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Troubleshooting Your USB Ports

George from IN writes:  

Something has caused our desktop computer to stop “reading” jump drives inserted into the two frontal USB drives. It isn’t a problem with the jump drives themselves, because they function fine in a different computer. Is it likely that the problem is anything other than physical damage to the USB drives?

Hi, George.

I’m a little confused by your question.  At the end when you said “physical damage to the USB DRIVES” did you actually mean “physical damage to the USB PORT”?  I ask this because your jump drives ARE your USB drives. 

At a guess, I would say that there are two possibilities.  There would have been three, but you’re already well on your way to troubleshooting this by checking the jump drives themselves.  If they’re working, as they seem to be, then you’ve eliminated that problem.

My next guess would be that your USB ports have failed.  I don’t know how old your computer is, but this happens with time.  The way to troubleshoot the ports is to try plugging another USB device into each of the ports.  Something simple like a USB-powered light would be best, because that gives you immediate feedback.  Plug it in, give it thirty seconds or so for the computer to recognize it, and see if turns on.  If the light works in both ports, then I’d say that it’s time to take your machine and your jump drives into your friendly neighborhood computer repair center and let them have a go at it.  If your computer doesn’t recognize it, or the light won’t come on, then you’ve probably got a failed USB port.  If the light works in one, but not the other, then plug your jump drive into the one that the light worked in, and see if it works.

Once you’ve determined that it’s your USB port, the next thing that you have to do is determine if it’s a hardware failure or a software problem, which would probably just be some kind of junk (that’s a technical term) in the driver for the USB port.

The first step in troubleshooting this is to open your device manager.  There is a way to do this through the control panel, but for my money, it’s much easier just to open it through the search.  The way to do this is to click Start then, in the search box, start entering “device manager” without the quotation marks.  It will probably populate before you even have “device” entered.

Click on Device Manager, and that will open the manager for you.  At or near the bottom, you should have an entry that says “Universal Serial Bus controllers”.  Click on the arrow to the left of this to expand your USB devices. 

What you’re looking for are your USB hubs.  Count the number of entries here and see if they match up to the number of USB ports on your computer.  In the example, I know that I have four USB ports on my computer, so there’s no hardware failure on my machine.  If you have four USB ports, but only two are showing up in your device manager, then two have failed.  If the USB ports are not hardwired into your motherboard, and you’re comfortable doing it, then just open your machine and reseat the USB port cord onto your mother board.  IF YOU ARE NOT COMFORTABLE OPENING YOUR MACHINE AND DOING THIS, THEN HAVE A PROFESSIONAL DO IT.  When I was doing computer repair, a lot of hardware errors were attributable to people messing around with the hardware who didn’t know what they were doing.  You can do a lot of damage here fairly easily.  If reseating them doesn’t work, replace them.

If they show up in your device manager, but still don’t function, it could still be a hardware problem.  The USB port will still register correctly, but the surface inside the port may have become damaged, rendering it impossible to read the devices.

The final option, if they are showing up in your device manager but not functioning, is that the driver may have become corrupted.  The best way to take care of this is to uninstall and reinstall the driver.   The way to do that is to right-click on all of your USB controllers and then click “uninstall”. 

Once you’ve done that, reboot your computer so that it can install new driver software software.  Vista and 7 will do this automatically, while XP will require you to follow a series of on-screen prompts. 

Hope that this helps.

~Randal Schaffer