If you're trying to access your external hard drive and are told that your external hard drive needs formatting, don't format it right away! Try some basic troubleshooting steps first. If they are not applicable, use MiniTool Power Data Recovery to recover data from not formatted hard drive.

My External Hard Drive Says It Needs to Be Formatted

External hard drives are widely used for copying large files between computers or backing up photos, videos, documents, and other files due to their large storage capacity, rapid data transfer rates, and user-friendly, lightweight design.

However, external hard drives don’t always work as expected, and many users experience this:

Symptom: After plugging the external hard drive into the computer, you cannot open it to access files because Windows pops up an error message saying “You need to format the disk in drive X: before you can use it. Do you want to format it?” or “The disk in drive X is not formatted” (appears in Windows XP).

One user described his concerns as follows:

“I have a Seagate 3TB external hard drive that all of a sudden tells me it needs to be formatted. I have 2.8 TB of files, pictures, videos, and more on that drive with no backups of it anywhere. So basically, when it is plugged in, every 10 seconds or so it disappears and then reappears with this pop-up message: “You need to format the disk in drive G: before you can use it. Do you want to format it”. I don’t want to format it as that means I lose all my data…”
You need to format the disk before using it

The unformatted error doesn’t only happen to external hard drives, it can happen to almost all storage devices, such as HDD, SSD, USB disk, memory card, etc. When an unformatted error occurs on these file storage devices, Disk Management shows their file system as RAW and you cannot access the drive.

RAW drive
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Why My External Hard Drive Keeps Asking Me to Format It

Before discussing the solutions, we would like to show you the possible causes of this message “You need to format the disk before you can use it”. This is to save you from mishandling the external hard drive afterward. Listed below are possible factors for the “external hard drive not formatted” issue:

  • The external hard drive has a file system that is not recognized by Windows, such as Ext 2/3/4.
  • The external hard drive suffers from sudden power outages when it is used to transfer files or something else.
  • The formatting process of the external hard drive was interrupted.
  • The external hard drive was forcibly removed.
  • The external hard drive is infected by a virus.
  • The external hard drive contains bad sectors.

External Hard Drive Needs Formatting? Not Now!

When encountering the external hard drive not formatted error, you may have such a misconception that you have to accept Windows’ suggestion to format the hard drive immediately.

Granted, formatting allows you to regain access to your external hard drive, but formatting an external drive also causes all files on the disk to disappear.

So, if you haven’t backed up your drive ahead of time, keep this in mind: Don’t format your external hard drive without taking the data out of it.

You should first try some non-data loss methods to remove the “external hard drive not formatting” message. If these methods fail, transfer the data from the drive before formatting the disk.

Solutions to External Hard Drive Not Formatted

Solution 1. Try the Basic Troubleshooting Steps First

  • Eject the external hard drive, then restart the computer and reinsert the drive.
  • Connect the external hard drive to another USB port or another computer device, and check if you can access the disk and view the files normally.
  • Run antivirus software to check for and remove possible viruses on the external hard drive.

If those methods don’t work, try the second solution.

Solution 2. Check the External Hard Drive for Errors

CHKDSK is a utility on Windows operating systems that scans hard drives for file system errors. You can try running CHKDSK to check and repair external hard drives for errors.

  • Right-click the Windows logo button to select Run.
  • Type cmd in the text box and hit the Enter key.
  • Type chkdsk X: /f (replace X with the true drive letter of the problematic external hard drive partition) into the Command Prompt window and then press the Enter key.

If the Command Prompt works with CHKDSK, you need to wait for the repair to complete and try to re-access the external hard drive.

However, if this process cannot be completed along with the following message: The type of the file system is RAW. CHKDSK is not available for RAW drives”, you have to recover data from the unformatted external hard drive and then format the drive.

How to recover data from a hard drive that says it needs to be formatted? Keep reading.

Solution 3. Recover Data From Not Formatted Hard Drive & Format the Drive

Regarding external hard drive data recovery, MiniTool Power Data Recovery is the most recommended free data recovery software. It is capable of recovering almost all types of files on your external hard drive, such as Office documents, pictures, videos, audio, and so on.

Besides, MiniTool Power Data Recovery can not only recover data from unformatted hard drive but also recover data when an external hard drive not recognized or not showing up on Windows, and recover data when an external hard drive takes forever to load.

With MiniTool Power Data Recovery, you can easily get your inaccessible files out from an unformatted RAW hard drive. Download and install it to start data recovery.

MiniTool Power Data Recovery FreeClick to Download100%Clean & Safe

Before you do, connect the external hard drive to your computer.

Step 1. Launch MiniTool Power Data Recovery. On its home page, find the RAW external hard drive partition (shown as Unidentified and marked with a USB icon). Then select the target external hard drive and click the Scan button.

select the external hard drive to scan

Next, please wait for the scanning process to complete. The scan duration depends on the capacity of data on the disk.

During the scan, if you find the desired file from the left directory, you can pause/stop the progress. However, for complete scan results, it is not recommended that you stop the scan halfway.

Step 2. Once the scan completes, this hard drive data recovery service will show you all the files it found in a tree structure. You can expand the RAW Files folder to see if the files are what you want.

But other than that, you have a faster and more convenient way to find the needed files, that is, view data by file type. Just move on to the Type category list and then click the desired file type to find the corresponding data.

view files by file type

You can also view the found data by file type by using the Filter feature. Besides, you can filter out unwanted files by file category, file size, and file modification date.

filter found files

The most important thing before recovering files is to preview the found files to confirm whether they are needed. Just double-click on a file to preview it or select a file and click the Preview button.

preview the file

Step 3. Now, you need to tick all the files you want and click the Save button. Then choose a location on another drive to store all the data you have selected.

save the needed items

Please note that the free edition of MiniTool Power Data Recovery only supports saving for no more than 1 GB of files. To break this data recovery limitation, you have to choose a full edition such as the Personal Ultimate one.

My external hard drive keeps saying it needs to be formatted. Thankfully, MiniTool Power Data Recovery helped me recover its data before formatting the drive.Click to Tweet

MiniTool Power Data Recovery FreeClick to Download100%Clean & Safe

After rescuing data from the not formatted external hard drive, now you can format the hard drive without worrying.

You can format the external hard drive directly from the window where the “You need to format the disk before you can use it” message appears.

During this process, if you receive an error message saying “Windows was unable to complete the format”, you can turn to a third-party professional partition manager to accomplish the format task.

MiniTool Partition Wizard is a reliable and user-friendly partition management tool that can effectively and easily format your RAW external hard drive for free.

Step 1. Download, install, and run MiniTool Partition Wizard.

MiniTool Partition Wizard FreeClick to Download100%Clean & Safe

Step 2. On its main interface, select the partition of the external hard drive. Then slide down the left menu bar to select the Format Partition feature.

format the partition

Step 3. In the new window, specify the partition label, file system, and cluster size. Then click the OK button.

Step 4. Finally, click the Apply button located in the lower left corner to make the format operation take effect.

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Bottom Line

In this article, we mainly focus on how to fix an external hard drive that says “external hard drive needs formatting”. The good news is that MiniTool Power Data Recovery is effective in recovering data from the unformatted drive.

If you have any questions while using MiniTool software, don’t hesitate to contact us via [email protected].

External Hard Drive Needs Formatting FAQ

Does a new external hard drive need formatting?
When you get a new external hard drive, you need to create and format new partitions on it to make it usable. When there are file system problems on the external hard drive, formatting is the best way to regain access to the partition.
Why does a hard drive need to be formatted?
Formatting will define the file system and cluster size of the partition. So, when there are file system errors, or you want to change the file system of the partition, formatting is the best way.
How can I fix my external hard drive that says it needs to be formatted?
If you receive a message saying that the hard drive needs to be formatted, you can insert the drive into another computer and check if the issue persists. If yes, try to run the CHKDSK command. If the command line does not fix the issue, use MiniTool Power Data Recovery to rescue the data on the drive and then format it.
How do I format my external hard drive to NT file system?
·         Use Disk Management: Open Disk Management > select and right-click the partition of the external hard drive > choose Format from the context menu.
·         Use diskpart.exe: Run Command Prompt as administrator > type diskpart and press Enter > type list volume and press Enter > type select volume X (X represents the actual drive letter) and press Enter > type format fs=ntfs quick and press Enter.
·         Use MiniTool Partition Wizard: Select and right-click the partition of the external hard drive and choose Format > choose the NTFS file system > click OK and Apply.
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