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Why Do USB Ports Stop Working?

When a USB device is not recognized,  a variety of factors could be at fault. It could be that you have a damaged USB device, or it could mean that there’s a problem with your USB ports. All sorts of things can cause your USB port to become non-responsive:

  • Physical damage to the port
  • Missing drivers
  • Computer has trouble detecting USB devices
  • The USB Selective Suspend feature is on

Don’t be alarmed if your ports aren’t working! In most cases, this is a problem that can be fixed easily. Before you pick up the phone and call the geek squad, try out a few of our troubleshooting tips for making “dead” USB ports come back to life.

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Check It Out

Start with the most obvious question: Are you dealing with a damaged USB device? There’s no point trying to investigate the most subtle problems that could be affecting your port when the culprit is something as easy to detect as structural damage. Testing a port for damage is easy: Insert a USB drive into the port and try to wiggle it up and down. If it wiggles with ease, that’s a good sign that the port’s damaged- your flash drive should NOT be loose in the port. Just make sure that you wiggle the drive gently; jerk the drive too abruptly, and you could risk damaging the flash drive connectors or messing up the inside of your port.

If you’re unsure about how stable the port is, don’t take any chances. Wiggling a USB drive inside a port that you know has problems is just going to create costly hardware problems. What you can do, though, is test the USB drive on a different port. Use a port that you haven’t had problems with and see if the same problems present themselves. It could mean that the problem lies with the drive itself, and not your ports.

Like doing math at school, it’s always best to double-check your work! If you think the drive is the problem, double check by using a different USB drive. Put that new drive in the ports you’ve had problems with. If that drive works fine, then you know the problem isn’t the port itself. If you have access to a port that you haven’t tested yet, you could also try plugging the “bad” USB drive in there and see if it doesn’t work there. All this testing can be a little tedious and time-consuming, but it can save you a lot of trouble by narrowing down your list of suspects. There’s no sense diving into your computer’s software and trying to reformat things if the cause of all your grief is a faulty flash drive.

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The Oldest Trick In The Book

If that doesn’t work, try using the oldest trick in the technical support book: shut your computer down and switch it back on. Doing this can sometimes force the operating system to scan for hardware and make them work again. If for some reason your computer wasn’t recognizing your USB port before, the restart could pick up on it.

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Get A Driver

The next step (if the oldest trick doesn’t work out) is to download a driver. A driver is a file that allows the USB device to communicate with the operating system of a computer. If a computer doesn’t recognize your USB device it’s because it’s missing a driver that can recognize and interface with it. If that’s the source of your port troubles, it’s a pretty easy.

To get a new driver, go the website of your device’s manufacturer. See if they have a driver available that is compatible with your computer. If they don’t have one, don’t despair: Check to see if there’s any open source or third-party drivers available that will work with your USB device! Download and install the driver, and test it out by using the port again.

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Device Manager

When all else fails, your best bet is to open up your Device Manager.  A fast way to access it for Windows users is to do the following:

  • Open a “Run” dialog box by pressing & holding Windows key and R key at the same time. It should open up a box that looks like this:

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  • Type devmgmt.msc in the box and press enter. This will pull up the Device Manager.

You can use the Device Manager to gain access to your USB host controllers:

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Click on that field. Once you’re in the controllers, you’ll want to click the scan for hardware changes button. Sometimes this is all you have to do: the scan will make your computer search for available ports. If you’re fortunate, this type of scan will get your ports reactivated.

If that doesn’t work, you can use Device Manager to uninstall your USB Host Controllers. You can then try reinstalling the controllers to see if that makes a difference.

For Apple users: We’ve got some tips here on what to do when you have problems with flash drives and Mac.

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USB Selective Suspend

In case all else fails, there’s one last thing you can try.  Most computers come with a feature called USB Selective Suspend. USB Selective Suspend is a power saving mode that can switch off ports when they’re not in use to conserve battery power. Normally this shouldn’t affect the reliability of your USB ports, but occasionally the suspend feature will put a port to “sleep,” and it won’t wake up when you try to use it. This can be corrected by briefly disabling USB Selective Suspend.

Click on the Start button. When the Windows Search box pops up, type in “Edit Power Plan.” This should take you the Edit Plan Settings box. From here you need to click on the Change Advanced Power Settings Link. Scroll down to USB Settings and click the little plus next to USB Selective Suspend Setting to expand the options. Disable the settings for On Battery and Plugged In, then click OK to apply the changes.

Now check your USB ports. They should all be powered up and active with the Selective Suspend feature off. If the port STILL isn’t working, that means you’re dealing with a problem that requires professional help.

In Conclusion

Any one of these issues could be the source of your USB frustrations. Most of them are simple bugs and computer goofs, the sort of things that can just happen over time. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that sometimes “bad behavior” on the user’s part can cause these issues to manifest.

If you’ve noticed a lack of connectivity after you’ve quickly inserted and removed a USB from your computer, that isn’t a coincidence. Rapidly removing and inserting a drive into a port too many times can create timing issues that cause the port to stop recognizing USB devices. Being rough and careless with your flash drives can also cause damage to both the drives themselves and the ports. Exercising caution and restraint when using USB ports can prevent a lot of these problems from occurring.

Got any questions about USB ports? Drop us a line at Premium. We’d love to answer your questions.

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