How to connect and disconnect an external hard drive

Updated: 04/02/2019 by Computer Hope

Using an external hard drive is an excellent way to back up important files and transfer files from one computer to another. Today, nearly all external hard drives are lightweight and small in size, making them easy to carry with you wherever you go. Despite their size, they can store a large amount of data, including documents, spreadsheets, presentations, music, and videos.

Most external hard drives connect to a computer through a USB connection, and many also draw power needed to run from the computer's USB port. To connect and disconnect an external hard drive, select a link below for instructions.

Connect an external hard drive

To connect an external hard drive to a computer, follow the steps below.

  1. If the external hard drive requires a power cord, connect the power cord to the back of the hard drive. The end of the power cord that connects to the hard drive is usually a small round connector. Connect the other end of the power cord to a power outlet.

Note: If no power cord is required, skip to the next step.

  1. If the USB cable is not part of the external hard drive (a separate cable), connect one end of the cable to the hard drive. The end of the cable that connects to the hard drive has a smaller connector than the end that connects to the computer.
  2. Plug the other end of the USB cable into a USB port on the computer.
  3. After connecting the external hard drive to the computer, it should be automatically recognized by the operating system on the computer. Any drivers or files needing to be installed to use the hard drive should automatically install.
  4. In Windows, File Explorer may automatically open, displaying the contents of the external hard drive. If File Explorer does not automatically open, manually open File Explorer and view the contents of the external hard drive.

    In macOS, Finder may automatically open, displaying the contents of the external hard drive. If Finder does not automatically open, manually open Finder and view the contents of the external hard drive.

Disconnect an external hard drive

To properly disconnect an external hard drive from a computer, select the operating system on your computer and follow the provided instructions.

Microsoft Windows

Using the notification area

  1. In the Notification Area of the taskbar, click the up arrow to view the items in the systray. Then, right-click the Eject Media Eject Media icon in Windows Notification Area icon.

Screenshot: In the Notification Area, click the up arrow to view the systray. Click the Eject media button, which looks like a USB flash drive.

  1. A menu lists the removable media you can eject. Click the name of external hard drive. In this example, the option to eject the external hard drive is named "Eject My Passport Ultra."

Eject external hard drive

After clicking the eject option, wait for a message stating it is safe to remove the hardware before pulling the external hard drive out of the computer. If no message is displayed after five seconds, it is likely safe to disconnect the external hard drive.

Apple macOS

With ⌘+E keyboard shortcut

  1. Locate the external hard drive on the desktop. Click it once to select it.
  2. On the keyboard, press +E to eject the external hard drive.

Screenshot: Select the external hard drive's  icon on your macOS desktop, and press Command+E.

In Finder

  1. Open the Finder. On the left side of the Finder window, locate the external hard drive under Devices.
  2. Click the eject icon (⏏) to the right of the external hard drive.

Screenshot: In the macOS finder, locate your external hard drive on the left under Devices, and click the eject icon next to its name.

Drag to the Trash

You can also eject your external hard drive if you drag-and-drop its icon from your macOS desktop, to the Trash icon on the dock.

Note: Dragging the drive icon from the desktop to your Trash does not delete any of its files.

  1. Select the external drive icon on your desktop.
  2. Drag the icon (click it, holding down the mouse button, and move the mouse). When you start to drag, you will notice that the Trash icon changes to an Eject icon, as pictured below.
  3. Move the cursor over the Eject icon (⏏).
  4. Drop (release the mouse button).

Screenshot: Drag-and-drop the hard drive's icon from your desktop to the Trash. When you do so, the Trash icon changes to an Eject icon.

When the external drive's icon disappears from your desktop, it is ejected, and you can safely disconnect the drive.