Just as with the hard drive inside your computer, problems can occur with an external hard drive that can be quite frustrating. The only difference is your external drive is more prone to hardware problems due to being dropped, kicked, bumped, or knocked over. Software problems are easily dealt with on your own if you take the proper steps, but what about hardware problems? Whether hardware or software, read on to find out the steps that should be taken to repair your own external drive, and determine if you have what it takes to be your own computer repairperson.
First off, you should assure you've backed up the data on the drive somewhere. This is crucial, as when the drive is repaired using a software fix program, you run the risk of losing some data in the process. There are a variety of free software fix programs available, and they feature easy-to-follow on-screen instructions so that just about anyone can fix their drive. If this doesn't work, it's time to turn to the hardware to find the problem.
Before you turn to the software fix as described above, there is a simple way to determine it is a hardware issue: listen to the device. Can you hear any grinding sounds? Maybe you can hear a humming sound that stops and starts intermittently. These different sounds indicate the actuator arm and discs are no longer aligned properly causing the drive to time out.
If you hear strange noises or if you've performed a software check and the problems persist, it's time to crack the case open. Grab your screwdriver and get to work removing the seemingly endless number of screws that keep the drive together. After much patience, you'll finally get to the heart of the drive. Take care not to force a piece in our out of place or to bend any components, or else you've just made your problem worse. Peek around inside to see if there's anything loose or out of place, especially if it was recently dropped or you've traveled with it. Assure that all of the platters and arms are straight and that none of them are bent. If you find one or more are bent, try to carefully straighten them with either your hands or a pair of pliers.
Put it all back together, and then it's time for the moment of truth: test it out. Still not working? It doesn't necessarily mean you've screwed anything up by taking it apart. Try using the drive on another computer, as it could be the port that is your problem, or even worse, your computer. Then again, maybe you screwed something up during the dis-assembly/reassembly process after all.
The bottom-line is this: it's all a matter of how comfortable you are with pulling the drive apart and fiddling with the insides. If it freaks you out, don't do it. Just know that with care and patience, anyone can fix their own external hard drive if they want to as long as they take care to follow the proper steps.
Also know that often, the cost of replacing an internal component of the drive can meet or exceed the cost of a new drive. If it is an internal problem, you might save yourself time and sanity by just investing in a new drive.