And a short while later:
I do have a tip, but you’re not going to like it.
The problem is that this is a question I see all too often. It’s something that, quite honestly, frustrates the heck out of me every time; I see something like this at least once a week, if not more.
I’ll share what I would do.
More importantly, I’ll share what you should have done, and what you must do from here on out to avoid ever being in this situation again.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Getting the data
Since you’ve already attempted the basics like trying the drive on other computers, I believe you now need to take that drive to a data recovery service and hope that:
There is something wrong with that drive. I can’t tell you what, because it could be many things. It could be as simple as the cable, so of course try another if you haven’t already. The problem is that it could be significantly more complicated. It could be the electronics in the external drive or it could be the hard disk drive itself. There’s just no way to really know for sure.
Many of the things we might try to do ourselves to such a drive can easily make things worse. This is why I want you to take it to a professional if in fact you need to recover data from it. It’s just too easy for you to accidentally erase the data.
For example, you indicated that you tried to format it. Don’t.
It’s a good thing that didn’t work because formatting erases all the data. In your attempts to make things better you could have easily made things much, much worse.
So if you need to get the data, stop trying to use the drive and see a professional.
If you can’t afford one, then the data on that drive is lost. Forever.
Preventing data loss
All I can suggest at this point is to remember my golden rule:
If there’s only one copy it’s not backed up.
That means if anything happens to that one copy, that data is gone forever. Period. No exceptions.
The solution is so incredibly easy it’s frustrating for me to see these scenarios happen over and over and over again.
Back up your data. Make a copy. Do something so that in the event that the device on which that data lives is lost or breaks you’ve not lost the data.
Hardware breaks. You’ve seen it first hand.
Drives and computers are lost. I’m sure you’ve heard of people in this situation.
If the only copy of important data sits on the broken hardware or lost device, then there’s a good chance that it’s lost and gone forever.
Unless you have a backup.
I don’t care how you do it, honestly. What I care about is that you do it.
Or there’s a really good chance you’ll be in this situation again.
If you’re not sure how to back up the data I’ll point you at a couple of resources:
How do I backup my computer? – an article here on Ask Leo! that discusses the basics of backing up your computer.
Backing Up 101 – Six Different Ways to Back Up (And Which Ones You Should Use) – My ebook covering the backup landscape, the pros and cons of several techniques, and which ones I believe are appropriate for various situations.
Remember, just because you put data on something you call a “backup drive” doesn’t make it a backup. The golden rule still applies: if there’s only one copy it’s not backed up.
And if there’s only one copy, you run the risk of losing it all, forever, in an instant.