Sunday 6 June 2021

How to fix Windows when it no longer detects your USB drive

Windows 10 seems to have a nasty habit of sometimes not detecting a USB drive that had been working fine 5 minutes ago and still works OK in other systems - just not the one you are using!

I can have no problem for months and then one day, Windows 10 does not seem to recognise my USB drive because it does not list the drive volume letters in Explorer - but only if I connect it to a certain specific USB port! I can connect the same drive to a different USB port and everything works as normal.

One month it can be the lower USB 3 port and the SanDisk Extreme 3 USB drive - another time it can be my super-fast SilverStone USB 3 M.2 SSD enclosure and a different USB port. It's just pot luck!

Another issue I often come across, is that I insert a particular USB drive into a particular USB port and Windows goes into an everlasting cycle of mounting the drive and then dismounting it again and again and again ('dong-diddle-ding' - then 'ding-dang-dong', etc. etc.)!  Often a reboot fixes this (as long as I first unplug the USB drive before a Windows Restart).

Here is what I do to fix USB drive issues (after trying a Windows Restart, of course)

Note: A simple Windows Shutdown is not good enough! You must use Restart or SHIFT+Shutdown so that Fast boot is not used when you next switch on.

1. Check Disk Manager

Windows 10 Disk Manager is buggy (especially with multi-partitioned USB Flash drives!) but in this case it is the first thing I use. I press WIN+R key to open a run box and type DISKMGMT.MSC to run the Windows Disk Mangler.

Then take at look at the status of my USB drive.

In my case today, I could insert the USB drive into the 'bad' port and Windows would recognise the insertion and play it's usual 'dong-diddle-ding' tune - however no drive volumes appeared in Explorer!

The fix is easy, just right-click on the left-hand Disk 4 box and select 'Online' from the small pop-up menu. Windows had marked it offline - no matter how many times I restarted Windows or unplugged\reconnected it in the same USB port (other USB ports were fine!).

Note that sometimes Windows will not assign a drive letter to a volume even though it is Online. In this case, right-click on the partition that does not have a drive letter and assign a new drive letter.

2. USBDeView

If this did not fix the issue, I use NirSoft's USBDeView. This can show you 'connected' USB devices (Device Type = Mass Storage) and it's status.

First set the Options to 'show devices without drivers', 'disconnected drives' and 'USB hubs'.

You can right-click on each 'Mass Storage' device that you suspect and use 'Uninstall' or 'Disable+Enable'. Then unplug the USB device and re-connect it to see if the problem has disappeared.

Take care that you do not disable your keyboard and mouse or the hub that they are connected to - otherwise you may have to power-off the system with the power button and reboot (don't ask me how I know this!).

Because I use a lot of USB drives, USBDeView can list all the devices I have ever connected (which it gets from reading the Registry). I usually take the opportunity to delete these entries too which helps to prevent the Windows Registry from getting too clogged up and confused.

3. Device Manager

My final attack is by using Windows Device Manager. I usually change to 'View devices by connection' and expand the ACPI branch (on my system) until I find the USB controllers. A 'USB Mass Storage' device is a good candidate for uninstalling the driver on, by right-clicking on it. I then unplug and reconnect the USB drive and restart to see if it fixed anything.

Again, make sure you don't uninstall your keyboard/mouse device or the hub\controller that they are connected to or you will have to switch-off and power on again.

You can also try re-installing the drivers for the USB hubs/controllers.

You can find advice on fixing Read-only problems here.

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