MacinCloud provides managed and dedicated cloud Mac servers, hosted private cloud solutions and DevOp pipelines. Users can access on-demand Mac servers for app development, Mac tasks, and enterprise builds. All of our plans and solutions are backed by genuine Mac hardware hosted in 8 professional data centers around the globe. The best external hard drives for Mac are not only useful for storing data but are an excellent way to transport files from one location to another. When you take into account price, ease of use, and portability, the Seagate Backup Plus Slim is the most reliable hard drive you can carry around with you at all times. Connect an external hard drive to your Mac. Some external hard drives need to be plugged into an outlet to work. Go to Spotlight Search, type in Disk Utility, and click the first option. This will open the Disk Utility app, where you will find all the internal and external drives that are connected to your Mac. This option on boot trick works for quite literally any boot volume, whether it’s an external USB drive of any sort, a Thunderbolt hard drive, boot DVD, CD, the Recovery partition, even in dual-boot environments with other versions of OS X, or a Linux or a Windows partition with Boot Camp, if it’s bootable and connected to the Mac it will be visible at this boot manager. Connect the external hard drive to your Mac. Launch Disk Utility (press Cmd + spacebar and start to type Disk Utility). Before this next step - if you are running High Sierra or later you will need.

Most external hard drives are designed to work for Windows computers. So if you’re trying to connect an external hard drive to a Mac, you might have to format the drive before you can use it. Here’s how to do that:

How to Format a Hard Drive for Mac

Note: If you already used your external hard drive on a PC, be sure to back up any files on it. Formatting your drive will wipe out all the data in it.

  1. Connect an external hard drive to your Mac. Some external hard drives need to be plugged into an outlet to work.
  2. Go to Spotlight Search, type in Disk Utility, and click the first option. This will open the Disk Utility app, where you will find all the internal and external drives that are connected to your Mac.
  3. Then click View in the top-left corner of the window and select Show All Devices.
  4. Click the external hard drive you want to format. You can find this on the left-hand side of the screen under External Hard Drives. For the best result, select the disk (the highest option in the external tree).
  5. On the top menu, click Erase. This will open a small pop-up window with a warning that erasing the drive will delete all data stored on it and that it can’t be undone.
  6. Choose a name, format, and scheme for your drive. You can choose whatever name you want, and you should choose GUID Partition Map for the Scheme in most cases. However, you can choose between the following formats:
    • Mac OS Extended (Journaled) is the best option for most Mac users since it is compatible with all Macs.
    • APFS (Apple File System) is only for newer Macs running macOS 10.13 or later.
    • exFAT is compatible with both PC and Mac.
    • MS-DOS (FAT) is also compatible with Mac and PC, but you can only transfer files smaller than 4GB.
  7. When you’re done with providing the setup details, click Erase. This will immediately wipe the entire drive.

If you get an error message that states, “Erase process has failed. Click done tocontinue,” don’t freak out about it. This is an issue caused by Time Machine running on your externaldrive.

You will need to turn off Time Machine. You can do this by opening System Preferences and unchecking the boxnext to “Back Up Automatically”.Then click Options beside “ShowTime Machine in menu bar.” This will open another window. Click Cancel and it will turn off the Time Machine.

After you turn off the Time Machine, redo steps 4 to 6.

How to Partition anExternal Hard Drive on Mac

If you have formattedyour drive, you can then partition the drive, which will splitthe drive into two formats. This is perfect for anyone who uses Macs and PCsand wants to transfer files between the different operating systems with anexternal drive. Here’s how to do that:

  1. Open Disk Utility and select the drive that you want to partition. It is best to click View > Show All Devices so you can selectthe disk rather than a container.
  2. In the top menu, select Partition.
  3. Then click the plus sign at the bottom of the pie chart. Every time you click this plus sign, a new partition will becreated.
  4. Choose a name, format and size for each partition. You can also change the size of each of the partitions bydragging the white dots at the edge of the circle.
  5. Finally click Apply.

Why Partition a Hard Drive?

Partitioning an external hard drive allows youto have separate drives for Mac, PC, and any other operating system. Now youdon’t have to go out and buy hard drives for every computer you use.

A partition also gives you a dedicated space foryour Time Machine back-up files or a bootable backup of your operating system.It also helps protect your data if your drive gets infected with malware, as itwould be contained within one of the partitions.

Now that you know how to format an external drive for Mac, check out our blog on the difference between an HDD and an SDD.

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Most of the time, when you connect an external hard drive to your Mac’s USB port, you soon see it mount on the desktop. Apple likes to ensure these are easy to find, so they also appear in the Finder in the left-hand column under Devices, since Mac’s treat them the same way as another computer.

However, sometimes, an external hard drive doesn't show up. It’s annoying, especially when you need to transfer something right then. And besides, there can be a risk that data on the external USB pen, hard, or flash drive is corrupt, which means you can’t transfer what you need between devices at all.

Corrupt data can be one reason your Mac won't recognize an external drive, but there are other reasons too. Let’s take a look why this is happening and how you can get an external drive to appear on your Mac and get recover data to access to your documents.

How to fix an external disk drive that won't show up on a Mac

Why an external disk drive is not showing up? There could be a few reasons why a USB flash drive isn’t making an appearance.

Open an External Drive Not Showing on Mac

Get a huge set of top utilities for troubleshooting external hard drives not mounting on a Mac

Start with the basics:

  1. Check whether the drive is properly plugged in. It sounds obvious, but since this relies on a wire - either a USB cable or HDMI cable - if it’s not connected properly then it won’t appear on your desktop.
  2. Faulty cable. Assuming it’s plugged in correctly, not wobbly or loose, the cable could be at fault. Try connecting the same device with a different cable.
  3. Damaged USB or flash drive port. It could be a hardware issue with the Mac. If you’ve got another port, try connecting the device to that one.
  4. Reboot your Mac. Sometimes, if a USB disk won't boot, the cause is macOS issue. Hopefully, some data damage that can be fixed by restarting. Choose the Apple menu > Restart. Or press and hold the power button and, when a dialog box appears, click the Restart or press R. Restarting your Mac essentially clears your macOS’s memory and starts it up fresh.
  5. Incorrectly formatted drive. Not every external drive is optimized for Macs. It could be that you are trying to connect something only fit to interact with Windows devices. If you’ve got a PC or laptop, it’s worth connecting and seeing if you can access the files through another device. The best way to look for an incorrectly formatted drive is to go to
    Apple (in the top toolbar menu) > About This Mac > Storage.
    See if the external drive shows up here. For more information, go to the same menu option, then select System Report.
  6. Mac not formatted to display external drives on the desktop. It could be that your Mac already recognizes the device, but just isn’t showing its icon on the desktop screen. Even if that is the case, the drive will still appear in the left-hand column of the Finder menu under Devices. You should be able to access your drive that way, and, in the Finder menu under Preferences > General, you can check External Drives to ensure that from now on it shows up on your desktop too.
  7. Reset NVRAM. To do this, shut down or restart your Mac, switch it back on and immediately press these four keys together for at least 20 seconds: Option, Command, P, and R. It should look as though your Mac has started again; if it has, release the keys when you hear the second startup chime. Hopefully, the hard drive has shown up now.
  8. Check Apple’s Disk Utility to see if an external drive is showing up. Disk Utility is within System Preferences, or you can find it using Spotlight. If it is visible, then click the option to Mount, which should make it visible on the desktop and in the External Drives option in the Finder menu.

Unfortunately, if none of those options has worked and the external drive still isn’t visible, then it could have crashed, or be well and truly broken. But there might still be a way you can recover the data on the external drive.

How to show connected devices in Finder

  1. Go to the Finder menu and select Preferences (Cmd+comma).
  2. From General tab tick External disks to ensure that from now on it shows on the desktop.

In the Sidebar tab you can choose which folders and devices will be shown in the left-hand column of the Finder window.

How to add cloud storages to Finder

You can also mount cloud storage as local drive on your Mac. By connecting Google Drive, Dropbox, or Amazon to your computer, you get more space for securely accessing and sharing files. For your ease, add cloud drives to Finder with CloudMounter app, so that you keep them close at hand. You can read detailed instructions on managing cloud storage as local drives here.

Repair the failed external drives with First Aid

If your drive is having problems, you can try to fix them yourself with First Aid and therefore get access to your files. First Aid tool will check the disk for errors and then attempt a repair as needed. It helps to verify and repair a range of issues related to startup HD and external drive problems. If you are able to fix the hard drive or SSD in your Mac (or an external drive) using Disk Utility you will hopefully be able to recover your files.

To run Fist Aid on an external hard drive:

  1. Open Disk Utility. You can searching for it using Spotlight Search or via Finder > Application > Utility
  2. Check on your external hard drive, click the First Aid tab and select Run to start running diagnostics.

If First Aid successful in fixing errors, the external drive should be available to mount. If the utility unable to repair issues, your drive truly is broken or formatted using a file system that the Mac cannot read - in this way we suggest you follow the next steps to recover data from a damaged disk drive.

How to recover data from a crashed drive

Thankfully, there is an app for that. Disk Drill is the world’s premier data recovery software for Mac OS X. Powerful enough to retrieve long-lost, mistakenly deleted files from Macs, external hard drives and USB drives and camera cards.

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An easy way to recover lost files on an external hard drive

Providing you already have Disk Drill Pro version, which you can get automatically by downloading from Setapp:

  1. Connect your drive to the Mac.
  2. Quit all other applications on the Mac, especially those that may be trying to access the external drive (e.g. iPhoto, Words)
  3. Launch Disk Drill.
  4. Click on the external drive that you are trying to recover files from. If it has partitions, you will see all of them. If, however, you still don’t see any volume to the external drive then you may need to try some of the steps above again or read the Disk Drill Scanning FAQs.
  5. To avoid the external drive being accessed during the recovery process, click Extras next to the drive or drive partition or file, then select Remount Volume As Read Only. A padlock will appear, protecting the drive during the process.
  6. Now click Rebuild (or Recover) next to the file(s) you are trying to recover. Once the scan is finished - it may take some time if the files are large - a list of files will appeal.
  7. Next, click Mount Found Items as Disk button on the bottom-left below the scan results.
  8. Disk Drill “strongly suggest saving the files to a different drive than the one you are trying to recover files from. Saving to the same drive substantially lowers your chances of recovery.”
  9. A drive icon will appear, which once you double click will give you the option to open the files as you would do before they were lost. Drag them to another location, such as your desktop or a folder on your Mac.
  10. Open the files to ensure they have been recovered properly and safely eject the external drive.

Disk Drill does have other ways to recover lost files but assuming there aren’t complications, this method is the most effective. Disk Drill Pro recovery app is available from Setapp, along with dozens of Mac apps that will make your life easier. Never have to worry about a crashed or corrupted external drive again.

A few more tips on getting your files back

  1. Macs and third-party apps that look after Macs, such as Disk Drill and iStat Menus come with a S.M.A.R.T. (also known as Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) status monitor. If a SMART check reports errors, then it could mean the hard drive is at risk of failing completely. Within Disk Utility and Disk Drill, there are several solutions for this: Repair Disk Permissions and Repair Disk. If neither work, it’s recommended that you backup all of the data from the disk, erase, then run a SMART check again. The external hard drive should show up as Verified.
  2. Partitions can get lost within hard drives, temporarily hiding all of the information contained within. Disk Drill can help to identify and restore this information.
  3. Within Disk Drill, you can restore data when a hard drive is damaged or add formatting, which is also something Disk Utility can help with.
  4. CleanMyMac, another useful app available from Setapp, can help you identify external hard drive errors and repair them. It is an essential tool worth trying when you’re having external hard drive difficulties.

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Alternative ways to recover data from an external hard drive

Reset the System Management Controller (SMC) if your Mac shuts down when you plug in an external hard drive. Then use a different port to connect the external hard drive. If you’ve got a battery that you can’t remove:

  • Shut down and unplug the power adapter
  • Press Shift-Control-Option and the power button at the same time. Do this for 10 seconds
  • Release all keys
  • Plug the power adapter back in and switch your Mac back on

For Macs with removable batteries, you need to switch them off, remove the battery, then press and hold the power button for 5 seconds. After that, put the battery back in, plug in the power adapter and switch the power on again.

What’s your file format? One reason your Mac isn’t recognizing the hard drive is the file format. Windows uses NTFS file formats, while Macs, up until the introduction of Sierra, have used HFS+. Now, Apple has introduced the Apple File System (APFS) for newer operating systems. It is possible to format a hard drive so it can be read on Mac and Windows computers, providing you format using exFAT. However, if you’re having problems accessing the files and the issue is due to formatting, you will need to connect it to a device it can be read on, and then format the files correctly for the computer you are going to use it on next.

How to make Ext2/Ext3 drives readable on Mac

The common issue is Ext2- and Ext3-formatted drives are not readable on macOS. There are two ways to access such external drives on your Mac – via Linux OS or FUSE system. The easiest would be installing Linux to a secondary drive or virtual machine.

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If you go with Linux installation, dual boot your Mac with Linux on another drive and use FAT32 as a transfer intermediary. If you don’t have a drive to install Linux to, use virtual machine as an interface for it. Transferring can be done the same way – with FAT32, or via network.

Another option for reading Ext2/Ext3 disks is mounting disk with Filesystem in Userspace (FUSE). Basically, it works as an extra interface enabling file system access via specially installed modules. Here’s how to mount drives with FUSE:

  1. Install FUSE for macOS or MacFUSE as well as fuse-ext2 module.
  2. Use the following Terminal command to enable Disk Utility’s debug menu and see all partitions: defaults write com.apple.DiskUtility DUDebugMenuEnabled 1
  3. Attach your Ext2/Ext3 drive and locate the device name via Disk Utility.
  4. In your user account, create a folder to be used as a mount point.
  5. Use the following Terminal command to mount the drive as read-only: fuse-ext2 /dev/disk2s2 /Volumes/mountpoint
  6. For write support, use the command: fuse-ext2 -o force /dev/disk2s2 /Volumes/mountpoint

And that’s not the only case where Terminal helps you access external drive.

Employ the handy all-powerful Terminal, which always comes forward with solutions for difficult problems. Especially if System Information does recognize the USB or hard drive, but continues to hide it from you, disconnect the drive and try to find it using the Terminal, which you can find in Applications > Utilities.

  • Once in the Terminal, type in the command diskutil list
  • A list with information about volumes and drives should appear
  • Look for a section labelled /dev/disk_ (external, physical)
  • Make a note of the whole line after the word disk
  • Now put the following command into the Terminal diskutil info disk followed by the number or digits assigned to that disk
  • Now you should see detailed information about the drive, therefore confirming that your Mac can and does recognize it
  • Eject using the Terminal by entering the command diskutil eject disk followed by the number or digits assigned to that disk
  • Physically remove the disk from you Mac
  • Plug it back in and your Mac should recognize it

Console is also reliable when it comes to solving tricky problems, although it isn’t always that easy to use. You can find Console under Applications > Utilities > Console. Console shows if an external drive or any error is detected under the Errors and Faults tab. If no errors show up, then the problem is not caused by the device.

To sum up, there are lots of potential solutions for a Mac not reading an external hard drive. If we were to pick one, Disk Drill seems to be the most well-rounded, offering plenty of customizations and power in an easy-to-use interface. Disk Drill Pro recovery app is available via Setapp, along with 150+ Mac apps that strive to make your life much much easier. At the very least, you’ll never have to worry about a crashed or corrupted external drive ever again.

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