Recovering Existing Hard Drive or SSD Data in Your Plugable Docking Station

It’s happened to almost all of us at one point, your computer or external hard drive fails and panic sets in. Perhaps your files haven’t been backed up yet or this drive is the only backup. One way or another, you made it to us and bought one of our docking stations. Now what do you do?


Because one of the most common reasons for buying a Plugable hard drive docking station is to recover data off of a SATA hard drive from another computer or external hard drive enclosure we wanted to talk about some issues our customers frequently experience. The following steps apply to our USBC-SATA-V, USB3-SATA-UASP1, USB3-SATA-U3, and our entire Plugable Storage System lineup. They also apply to hard disks that are installed inside your computer and potentially other docking stations/enclosures/adapters.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that data recovery is often best left to trained technicians and anything you do to recover data on your own could make recovering the data impossible, even for a data recovery specialist.

If you are trying to set up a new blank hard drive and are encountering issues, please see this post here.

Internal Hard Drives

Our lay-flat and vertical docking stations are quite useful for recovering data from a desktop or laptop computer because they support both 2.5″ and 3.5″ SATA hard disk drives (HDD) and solid state drives (SSD). If you’re able to remove the drive from the computer to insert into our dock, you’re on your way to accessing the data. With that being said there are always scenarios where this may not be true. There are many factors that can cause data to be inaccessible. Assuming for the moment that the hard drive in question hasn’t failed completely and is not part of a RAID array, chances are our dock should be able to help access data off the drive.

Here are some common trouble scenarios for recovering data from an internal drive in our dock:

  • Complete drive failure. This is fairly self explanatory, the drive itself has mechanically or electronically failed causing the drive to not be detected by our dock.
  • Pending drive failure. HDDs and SSDs often fail slowly, most commonly encountering what is known as bad sectors. This can lead to data corruption making data recovery extremely difficult or impossible. Other factors can also be present but are usually less likely such as intermittent electronics on the circuit board, failing drive bearings, etc.
  • Partition / filesystem damage from improper shutdowns, viruses, etc.
  • Incompatible filesystem(s) with the host data recovery computer. For example, Windows systems cannot natively access data from Mac or Linux/Unix formatted drives, we’ll touch more on this later.
  • Drive is part of a RAID array like RAID0, RAID10, RAID5, or RAID6. A drive from a RAID1 array is the only kind of RAID drive our docking station can potentially recover data from.
  • Whole disk software based encryption such as Microsoft BitLocker / EFS, TrueCrypt, and others.
  • Specialized backup and partition software such as Norton GoBack and some versions of Acronis can cause issues and should be removed/disabled if possible prior to data recovery.

External Hard Drives

Hard drives extracted from external enclosures or drives used in other docking stations will have many of the same potential issues that we just talked about for internal drives but do introduce other new scenarios. A typical scenario is the power adapter or USB port on an external drive has failed. The hard drive inside the failed enclosure is removed and the ‘bare’ drive is inserted into our hard drive docking station to attempt recovery. Or sometimes a drive that was used in another dock is inserted into ours or vice versa.

Here are some common scenarios with for recovering data from an external drive in our dock:

  • All of the above scenarios from our Internal Hard Drives list apply.
  • Whole disk hardware level encryption. This can be in the form of a drive sold intentionally to protect against data theft or unintentionally where what consumers believe are standard hard drives from companies such as Western Digital (the most commonly found in our experience) are written to using a form of proprietary hardware encryption which prevents the drive from being read in any enclosure except for the one the drive shipped with.
  • Sector emulation. See our Understanding Large SATA Drive Compatibility blog post for more details. “Some docks have a non-standard sector emulation feature that enables using capacities above 2TB on Windows XP 32 bit. But this requires that drives initialized and formatted in a special way, and NOT be used with other SATA controllers in desktop PC’s or other drive docking stations, unless those units also have a matching firmware version and support for this feature. Plugable USB SATA docks do not support sector emulation for XP. Rather, we’ve chosen to support 3TB+ Advanced Format drives in the standard way without any emulation.”

Determining if your Drive is Healthy or Failing

One of the first steps is finding out if the drive you are trying to recover data from is in good health. Often a drive appears to be working fine until you try to copy large amounts of data. Sometime common signs of a failing drive are during a transfer a file cannot be read and the data transfer may fail, often with a cryptic error such like “Cannot copy my.file: Data error (cycle redundancy check)”, files could transfer but be corrupted, transfer speed is much slower than expected, and/or the drive drops offline during transfers requiring the dock to be reset.

Usually the first course of action would be to check the S.M.A.R.T. status of the drive. This can indicate signs of failure in a drive like bad sectors or read/write errors. There are several free (or free trial) utilities available for Windows and Mac that can be found online. Here’s what we recommend:

If the drive appears healthy after checking with a SMART utility but is obviously showing signs of irregular behavior, we recommend to download and install the advanced diagnostic utility from your hard drive manufacturer. Unfortunately for Mac users this isn’t an option. Here are some common drive manufacturer diagnostic links for Windows:

Determining the Filesystem of the Drive

A common scenario we run into is a customer will take a hard drive out of another computer or device like a network attached storage (NAS) device and try to recover the data with our dock only to find that the host computer can see the drive but can’t actually read the data on it. For a Windows user this would be apparent when looking in the Device Manager and seeing the drive listed, but the drive not being mounted and accessible from Windows Explorer. A Mac user would similarly check in Disk Utility for the drive if it is not accessible from the Finder.

The first step is to identify where the drive came from prior to being used in our docking station. Was this drive from another Windows computer? Was it from a Mac, or perhaps a Linux computer? How about a NAS device or external hard drive? By knowing this information we can look for information about what type of filesystem is on the drive.

Next you’ll need to find out if your computer can support the filesystem of the drive in question. Here’s a basic list of what filesystems are supported by OS:

  • Windows XP (with proper update installed) and higher can read and write to FAT(16), FAT32, ExFAT and NTFS.
  • Mac OS X 10.6.5 and higher can read and write to FAT(16), FAT32, ExFAT, and HFS+ (Mac OS Extended Journaled or Case-sensitive, Journaled). Mac OS X 10.3 and later can only read but not write to NTFS (write can be enabled, but it is not recommended as it may be unstable).
  • Linux (Ubuntu for example) can read and write to FAT(16), FAT32, ExFAT (with the proper package installed), NTFS, EXT2, EXT3, EXT4, JFS, and XFS. There other filesystems but they are far less common and not available for every Linux distro by default: BtrFS, ReiserFS, UFS (Unix), ZFS.

Knowing what filesystems are supported will help you decide how to proceed. If you’re a Windows user and find the hard drive you need to recover data off of is from a Mac, either you need to install some 3rd party software to read it, or simply recover the data on a Mac system. If you’re a Mac user, you should be able to read data off of a Windows computer drive without issue.

The hardest part is recovering data from a Linux formatted drive on a non-Linux computer. Whether you’re a Mac or Windows user, chances are if you’ve got any kind of NAS device in the home, it will be using a filesystem your computer cannot natively read. In our experience most consumer grade NAS units use EXT2/3/4 filesystems. For Windows users we recommend installing some 3rd party software. For Mac users, take a look at this blog post done by CNET.

If you have any questions at all, please comment below or email We’re happy to help!

26 comments on “Recovering Existing Hard Drive or SSD Data in Your Plugable Docking Station”

  1. Brendan Cooper Reply

    How do you enable write on a hard drive in a docking connected to a mac? It is encoded in NFTS so I can only read it at this point but I need to copy the data off before I can format the drive.

    • Joshua Henry Reply

      The Mac OS by default cannot write to NTFS as it’s not officially supported. There are methods to enable write, but we’ve not test them enough to be able to recommend the process or not.

  2. Christina J. Reply

    So is the plugable usb 3.0 HDD docking station not compatible with MAC? I have it plugged into my computer and when I run migration assistant there is no trace that I have anything connected to my computer.

  3. Pierre POMMIER Reply

    Great Post Bernie. For those in the data recovery business recovering data from these hard drives is very difficulty (if there is a physical faul), and if there is a logical fault there is more space to go through, which means turn times for data recovery companies will increase.

  4. Reg Reply

    So if I want to get data off my NAS drive from a failed NAS box, can I use a plugable dock but with the 3rd party software to view it once the NAS drive is in the plugable? Is that what you are saying in this article?

    • Joshua Henry Reply

      At a base level, yes. Unfortunately the process can be quite complex, so we usually recommend to have a professional handle such a data recovery.

    • Jordan Reply

      Hi Reg, it really depends on the NAS. Different NAS servers use different file systems.

      For example, Synology NAS use Linux based ext4 and HFS file systems, which would not be detected by Windows or Mac OS, only certain Linux OS.

      I would contact your NAS manufacturer for their suggested migration process.

      Feel free to contact us via if our products can assist with this process. Thank you!

  5. Infiniti25 Reply

    Just to let you know there is a spelling mistake on the links to manufacturer’s advanced tools (notice the missing T in digital)
    “•Western Digial – Data Lifegard Diagnostic for Windows”

    Another option for reading SMART that I find useful is Speedfan from – Install, wait for hardware to detect and then click on S.M.A.R.T. tab.
    Select your drive from the list and then click on the big “Perform an in-depth online analysis of this hard drive” button.
    The resulting web page that is loaded is a specific report for the hard drive you are analysing and provides some insight in English based on issues found in the cryptic SMART values.

    See for the button to press.

    See for a report I have created from a failing Fujitsu 80GB sata drive that would boot to windows, load the desktop and stall loading post boot apps, even though the mouse moves, you have to force the laptop off with power button.

    Hope this helps someone show a friend, family member or customer in English how their hard drive is failing and why their hard drive should be replaced.

  6. Douglas Gordon Reply

    Hi Joshua Henry,
    There is no doubt that the hard drive repair tips and software mentioned in this article will helps a Mac user to retrieve the deleted or lost data. However, one can’t ignore the importance of a Mac data recovery software, specially software like Stellar Phoenix Mac data recovery, Test disk which recover deleted files within minutes.
    In addition, a prior backup of Mac hard drive is another viable option whenever there occur data loss situation.

  7. jeremy kidwell Reply

    so i have a windows xp professional hard drive and i want to get all my pics off of there and onto my windows 10 cpu. I’m not sure what happenend to my old cpu, it comes on but i can’t get a display from it. So this shouyld enable me to get all my files to my new cpu correct?

    • Joshua Henry Reply

      Hi Jeremy,

      Assuming that A) there has been no catastrophic failure that would have damaged the hard drive (power supply failure that has damaged other components) and B) that the hard drive is SATA and not IDE (many XP systems were too old to come with SATA drives) then you have a chance to use one of our docks to recover data. However, I usually recommend for drives in an unknown state to be looked at by a professional first.

  8. Tatinee Dey Reply

    Hi. I have an old WD 1TB external hard drive that I need to recover. It was working fine until the USB port inside the casing broke off the board and I took it to 2-3 shops where they told me that they can’t fix it and don’t have any means to recover it. I live in a place where there are no data recovery labs or any other services for this. I have tried everything. My drive is. WD Caviar “Green” and it’s old, I bought it around 2011. Would you suggest your docking stations? I didn’t really know that I could use one until I looked it up today, but I’m not sure if it will read my drive due to WD’s data protection.

    • Jordan Reply

      Hi Tatinee, thanks for your comment! It sounds like your WD drive has two obstacles to overcome: 1) the data may be encrypted by WD 2) there is physical damage to the data port on the drive. Unfortunately, neither of these obstacles can be overcome by Plugable hard drive dock products. If the data must be recovered, I would recommend a national data recovery service like DriveSavers ( Sorry that I don’t have a better solution for you, but I hope this helps! Thank you – Jordan @ Plugable Technologies

  9. Alex Michael Reply

    Hats off for such useful important as this come into notice when I was really in need to tackle such situation. Well, written by an author in an easy and meaningful language with detail knowledge about the topic. It would be my pleasure to seek such effective information once again.

  10. Sarah Reply

    I have an old Mac that failed and I am trying to retrieve the information from the old drive and put it on my new Mac. I am trying your dock and things are spinning but how do I know what direction the data is moving? How do I make sure the data is moving from the old drive to the new drive/computer? It appears to be backing up my new computer. Thanks

    • Jordan Reply

      Hi Sarah, thanks for the comment! Please contact with your original Order ID so we can look up which Plugable product you are using, and we’ll respond with instructions. Thank you – Plugable Technologies

  11. Shawn Reply

    I’m looking to take apart a Hitachi-Touro-Desk-HTOLDXNB30001BBB-3-TB-External-7200-RPM-0S03290-Hard-Drive/109429642 and wondering if one of these HD docks will support it so I can see if the power adaptor is shot (the light turns on in the drive, maybe a slight buzz or fait click, but nithing indicating the drive is spiining up. I’ll be trying to conntect and retreive to a new MacBook Pro. Thank you.

    • Pat Reply

      Hi Shawn, thank you for asking! While our USB3-SATA-U3 is no longer in production our USBC-SATA-V is compatible with both USB 3.0 and USB-C computers including the new MacBook Pro. Based on your description of the hard drive behavior there is a chance this is the result of a fault in the hard drive and not the enclosure. If this is the case our drive dock may not be able to spin up or read from the hard drive requiring 3rd party, hardware level data recovery.

      Please note, if the Hitachi external hard drive was formatted on a Windows system then data on the drive may not be accessible on MacOS requiring another Windows based computer to recover the data.

      Please feel free to contact our support directly at if you have any additional questions.

  12. Cheryl Reply

    My computer crashed. Got the blue screen, telling me there was no OS, unable to boot. I could not get to BIOS. I was able to run check disk, which the hard drive passed. I removed the hard drive which is a Toshiba solid state hybrid drive MQ02ABD100H. I plugged it into a Sabrent docking station model EC-DFLT. I was still unable to see files, as it didn’t seem to be reading the drive. This docking station is listed for SATA drives. Do I have the incorrect docking station to try to access my files? Thanks for any help.

    • Joshua Henry Reply

      Hi Cheryl,

      Unfortunately we’re unable to assist with this issue since you’re using a third party docking station. I would expect that drive to work in the dock, but there may be underlying filesystem issues causing the drive to not be readable by the dock. I recommend contacting Sabrent support here to see what they recommend:

      Depending on what the state of the drive is, even if the drive tests OK, if there is filesystem damage it would need to be repaired by a data recovery professional.

      Thanks and best wishes.

  13. Abbas Banihashem Reply

    I have a NAS drive from WD My Cloud Home. I have bought a cocking stations to connect it to my Ubuntu. Now I can see the drive but cannot find the core files that I have stored on the NAS drive. I wonder if I need to install a driver on Linux to be able to read those files the same way the web applicaiton reads it.

    • Pat Reply

      Thanks for reaching out to us, I am happy to help!

      I did some quick research and it looks like the Western Digital My Cloud device should use a standard Linux file system for storing data. So long as the hard drive is still in good shape I would expect the drive contents to be recoverable using our docking station and Ubuntu. Please send our support team an email at ‘’ and I will be happy to help work with you to get this drive detected or determine the state of the drive if it is damaged or defective.

      Thank you, I look forward to your email.

      Plugable Technologies

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