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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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Go to the Finder menu and select Preferences (Cmd+comma).
- 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:
- Open Disk Utility. You can searching for it using Spotlight Search or via Finder > Application > Utility
- 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:
- Connect your drive to the Mac.
- Quit all other applications on the Mac, especially those that may be trying to access the external drive (e.g. iPhoto, Words)
- Launch Disk Drill.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Next, click Mount Found Items as Disk button on the bottom-left below the scan results.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- Install FUSE for macOS or MacFUSE as well as fuse-ext2 module.
- Use the following Terminal command to enable Disk Utility’s debug menu and see all partitions: defaults write com.apple.DiskUtility DUDebugMenuEnabled 1
- Attach your Ext2/Ext3 drive and locate the device name via Disk Utility.
- In your user account, create a folder to be used as a mount point.
- Use the following Terminal command to mount the drive as read-only: fuse-ext2 /dev/disk2s2 /Volumes/mountpoint
- 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.
Meantime, prepare for all the awesome things you can do with Setapp.Read on
In the beginning, personal computers used cassette tape drives. Then came floppy drives, followed by hard drives. And then came removable media drives such as SyQuest, Bernoulli, and – perhaps best know of all – Zip.
Iomega had made a name for itself with its Bernoulli Box, a lower cost alternative to SyQuest drives with their hard disk platters. SyQuest had established itself with a 44 MB 5-1/4″ cartridge drive system using the same 130mm platters found in hard drives.
By contrast, Bernoulli cartridges had a floppy disk spinning at 3,000 rpm, using the Bernoulli Principle to pull the disk’s surface toward the read-write head. Unfortunately, the original Bernoulli cartridge system used huge media, measuring about 8″ x 11″ (210 x 275 mm).
Bernoulli Box II used a smaller cartridge along with a drive that fit in a standard 5-1/4″ bay. Bernoulli drives were noted for their reliability, and they came in many different capacities.
Beyond Floppy Disks
Although Apple wasn’t the first to use 3.5″ floppy disks, it was the first to standardize on them instead of the older, larger 5-1/4″ floppies. In the PC world, single-sided 3.5″ floppies held 360 KB of data, double-sided disks 720 KB. On Macs, the same disks stored 400 KB and 800 KB respectively.
High-density (HD) 3.5″ floppies arrived in 1987, and both PCs and Macs used them to store 1.4 MB of information. The same year IBM introduced its DSED (Double Sided Extended Density) 2.88 MB floppy drive and disks, which never caught on. The market needed a removable media drive with more capacity than floppies but at a much better price than SyQuest.
The Zip 100
Iomega brought its Zip drive and Zip disks to market in March 1995 with 100 MB capacity. Zip uses a cartridge a little larger and somewhat thicker than a 3.5″ floppy disk. It was also far faster than a floppy drive, which is part of what kept the competing LS-120 SuperDisk from catching on – it had higher capacity than Zip but was far, far slower. (Interestingly, SuperDisk began as an Iomega project that they ditched in favor of Zip. 3M acquired the technology from Iomega and brought it to market.)
With their relatively high capacity and low price (initially $20 per cartridge), Zip took off, selling nearly one million in 1995. A few Zip disks could back up most hard drives in 1995; one Zip disk could hold a bootable system plus diagnostics. Zip was also a great way to send files out to a service bureau.
Zip disks came preformatted for Macs or PCs, and either could be reformatted for the other platform using Iomega Tools.
A Word of Warning
The SCSI Zip drive allows you to choose one of two possible SCSI IDs, 5 or 6. SCSI ID 6 is rock solid, but SCSI ID 5 can have issues when other devices on the SCSI bus are moving a lot of data. Avoid using SCSI ID 5 if at all possible.
How Fast (or Slow) Is It?
In 2013, Lui Gough tested several different types of Zip drives on his AMD Sempton 3300+ powered PC running Windows XP SP3. Here are the average and maximum transfer rates by drive mechanism:
- ATAPI Zip 100: 1.0 MB/s avg., 1.4 Mb/s max
- USB Zip 100, bus powered: 0.7 MB/s avg., 0.8 MB/s max
- SCSI Zip 100: 0.6 MB/s avg., 0.7 MB/s max
- Parallel port Zip 100: 0.2 MB/s across the board
Cam Giesbrecht ran benchmark tests on his Mac Quadra 605, also comparing HD floppy and hard drive performance. His results:
- floppy disk, writes @ 61.6 KB/s, reads @ 78.6 KB/s
- SCSI Zip disk, writes @ 1084 KB/s, reads @ 1123 KB/s (50% higher than SCSI on PC)
- internal Quantum hard drive, writes @ 1497 KB/s, reads @ 1850 KB/s
- external Quantum hard drive, writes @ 1367 KB/s, reads @ 1367 KB/s
The SCSI Zip drive performs better on this Mac and the one tested by Lui Gough on his Windows PC, in part because Macs were optimized for SCSI drives in those days while PCs were optimized for ATA drives. The Zip shows itself to be a decent backup medium, writing data at 70-80% of the write speed of the two tested hard drives.
As for the floppy, there is no comparison. Zip stores 70x as much data and runs about 15x as fast.
Finally, the Iomega Zip FAQ benchmarks Zip 100, SyQuest 44 (an older technology), and the hard drive in a 1989 Mac IIci, obtaining these results:
- hard drive: 119 KB/s random reads, 1099 KB/s 256K sequential reads, 71.1 KB/s random writes, 1216 KB/s 256K sequential writes
- Zip 100: 38.5 KB/s random reads, 1186 KB/s 256K sequential reads, 38.9 KB/s random writes, 1189 KB/s 256K sequential writes
- SyQuest 44: 37.3 KB/s random reads, 579 KB/s 256K sequential reads, 36.1 KB/s random writes, 579 KB/s 256K sequential writes
This seems to be comparing a 1989 vintage hard drive with two removable media options. Even an older hard drive outperforms Zip 100 and SyQuest 44 for random reads and writes, but the big surprise is that for 256 KB sequential reads, Zip beats the hard drive, while it takes a close second for 256 KB sequential writes, just behind the older hard drive.
Overall Zip had decent performance, especially compared to older hard drives. With contemporary mid-1990s hard drives, Zip would fall further behind yet still acquit itself nicely.
Lots of Options
As long as Iomega kept things simple, Zip continued to grow and grow. It supported most operating system of that era:
- MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows, although Windows 7 and later will not work with parallel port drives
- Mac System 6 through Mac OS 9.2.2 plus OS X (System 6 requires an Iomega Drive version prior to 5.0, as does the Mac Plus)
- IBM OS/2
- AmigaOS 3.5 and later
- Oracle Solaris 8-11
- some Linux and BSD versions, although Zip is not universally supported
- some users have made SCSI Zip drives work with Apple II and Atari ST computers
Later versions of Zip supported 250 MB (launched December 1998) and 750 MB (August 2002) of storage. Zip drive sales began their decline in 1999 as CD-R and DVD-R grew in popularity, followed by the explosion in USB thumb drives.
- IomegaWare 4.0.2 for Windows 98, Me, 2000, and XP. Not compatible with Windows 95 or NT.
- Iomega Zip 100MB USB Drivers Download, Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, and 10.
- Iomega Zip 100MB Parallel Port Drivers Download, Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, and 10.
- Iomega Zip 100MB ATAPI Drivers Download, Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, and 10.
- Iomega Zip 100MB SCSI Drivers Download, Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, and 10.
- IomegaWare 4.0.2 for Mac OS 8.6 or later, OS X 10.1-10.2.1. Drivers are not needed with OS X 10.4, 10.5, and 10.6.
- Zip driver 4.2 for Mac Plus running System 6
Zip drives were available in numerous interfaces, including:
- IDE, an early ATA standard that does not support ATAPI commands
- ATAPI, a later version of ATA specifically for removable media; Zip 100, 250, and 750
- SCSI, internal and external, found on almost all Macs of the era, Zip 100 and Zip 250
- IEEE 1284 for parallel ports with passthrough for your printer, Zip 100 and Zip 250
- Zip Plus, an external drive that works with SCSI or parallel port, Zip 100 only
There were also three later implementations:
- USB 1.1, Zip 100 and Zip 250
- FireWire/IEEE 1394, Zip 250 and Zip 750
- USB 2.0, Zip 750
With each additional Zip format, Iomega further muddied the waters. It was simple when every Zip disk stored 100 MB and every Zip drive could read and write to it.
Zip 250 drives can read and write both Zip 100 and Zip 250 disks, although they write to Zip 100 disks very slowly. Zip 100 drives automatically eject Zip 250 disks as unreadable.
Zip 750 drives can read Zip 100 disks but not write to them at all. It is fully compatible with Zip 250 disks. Zip 100 and Zip 250 drives will eject a Zip 750 drive as unreadable.
Interestingly, Zip was listed as one of the 25 worst technology products (#15) by PCWorld in 2006 – and one of the 50 best (#23) in 2007!
Iomega was acquired by EMC in June 2008, making it part of the world’s largest storage company. EMC and Lenovo partnered in 2013 to create LenovoEMC, which took over Iomega’s business.
* No, it isn’t a typo. Compleat is a legitimate, albeit archaic, spelling for complete. As Kenneth G. Wilson says in The Columbia Guide to Standard American English: “This obsolete spelling of the adjective complete suggests an air of antiquity that seems to please some of those who name things….” We find that fitting for Low End Mac’s Compleat Guides to “obsolete” hardware and software.
- Zip Drive, Wikipedia
- The Iomega Zip Drive FAQ, 1995
- Iomega Zip Drive 100 Parallel, Centre for Computing History
- Our Favorite “Forgotten Tech” – from BeOS to Zip Drives, Ars Technica, 2012
- Using a Zip Drive on a Mac Plus, Michael A. Peters, Jags House, 1998
- Mac Plus and Zip Drives Revisited, Vintage Mac World, 2007
Keywords: #zipdrive #zipdisk #iomegazip
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