Diagnosing Universal
Serial Bus Problems


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Troubleshooting USB - is it the USB device? The cable? The USB controler? Or USB drivers?

Troubleshooting USB errors are normally hardware problems ...

Have you seen this:

"This device can perform faster if you connect it to a Hi-Speed USB 2.0 Port or Super Speed USB 3.0 Port"

This means that the controller in your computer is one of the old first generation usb controllers. The original specification called for a speed of up to 800 kilo bytes per second. There wasn't a facility built into the specification to stop the power to the device when you used the 'Safely Remove Hardware' tool when you wanted to remove it from the port.

When you buy a device you will get drivers on a floppy or cd if the device requires a special driver. The newer Operation Systems have some very generic drivers that cover most usb devices. Those that usually require a special driver are Video cameras, such as a web cam, or a hand held camera, or a still digital camera.

Note: Unless you have a USB 3.0 add on card or the embedded USB is version 3.0 you will have to have drivers for most USB 3.0 devices for the backward compatibility for older USB controllers.

Other devices that require special drivers are printers, and scanners. Your pen drive, floppy, external cd or hard drive should not require any special drivers. This is what was envisioned when the term 'Plug and Play' (PNP) was coined in the 1990's when Window 98 was introduced. We still haven't got to the true PNP yet a lot of devices still need drivers.

The reason I bring up drivers is that if you don't have the correct drivers these this troubleshooting USB techniques are not going to work.

Troubleshooting USB instructions:

Scenario: You power up your computer then plug in your new external hard drive. It doesn't show up in My Computer.

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Troubleshooting USB Problem: One of the main failings of the USB port for devices with motors in them is the power supplied through the usb cable. It can only supply a low voltage and low amperage other wise it would burn up devices that do NOT require higher voltage and amperage to run - pen drives, mice, keyboards, etc. You may need to have an external power supply for the external hard drive.

Fix: If the external device requires more power then you will need to get the power supply for that device.

Scenario: Your pen drive is in My Computer but it is not accessible, you check the properties of the drive and it shows zero bytes available.

Troubleshooting USB Problem: Your pen drive has become corrupt.

Fix: Before you format the pen drive try using the 'Safely Remove Hardware' tool and move the drive to a different port, recheck the drive, if it is still blank, take it to another computer to do a final check on the pen drive. If it is still blank it has failed. I suggest you throw it away and buy a new one, once it has failed to retain the data you put on it chances are very high it will fail again in the near future. If the pen drive has the data when you move it to another port or computer then the USB port in the computer has failed. Consider repairing the computer or adding another set of USB ports with an add on card.

Scenario: You turn on your printer, you get the 'Install new hardware wizard' but the printer has been installed before!

Troubleshooting USB Problem: Your printer drivers have become corrupt, or the printer has malfunctioned.

Fix: Using the 'Safely Remove Hardware' tool check to see if the printer is installed, if it has stop it, remove the cable. Power down the printer, reconnect the cable (use a different port if possible) power it back up. Did the 'Install new hardware wizard' come back again? If it did close it out, using the 'Safely Remove Hardware' tool stop the printer again, power it off. Next go to the Device manager and uninstall the printer.

With the install media available power up the printer, let the 'Install new hardware wizard' run but do not search for drivers, select the 'No, not this time' click 'Next'. Select 'Install from a list of or specific location (Advanced), click 'Next'. On the next screen is where you can search for the driver. Select 'Include this location in the search' if you know the location type it in or do a search for your drivers.

The program should fine your new hardware drivers. [The reason you did not want to search for the drivers is because the drivers already on your hard drive are corrupt and need to be replaced. Some tech would do an 'Upgrade your drivers' but this will not work if you don't have updated drivers, which in this case you don't!] If after running though this ten minute process the printer still doesn't work it has failed, you will need to get it serviced or replaced.

You can use these techniques to troubleshoot any usb device with fairly consistent results.

Troubleshooting USB port failure -

Embedded on the motherboard USB ports are controlled by the BIOS, to start your trouble shooting you need to restart your computer and go into the BIOS setup.

Different computers use different publishers to write their BIOS programs so you will need to look in the manual that came with your computer to find the key press that will take you into the BIOS setup (some computer manufactures have it on the screen at startup but it may flash by too fast to read it) or go to the manufactures web site and get the info.

Troubleshooting USB - Once in the BIOS setup you need to find the USB section, for AMI and Phoenix BIOS the USB settings are under the Advanced section. When you get to the USB section see if it is disabled, if it is then enable it and save then restart, if it is enabled then I would say the USB controller on the motherboard has failed.

If you enabled the USB selection in the BIOS, restart. Are your USB ports available?

Yes, done.


You can navigate around your Desktop in Windows with what is called the X-Keys, if you have access to another computer it would be faster to read and print the list from there, if you don't have access to another computer you can press F1 and bring up help, from there type in the search box 'X-Keys' this will find the help on the X-keys and then you can navigate around the desktop.

Open the control panel from the Start button, navigate to 'System' under the 'Hardware' tab navigate to 'Device Manager' open it, go to the right Window and navigate down to the USB controllers at the bottom.

This is where it gets sticky, you do not have any USB ports active, to see if it is a hardware problem you will have to uninstall all the USB devices, do them all with out restarting.

Once you have uninstalled all the USB devices you can either plug in another USB device or restart. If you plug in a USB device you should get the 'New Hardware found' Wizard. If you restart once you log on you should get the 'New Hardware found' wizard.

If you do not get the 'New Hardware found' Wizard I would say your USB controller has failed.

If you get the 'New Hardware found' Wizard let it install the drivers and see if you USB devices work, if they do you have fixed your problem, if not the USB controller has failed.

If after all this if the embedded USB ports are still dead you have some options:

  • Send the motherboard back to the manufacture for repair (I would only go this route if it was still under warranty)
  • Replace the motherboard
  • Install a USB add on controller card

If the embedded USB controller has failed then you should replace the motherboard as soon as possible, once one component or device fails others will fail also, this is a cascade effect where one bad component overloads the others...

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