How do I rescue my external hard drives?

In the past couple of years I’ve had up to three external hard drives ‘fail’ intermittently. I don’t know if this is an AFPS formatting issue, I’ve tried using different cables, disk rescue software and whatnot, and so far only one of them still works. Disk Utility will at times show one of the other drives but will then freeze and I can’t do anything about it. It’s to a point where I’m reluctant to buy new backup drives. I know drives can fail but having it happen at this frequency is a bit much! Have you found a solution or software that has helped you save files on an external drive? I have a 5TB WD HDD (IRCC), a 2TB LaCie Porsche Drive, and another 2TB LaCie Drive. The LaCie drives are USB-C, the 5TB drive is mini(?) USB

Do you have these connected via a hub or connector (e.g. a usb a to usb c adapter? If so, try connecting them individually directly to the computer or another computer which has the correct connection.

External drives do tend to have a higher failure rate than internal drives, especially if they include a spinning hard drive

Hi, I’ve tried both directly to my MacBook, via a USB hub, and via my LG Ultrafine 4K which in turn is connected to my MacBook. Near as I can tell there hasn’t been a difference.

How old are the drives in question?

By save, do you mean retrieve/recover files from a failing external drive? I tried DDRescue and Testdisk the last time I needed to rescue data from a corrupted drive that intermittently failed to mount.

Can’t remember which gave better results— sorry. One worked well; the other did a forensic level sweep of a drive, not a reconstruction/copy of directories but a completely unorganised recovery of every file it could find. Had to wait through a gazillion .plist files and system pngs before I got to anything useful (at which point I quit and went with the other one). Of course, there’s a reasonable chance that the fault was entirely mine, if I failed to select an appropriate recovery option…

Newest one is from December 2020. The oldest I wanna say can’t be more than 2 years old

Yes, I’d like to try to save whatever I had on those drives

Thanks. Sounds like something I went through with one or some of the Setapp disc recovery apps

That’s not very old, were you running them 24/7?

I looked up the MTBF on your LaCie Porsche drive, it’s 1.4 million hours, which IIRC is 150+ years, so I think you are justified in your reluctance to buy new drives. Not that it really helps you.


Not at all, they were/are mostly connected to the back of my monitor via USB-C and active whenever my laptop is connected to the monitor. This has spanned across at least 2 if not three laptops ie my current MacBook Air, and my previous 16 inch MacBook Pro

What do you mean by “fail”?
Is it that the External Hard Drives don’t appear on your desktop when you have them plugged in?
– If so, I had an EHD that would no longer appear on my MacBook desktop after it wasn’t ejected properly (MacBook froze & had to be restarted while the EHD was plugged into it). Solution to make the EHD appear on the desktop was to plug it into a non-Mac computer (in my case a Chromebook, but I think you could plug it into a PC) where it appeared on the desktop, no problem. After ejecting EHD properly from Chromebook, I plugged it back into my MacPowerBook and voilà! It appeared on the Mac desktop once more and I was able to access my files. (I had to do this several times afterward and it worked every time!)

– This may not have been your issue, but perhaps this super-easy fix will help someone else in the same boat I was in.

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Thanks I’ll have to try to find a way to test this I believe I tried one of them on a Windows laptop and that didn’t work.
By fail I mean they don’t show up yes, and in Disk Utility one of them will appear as unmounted and fails to mount

I have drives that run not quite 24/7, but probably 16-18 hours a day doing various things. They still last way, way longer than two years.

I feel like the issue here is more likely to be data corruption rather than the actual drive failing.

Given that power saving is a thing, and hard drives don’t always do their writes synchronously, any chance that stuff was happening with them and the monitor got put to sleep in the middle of I/O? That could do a number on a hard drive.

If it’s a pattern with your drives specifically I’d be looking for something in your computing behavior that’s causing the issue rather than suspecting that you just keep getting bad drives. Not placing blame - just looking for where the cause is.

If you’re plugging / unplugging constantly, another possibility is that the interface circuitry has gotten jostled and something inside is making an intermittent connection. Or flaky cables would cause the same issue.

Everything else being equal though, drives should be direct-connected if at all possible. And if they couldn’t be, I’d be looking for a Thunderbolt hub instead of USB as Thunderbolt theoretically has higher standards.

Just wanted to chime in because I have had uncountable disks go corrupt just by connecting them to an unpowered external hub or my LG 4k display, while conecting them directly to the computer the issue has never happened.

It happened when using the external SSD disk to store my Photo Library, my Thunderbird mailboxes… the latest installment happened after connecting the disk and it went rogue after 10 minutes (!)

Obviously there is some disconnect issue going on (the LG display goes to sleep, the computer considers the disk has been forcibly ejected, the hub may have issues with power…).

Whatever the reason, I do not know if this is due to APFS being more appropriate for internal disks as it seems to lack robustness under these scenarios (Disk Utilty refuese to repair the disk with some unexplainable error code)

So my advice: connect the external drive directly to the computer.