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How to Fix an External Hard Drive that Keeps Disconnecting

Ever have a pair of shoes with laces that just won’t stay tied? No matter what you do—double knot, sailors knot, something you learned in that Scout program you attended once—the laces inevitably untie, leaving you frustrated and in constant danger of tripping.
Many things in life can become unexpectedly disconnected, and these frustrations go well beyond shoes. Think about your devices. Do you have a computer or smartphone with connection or power cords that simply won’t stay connected?

It’s frustrating! Especially when you’re dealing with technology that needs to be connected to a power source or other device to function. If you have an external hard drive that keeps disconnecting, you know exactly what we’re talking about.

Fortunately, there are a few methods to fix this problem… and none of them involve buying new shoelaces. Today we’re sharing four troubleshooting methods you can try when your external hard drive keeps disconnecting. But before attempting any type of troubleshooting, please make sure you have a recent backup of your information as some of these tips could result in permanent data loss. Try each one, in order, to resolve a hard drive that keeps shutting off.

1: Switch USB Ports

This is by far the easiest of all the fixes. Depending on your device, you should have more than one USB port. If you can, disconnect your external hard drive from the first port, and try a different one. If this works, problem solved!

Some devices with USB 3.0 can be adversely affected by Windows 10. So if your hard disk keeps disconnecting from Windows 10, you may be experiencing this USB 3.0 issue. To determine if this is your issue, plug the drive into a USB 2.0 port.

If the switch stops the disconnecting, you can continue to use the USB 2.0 port, but you’ll most certainly experience slower data transfer times. If you confirm the USB 3.0 is the problem, you may want to take a few minutes to update your 3.0 drivers and then test the port again.

2: Turn Off USB Power Saving

It’s not a bug, it’s a feature! One of the most common sources of USB connectivity issues is an insufficient power supply. Computers are designed to turn off USB devices after a period of inactivity—even when they’re still plugged in. When the computer takes this action without asking, your external hard drives often don’t have enough power to maintain the connection to your device. And you end up with a disconnected device.

Fortunately, you can turn this power-saving feature off. Follow these steps:

Step #1: Go to the Control Panel and navigate to Power Options.

Step #2: Click “Change Plan Settings.”

Step #3: Click “Change Advanced Power Settings.”

Step #4: Navigate to USB Settings and select “USB Selective Suspend Setting.”

Step #5: Click “Disabled” followed by “Apply.”

3: Disable the Default Boot Process

Sometimes, the boot process used by BIOS firmware can overlook external hard drives connected via USB, preventing them from properly connecting to your computer. This is especially common with both USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports.

The solution here is to disable the legacy boot process in BIOS. Here’s how:
Step #1: Open Device Manager and double click on the affected external hard drive.

Step #2: Find the Policies tab and check “Better” performance and “Enable” write caching on this device.

Step #3: Click “OK” to save changes.

Step #4: Back in the Device Manager, right-click on the Intel USB 3.0 extension driver and select “Uninstall.”

4: Check and Repair Hard Drive Errors

Still, disconnecting? There’s one more fix you can try! But before you attempt this fix, make sure you have a verified backup of your data. If you don’t already have a backup, stop and copy your data off the drive. Repairing hard drive errors can cause data loss, and if you don’t have a backup, that loss will be permanent! And if you can’t confirm your data was copied off your drive correctly, call DriveSavers to evaluate your drive and determine if your data can be saved.

Your issue may be that your hard drive keeps disconnecting because of bad sectors in the drive. If that’s the case, those sectors will lead to corruption and poor connectivity. If you’re operating on Windows, there’s a built-in driver check to help rid the disk of bad sectors. This method works well if you’re dealing with a flash drive that connects and disconnects frequently. Follow these steps:

Step #1: Open This PC/Computer, right-click the drive you want to check, and click “Properties.”

Step #2: Select the “Tools” tab and click “Check now.”

Step #3: A Disk Options window will pop up. Check “Automatically fix file system errors” and “Scan for and attempt recovery of back sectors.”

Step #4: Click “Start.”

If none of these troubleshooting methods are successful, you may be stuck with an external hard drive that disconnects. And if you need to replace the drive, you’ll likely need to figure out how to retrieve your data. Getting information from a USB drive that keeps disconnecting is a challenge, so your best bet is to get help from a qualified data recovery company.

The professionals at DriveSavers can effectively save data from most external hard drives, even flash drives that connect and disconnect frequently or hard drives that keep shutting off. Call DriveSavers today to recover the information from your external hard drive.

Mike Cobb, Director of Engineering and CISO
As Director of Engineering, Mike Cobb manages the day-to-day operations of the Engineering Department, including the physical and logical recoveries of rotational media, SSDs, smart devices and flash media. He also oversees the R&D efforts for past, present, and future storage technologies. Mike encourages growth and ensures that each of the departments and their engineers continues to gain knowledge in their field. Each DriveSavers engineer has been trained to ensure the successful and complete recovery of data is their top priority.

As Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), Mike oversees cybersecurity at DriveSavers, including maintaining and updating security certifications such as SOC 2 Type II compliance, coordinating company security policy, and employee cybersecurity education.

Mike joined DriveSavers in 1994 and has a B.S. degree in Computer Science from the University of California, Riverside.

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