Not being able to access your backup is a pretty scary thought. Well, it’s happened to Howard who writes: “I have backed up all of my files on a Seagate 5g external hard drive & when I upload them onto another computer they are unreadable. the Windows software are not the same. HELP!”

Hi, Howard.  Thanks for the great question!

First off, please allow me to say that an external hard drive is a great way to back up your data.  Not only are they portable, so that they can be stored off-site, but typically very reliable.

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Now, as far as why you can’t access the data, there could be a couple of reasons for this.

One possibility is that your data or your drive may have become corrupted.  So my first question would be can you read the data on the drive?  If you open up your computer directory, and can see the files on your external drive, then that’s a good sign.  That means that your data and your drive are okay.  If your computer can’t read the data, but can open the drive, then that means that your data is probably corrupt.  If this is the case, you may be able to take your drive to your friendly neighborhood computer geek and get the data recovered.  They may not be able to, but it would be worth a try.  If your computer can’t open the drive at all, then your drive is probably failing or has already failed.  Again, a computer geek may be able to recover the data, but may not.

My next question would be can you see individual files on the drive, or just one file?  If you have only one file, then you probably backed them up using the Windows backup utility, or another backup program.

You see, in order to prevent piracy, when you use a backup utility to backup and restore your files, then it creates a system image that rewrites your hard drive’s file directory when you restore.  This is specifically to avoid your copying your system image onto different computers.  If that’s the case, and you are simply trying to restore your old computer’s file system onto a new computer, then simply use Windows restore program (or whatever program you used to back it up) to restore the data.

If you can see each file listed on the external hard drive separately, then try to open several of the files at random from your computer.  If the individual files that you try open with no problem, then the files were simply copied onto the external hard drive, and you should just be able to copy them back to the other computer.  If they don’t open, then we’re back to the possibility that the files have become corrupt.

I hope that this helps!

~ Randal Schaffer