. If you can see it, click on that, and select “mount”. Then, if it’s already been mounted it will only have the option to unmount it visible. But, if there’s not even a volume listed then your Mac cannot access the drive. However, if it’s mounted but not accessible, then that points to a problem with the drive itself.
  1. Another thing to try is resetting NVRAM. To do this, restart your Mac, and then immediately press four keys, and holding them down for 20 seconds. The keys are: option, command, P, R. If this has worked, your Mac should look as if it’s rebooting again, and you should hear a second chime. Now check to see if the drive is showing on the desktop, and go into disk utility again.
  2. If you haven’t fixed things at this stage, then you going to have to resort to using First Aid to try and access the external drive that is not being recognized by your Mac. First Aid will check if there are any disk errors, and will repair those it finds. Click the First Aid tab, and run it. It will tell you if there are errors.

    If the disk has errors, but First Aid is unable to repair them, then it could be for a couple of reasons. Either the disk cannot be read because of the way it’s formatted, or the disk is damaged.
  3. You must know someone else with a Mac. So as a final stage, give them a call, and see if you can get access to it. Plug in the external drive, and see if it works on their Mac. If it doesn’t, and you try more than one cable, then you know it’s a problem with the drive.
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The External Hard Drive Still Is Not Showing Up On Mac?

If you’ve worked through the eight stages of this diagnostic list and you still aren’t seeing the external hard drive in your Mac, then unfortunately it’s probably a catastrophic hardware failure.

The most likely thing is that the disk has failed in some way. When there is power to the disk, put your ear to it, and see if you can hear it spinning, or if it’s making any unusual noises.

At this stage unfortunately, you’re probably have to acknowledge that external hard drive is dead, or you will have to explore options for taking the drive to an expert or trying out some high-quality data recovery software.

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Richard Bolden

David has been interested in computers for over 25 years. From playing games on his parents computer as a kid in the early 90s, to building his first PC in 2003 (and many more since then). He has a passion for everything related to computing and this site is dedicated to helping others find the info they need.