How to Recover Lost Files on External Hard Drive (2024)

How to find lost files on external hard drives? This post shares four solutions with you to recover deleted/corrupted files on external hard drives.


By Penny / Updated on April 2, 2024

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How do I recover lost files on my external hard drive?


Using HP Laptop and have WD external hard drive which is working fine till last night. But today morning, when I connected my external hard drive to my system, it normally appears but shows no data in it. So how can I resolve it? Thanks.


I accidentally deleted some files from my external hard drive and saved them stupidly. Is it possible for me to recover permanently deleted files? Any help will be appreciated

Lost Files on External Hard Drive

Are you wondering how to find lost files on external hard drives? As you can see, there’re two external hard drive data recovery plans for two types of data loss scenarios.

Before external hard drive data recovery

Before external hard drive data recovery, please refer to the following steps to confirm your missing files whether are hidden documents or not.

Step 1. Connect your external hard drive to the computer and press “Win + E” to open Windows File Explorer. Then click the external hard drive > “View” > “Options.”

Step 2. Click View in the Folder Options and select the “Show hidden files, folders, and drives” option. Then Apply it.


If your files are not hidden files, after data loss, please don’t add new data to the external hard drives because any written performances could overwrite the flash memory. If not, your deleted/lost files will become irrecoverable.

How to recover deleted files from external hard drives?

To find and recover deleted files from external hard drive, we conclude 3 useful external hard drive data recovery methods, including Windows built-in feature and data recovery software for Windows. Please note its respective precautions before following one of them.

Solution 1. Find lost files on external hard drive using data recovery software

How to find lost files on external hard drives effortlessly? The answer is using a top-rated data recovery software for Windows with an intuitive GUI (graphical user interface).

With a clear GUI, MyRecover is just such friendly software for you to recover deleted/lost files from HDD, SSD, USB, SD cards, and other portable devices. No matter why your files were lost, it can help you recover lost files on an external hard drive effectively.

Wonderful features of MyRecover


  • Recover Texts, Photos, Videos, Audio, Emails, Webpages, Compressed files, and other 200+ types of data from external hard drive.
  • Retain the original format, filename, and path for the deleted/lost data.
  • During scanning, you can use the search and filter feature or wait to find all the deleted and other lost files on your computers.

▶User friendliness:

  • Support NTFS, FAT32, exFAT, and ReFS file systems in Windows 11, 10, 8, 7, and Windows Server.
  • An intuitive graphical user interface and easy-to-follow operating systems.

Step 1. Install and launch this tool on your PC. Then connect your external hard drive to the computer.

Download SoftwareWin 11/10/8/7/Server
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Step 2. After loading the disk, hover the mouse over the drive saved deleted files before, and click Scan.


Step 3. After running Quick Scan and Deep Scan automatically, you can search or wait to see all the deleted and other missing files on your external hard drive.

At this step, you can filter the scanned results with Size, Path, Type, Date modified, etc., to target your data faster. If you remember the filename,  you can type it in the search box to locate it faster.

  • Name: Enter the relevant filename of your desired files to quickly locate them.
  • Date modified: Set the date (today, yesterday, last 7/30 days, etc.)
  • Size: Set file size (<128KB, 128KB~1MB, 1MB~512MB, etc.)


Step 4. Go to the Other missing files folder, and select the files you want to restore. Then click “Recover x files” and store them in your specified saved path.


  • Please select a new destination for your recovered files to avoid file overwriting.
  • You can recover lost or deleted files from external hard drive for free, up to 500MB. For more data recovery, you can upgrade MyRecover to advanced editions.

Solution 2. Restore Previous Versions of external hard drive to find lost files

As the name suggests, previous versions can offer you different file versions according to the timeline. Provided the following conditions can be met, you can restore previous versions of the external hard drive to find your needed lost files.   

  • For Win 8 and above users, ensure you’ve opened System and Security to activate File History.

  • After turning File History on, move your needed files from the external hard drive to the files in Documents, Pictures, Videos, and Desktop folders saved on your PC.

  • Or you’ve enabled System Restore manually by turning on the System Protection of your external hard drive.

You can get the files in your editing process using previous versions. So it seems it’s a practical way to recover overwritten Excel files.

Step 1. Connect your external hard drive to your PC. Then press “Win + E” to open Windows File Explorer.


Step 2. Open your external hard drive and locate the folder that contains the lost files you want to restore. Then right-click on your selected folder and click the “Properties” button.


Step 3. Under the Previous Versions tab, select a version you prefer and “Restore” it to a new location.


Solution 3. Find lost files on external hard drive via Windows File Recovery

In theory, free Windows File Recovery could be an ideal method for you to recover lost files from their local storage devices (internal and external hard drives, SD cards, USB, and SSD).  

In practice, this command-line software is only suitable for users familiar with CMD. Specifically, you need to adjust the basic command format with your needed mode and switches.

winfr source-drive: destination-drive: [/mode] [/switches]

  • Ensure the source drive (where to store the lost files you want to recover) is not the same as the destination drive (where to store the restored files).
  • Two basic (Regular & Extensive) modes and two advanced (Segment & Signature) support four (NTFS, FAT, exFAT, and ReFS) file systems.

Before choosing the mode and switches you need, please pay attention to the following notes.   

  • Windows File Recovery is only compatible with Windows 10 build 19041 or later.

  • Recovery on cloud storage and network file shares is not supported.

  • Recover the lost Word documents, Excel, PPT, PDF, ZIP, JPG, JPEG, PNG, etc.

Step 1. Figure out the file system of your source drive:

Connect your external hard drive to the computer. Press “Win + E” to open Windows File Explorer. Then click “This PC” > right-click on your external hard drive > select the “Properties” option.


Or you can also refer to the following form to check it.

File system


FAT and exFAT

SD cards, flash or USB drives (< 4GB)


Computers (HDD, SSD), external hard drives, flash or USB drives (> 4GB)

Step 2. Select the basic “Regular” or “Extensive” mode after checking the file system of your source drive and data loss scenarios.

File system




Deleted recently



Deleted for a while



Formatted disk



corrupted disk


FAT and exFAT



Step 3. Select some common switches from this form.



Supported          modes


Recover specific extension groups, comma-separated



Saves a log file of the recovery operation in a different location than the default location on the recovery drive (for example, D:\logfile).



Overrides user prompts, which is useful in a script file.



Recovers undeleted files, for example, from the Recycle Bin.

NTFS Segment


Recovers system files.

NTFS Segment​​​​​


Recovers files without primary data streams.

NTFS Segment


To keep your results manageable and focus on user files, some file types are filtered by default, but this switch removes that filter. 

NTFS Segment


Specifies which file types are filtered.

NTFS Segment

Step 4. Click “Get” to download free Windows File Recovery from the Microsoft Store. After installation, “Open” it on your PC.


Step 5. Assume that the drive letter of your source drive is “F” and the destination drive is “D” drive.

The following command line depicts how to recover the recently deleted PDF files.

▶winfr source-drive: destination-drive: [/mode] [/switches]

▶winfr F: D: /regular /n *.pdf


Step 6. Copy the adjusted command line in the command prompt window and press “y” to continue. If you want to stop the external hard drive data recovery process, press the “Ctrl + C” keys.

Further reading: How to fix corrupted files on external hard drives?

In general, the failure of the file system is one type of performance for hard disk failure. If you’re not allowed to access, read, write, or modify your external hard drives, the file system of these external hard drives could be damaged/corrupted.

If the Chkdsk.exe has discouraged you from checking and repairing disk/partition errors, AOMEI Partition Assistant can help you.

Step 1. Install and run AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard on the computer. Then connect your external hard drive to your PC.

Download Freeware Win 11/10/8.1/8/7/XP
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Step 2. On the main interface of the tool, right-click on your external hard drive. Then click “Advanced” > “Check Partition.”


Step 3. Select the first option to fix file system errors and click the “OK” button. If your external hard drive is in the RAW format, please select the last option.


Step 4. After finishing, you can click “OK” to exit the window.

Related suggestions for data loss prevention

This passage lists three methods on how to find lost files on external hard drives. If you want to avoid the second damage, why not seek help from a professional data recovery service like MyRecover?

And the sooner you start the recovery process, the better your chances will be. Besides, the above part also guides you to recover corrupted external hard drives.

There are some data loss prevention tips for external hard drives.

  • Don’t overload the external hard drive to save too much data. Then the lifespan of your external hard drive will be shortened.
  • Use freeware, AOMEI Backupper to create regular backups.
  • Remove your external hard drive slightly.
  • Away from liquid, high, or low temperatures.
  • Don’t open any suspicious Emails or attachments.


Why do files disappear from external hard drives?
Your files may disappear for many reasons: virus attacks, file system errors, etc. External hard drives play an important role but these errors are common as well.
Can I recover files from a formatted external hard drive?
Yes, professional data recovery software can often support recovering files from a formatted external hard drive.
How can I prevent future data loss on my external hard drive?
Regularly back up your files to another storage device or cloud service to avoid future loss.
Penny · Editor
Penny works as an editor at AOMEI Technology, while she's a tester and editor for AOMEI Data Recovery Tools. She enjoys helping users with data recovery issues on Windows and iPhones using simple and practical solutions. Outside of work, she has a strong affection for pets, particularly giant pandas.