How to Recover Files From a RAW External Hard Drive

Robert Agar
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N. Lankevitch for pandorarecovery
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recover files from raw external hard drive

Many computer users take advantage of external hard drives to store valuable information. They may keep extensive collections of photos, videos, music or other types of data on an external drive rather than use up all of their computer’s internal disk space. Storing this type of data on an external drive not only expands the storage capacity of their machine, but it also is a great way to make the information available to multiple users.

So it can be quite distressful to plug in your external hard drive and be presented with a disk that cannot be read by your operating system. Sometimes, issues beyond your control can cause the filesystem to become RAW and unrecognizable to your computer. But there is no need to panic. We are going to show you how to recover files from a RAW external hard drive using data recovery software.

how to recover files from raw external hard drive

Since you may have arrived at this page due to the need to recover data from a RAW external hard disk, we will first address the most efficient remedy for this problem. After we have shown you how to get your data back, we will discuss the possible issues that affected your drive and some potential actions you can take to prevent it from happening again.

How to Fix a RAW External Hard Drive Without Formatting

External hard drives offer users a convenient and portable method of providing additional storage to their computers. They are also very useful for sharing data with colleagues and friends or as media to hold backup copies of your computer’s data resources. Your external hard drive can hold up to several terabytes of data in one compact device.

Unfortunately, having all that data in one place can be disastrous when the drive fails or cannot be accessed. This can happen when the drive’s filesystem that was previously NTFS or FAT32 suddenly becomes corrupted and displays as RAW to your operating system. We are going to show you how to fix a RAW external hard drive without formatting, using a variety of methods. 

Try Using a Different Port
One of the easiest things to try if your file system is RAW is to use an alternate USB on your computer for the connection to the external hard drive. The problem may be as simple as a faulty port and using another one can be a quick and easy fix.

Replace the USB Cable
The physical cable that connects the external drive to your computer can wear out over time. A damaged cable can be the culprit behind your filesystem appearing as RAW. Use a cable from a device that you know is operational and see if it will solve the problem with your external hard drive.

Connect Your External Hard Drive to Another Computer
Try connecting your external drive to another computer if one is available. If the problem persists, you can be reasonably certain that there is a problem with the disk and not with the original computer. 

Update the Driver
The driver that your system uses to interact with the external hard drive may need to be updated. On a Windows machine, the following steps can be used to update the device driver.

  1. Open Windows Device Manager
  2. Locate the external drive in Device Manager
  3. Right-click on the drive and select Update Driver.

Use Chkdsk to attempt a repair
The Windows chkdsk utility can be used to try and fix a RAW file system. The following steps should be performed from an ID with administrator privileges. You may get an error message informing you that chkdsk cannot be used on a RAW drive.

  1. Type CMD in the Windows search bar.
  2. Right-click on the cmd.exe program and choose Run as administrator.
  3. Enter the chkdsk <drive letter>: /f command, replacing the drive letter parameter with the appropriate character for your external hard drive.

Recovering Files From a RAW External Hard Drive


We have chosen Disk Drill data recovery software as our tool for this exercise for reasons that we will discuss at length after we provide the recovery steps. The software is available for Windows and Mac systems. Each version has a slightly different interface so we will provide two versions of the recovery process.

recover data from raw external hard diskHere are the steps to recover files from a RAW external hard drive using a Windows computer.

  1. Download and install Disk Drill for Windows on your computer or laptop.
  2. Connect the problematic external hard drive and launch the application.
  3. Select the external hard drive from the disk list displayed in the app’s main window.
  4. Click the Search for lost data button to initiate the disk scanning procedure.recover lost data from external raw hdd
  5. Preview the files that have been found by Disk Drill by clicking on the window designated for the type of files that have been lost. You can select from Pictures, Video, Audio, Documents or Archive files.recover data from raw external hard disk
  6. Select the files you want to recover and click the Recover button to start restoring your data. You can also click Recover all rather than selecting individual files if you want to perform a full recovery.external hard drive raw recover data
  7. You will be prompted for a safe location at which to store the recovered to recover files from raw external hard drive

    Do not use the disk that suffered the data loss, as this can result in overwriting your data during the recovery process.

  8. When the recovery is complete, verify the data has been restored to its new location and breathe a little easier.recover files from raw external hard drive
free data recovery software Disk Drill for Windows & macOS Free Download

recover data from raw external hard diskUse these steps to recover lost data from an external RAW HDD using a Mac or MacBook.

  1. Download and install Disk Drill for the Mac.
  2. Attach the external hard drive to your machine and start the program.
  3. Choose your disk from the application’s disk list.
  4. Click the Search for lost data button to start the scanning algorithms. Filter on the type of file you are looking for in the app’s menu bar.
    recover files from external hard drive mac
  5. Preview the files that can be restored and make your selections. how to recover files from raw external hard drive
  6. Click Recover to perform the restore.external hard drive raw recover data

    Choose a new storage location in the menu bar and avoid using the disk that lost data to prevent further file corruption.

  7. Once the process ends, locate your files in their new location and stop worrying about that potentially lost data.recover data from raw external hard disk
free data recovery software Disk Drill for Windows & macOS Free Download

Whichever platform you use to recover your data, Disk Drill gets it back with these simple steps. You don’t need to be a data recovery specialist to successfully recover data from an external hard disk that has gone RAW.

Why Use Disk Drill?

You might be wondering why Disk Drill was chosen as the recovery tool. Well, it was not a random decision. There are quite a few data recovery tools on the market these days, and we believe Disk Drill is the best for several reasons. Let’s take a close look at this versatile data recovery program.

recover lost data from external raw hdd with disk drill

Ease of use is very important in a data recovery application. Tensions are liable to be high as you wrestle with the idea of having just lost all of the data on the external drive. You don’t need complicated procedures at a time like this. With Disk Drill, in the matter of a few simple clicks, you are on your way to successfully recovering files from the RAW disk.

#1 Reason

The simplicity with which recovery is performed disguises the sophistication of the scanning algorithms that are used to find data on the RAW hard drive. These algorithms can recognize and reconstruct files in hundreds of different formats. A Quick scan will uncover recently deleted data and may be all that is needed in some cases.

recover files from raw external hard drive

Harder to recover data can be rescued by employing the tool’s Deep scanning technology. It will take a little longer to complete, but the results of a Deep scan are worth the wait. Scans can be paused and resumed at will to allow you to recover your data at your own pace.

#2 Reason

While the focus of the previous recovery steps is aimed at RAW external hard drives, this versatile tool can restore lost data from any disk-based storage device. You can recover files that appear to have been permanently deleted from the Trash or Recycle Bin.

external hard drive raw recover data

While these features alone make Disk Drill an obvious choice in data recovery software, the addition of free data protection tools seals the deal. Recovery Vault acts similarly to your operating system’s Recycle Bin or Trash by keeping copies of deleted files easily accessible for a defined length of time. You can configure the Vault to protect valuable files and folders so they can be recovered instantly without performing a full recovery if they are accidentally deleted.

#3 Reason

The tool also enables you to make a byte-level copy of any disk as a protective measure. These backups are useful in any situation but are especially helpful when faced with a disk that may be starting to fail. You can use the backup to perform data recovery on lost files without putting the original media through additional stress.

how to recover files from raw external hard drive

Putting it all together, Disk Drill offers the best value and performance in data recovery software for Windows and Mac users of all levels of experience. It will help you restore your RAW external hard drive and lost data from any other storage device you may be using.

Related Article
Hard Drive Recovery Software: Restore Deleted HDD Data (2020)
This comprehensive application lets you recover files from a hard drive with a few simple clicks.

What is a partition and how does it relate to a RAW file system?

A partition is a designated region of a hard drive or another storage device that can be managed independently. The act of partitioning a drive allows multiple users to use a portion of the device without impacting others. Very often, virtual drives are created from a large physical drive through the act of partitioning it. 

Disk partitions can become RAW, limiting the ability of the operating system to access any of its data. While you can format a RAW partition or drive and make it usable for your Windows system, this destroys the data residing on the device. 

Fortunately, you can use software to recover data from a RAW partition. Reliable data recovery software will scan the drive and recover data from the RAW partition. When recovery is complete, you can reformat the drive to use any filesystem supported by your operating system.

How a Hard Drive Can Turn RAW

A hard drive that is designated as being RAW has a logically damaged filesystem. This may have happened for a variety of reasons.

  • Malware or a virus attack can cause filesystem damage and turn a drive into a RAW state.
  • Manufacturing defects can surface over time and result in a drive that displays a RAW filesystem.
  • Incorrectly removing the drive from your computer before it has finished a write operation can also cause this kind of damage to your drive.

After recovering the data with Disk Drill, you can safely reformat the drive and use it for storage again.

Some Measures to Protect Your Data

Here are some ways to minimize the chance that you will suddenly be faced with a RAW external hard drive that needs to be recovered.

  • One of the selling points of external hard drives is their ability to be shared. Every time you plug your drive into a strange computer you run the risk of being infected with a virus or malware. You should be very cautious about connecting an external hard drive to computers that you cannot verify as being free of malicious software.
  • Make sure that all write and read operations are complete and that you remove the drive from your computer in the accepted fashion. Eject it properly using operating system commands. Failure to follow this advice increases the possibility that you might be looking at a RAW drive sometime soon.
  • Don’t ignore signs of imminent failure with an external hard drive. Get your data off of it and onto another drive if you start experiencing intermittent missing files or hear strange noises coming from it while in use.

A Final Word

Don’t despair if you suddenly find your external hard drive unrecognized by your operating system due to it being put into a RAW state. Download Disk Drill and preview the files that can be recovered for free. Windows users can even perform 500 MB of data recovery without purchasing the software. Once you have determined that the tool can rescue your lost data, you can go ahead and obtain a license to get your important files off that RAW external hard drive. The problem is solved efficiently and effectively.


Robert Agar
Robert is a freelance writer and technology enthusiast who graduated from Pace University in New York with a degree in Computer Science in 1992. He is a former computer specialist at IBM. During his long career in IT, he has worked for a number of major service providers in various roles related to data storage, management, and protection.
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Over 15 years strong experience in various fields and platform includes Disaster Recovery, Windows XP/7. System analysis, design, application (Inter/Intranet) development, and testing. Provided technical supports on desktop and laptops on Win-XP and Macintosh for about 2000 employees.