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In the complex world of digital storage, where gigabytes and terabytes define our data system, there is a perplexing outlier: an external hard drive that appears full of content but shows nothing upon it. It's a strange situation that has many users confused. How is it that an external hard drive that appears to be empty may hold a ton of data?

In this article, we will set out to solve this mysterious puzzle and find practical ways to bring some solutions back to your storage devices, which appear full and empty.

Reasons external hard drives say full, but it's not

It is essential to grasp the possible reasons for this problem before delving into the world of solutions. An external hard drive could show full storage even when it seems empty for several reasons:

1. Hidden Files and Folders:

Files in the digital world might hide from prying eyes, existing as invisible entities. By default, most file explorers don't notice system files, configuration data, or temporary files, so they quietly take up valuable storage space.

2. Corrupted File System:

There may be a misrepresentation of accessible storage space due to a faulty file system. This confusing scenario might occur when the file allocation table or directory structure gets jumbled or compromised, causing the external hard drive to represent its available space inaccurately.

3. Formatting or deletion leftovers:

Data accidentally left behind during formatting or deletion could linger in the external hard drive's memory like specters. Even if these ghostly remnants don't show up physically, they secretly take up space on the device.

4. Index Files and Thumbnails:

Devices frequently create thumbnail caches or index files to make stored material easier to retrieve and preview. These miniature representations may be haunted by the storage space even after erasure, like elusive ghosts.

fix external hard drive is full

How to fix external hard drive is full, but show no files issue?

Step 1: Show All Folders and Files:

Connect external hard drive to PC: You can use a card reader or the device's built-in slot to connect the external hard drive.

  • Change Folder Options: To access the "Folder Options" or "View" settings, open the File Explorer (Windows) or Finder (Mac) and go to the external hard drive. Make all folders and files visible.
  • Check for Hidden Data: Uncover any hidden folders or files that could be used up the room. Be careful not to delete system files essential to the card's functioning while deleting superfluous hidden files.

Step 2: Use Disk Cleanup Tools

  • Run Disk Cleanup: To free up space, run Windows' built-in Disk Cleanup application and remove any unnecessary temporary files or system cache.
  • Third-Party Applications: Think about looking at third-party programs that are made to clear up storage devices. You can find and remove hidden or unwanted files with the help of tools like CCleaner or Disk Cleaner.

Step 3: Check for System and Temporary Files

  • Explore Temporary Folders: Check the external hard drive for any temporary directories that programs may use to save data temporarily. Make room by deleting these folders.

  • Remove unnecessary system files: Handle system files with care, but find any system files that aren't essential and remove them if they're taking up too much space.

Step 4: Format the external hard drive

  • Backup Essential Data: Back up any important data on the external hard drive to a different storage place before formatting the card.
  • Format the external hard drive: Follow your operating system's instructions follow your operating system's instruction By erasing all data, including system-related content and hidden files, this step returns the drive to its original state.
Format External Hard Drive

Format External Hard Drive

Methods to format external hard drive on Windows PC or A Mac with built-in feature or third-party disk format software.

Step 5: Use Command Prompt or Terminal Commands

  • Command Line Utilities: The external hard drive directory can be accessed and hidden, or system files can be manually deleted using particular commands by knowledgeable users using command line applications like Command Prompt (Windows) or Terminal (Mac/Linux).

Step 6: Check for Physical Damage or Malfunction

  • Inspect the external hard drive: Verify that the external hard drive and reader are in good physical shape. Storage reporting might be inaccurate due to damage or failure.
  • Test with Another Device: To see if the problem still exists, try using a different device or card reader. The issue may be device-specific at times.

Recover Lost Data from External Hard Drive

Before you format the full external hard drive, you can use a data recovery program to help you export all useful files from the external hard drive to your local hard drive.

Step 1. Download and install Do Your Data Recovery on your computer and open it.

Step 2. Connect the external hard drive to your computer, select it to start data recovery./p>

Recover Lost Data from External Hard Drive

Step 3. Click on Scan button to deeply scan the external hard drive and find all recoverable files including existing files, hidden files and lost files.

Recover Lost Data from External Hard Drive

Step 4. Once the scan is completed, you can preview all recoverable files. Then select the wanted files and save them.

Recover Lost Data from External Hard Drive


An external hard drive's ability to conceal its contents while giving the impression of fullness is a perplexing mystery in the complex world of digital storage. Users can uncover the mysteries of their external hard drives, freeing them from hidden beings and restoring their lost storage space, by carefully following the instructions and peeking into the shadows.

If the mystery remains, cloaked in enduring darkness, consulting with experienced troubleshooters could provide a glimmer of hope within the digital labyrinth. You must remain patient and persistent as you navigate this digital adventure's many twists and turns. With these tactics in your toolbox, you may finally solve the mysteries and put your external hard drive back in its rightful place, no longer overflowing with data but strangely empty.

DoYourData Author

Written & Updated by Nancy

Nancy works as a tech columnist at DoYourData. She is familiar with macOS and Windows OS and writes computer solution, data recovery, disk clone, data erasure articles for DoYourData. She is a big fan of Mac products and is fond of testing utilities software (such as cleaner, recovery, eraser, NTFS for Mac, video editor, etc) on Mac.

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