USB Device Not Recognized, Part I

Posted by: DT  :  Category: Troubleshooting

So you plug in your flash drive and get the mostly annoying message: “USB device not recognized”. Or you discover that your device isn’t working without giving any message at all – which is even more annoying, if not flat out rude.

3 Screenshots of USB Device Not Recognized with Man screaming Aargh!

Nightmare on Flash Street: “USB Device Not Recognized”
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So what can you do? Well, before pulling out your hair, cussing at your computer or getting out a hammer just relax and read on. Because there are 11 possible causes and solutions which I have picked from the net and present to you here in a two-part series. These are laid out for Windows XP but the principles apply for other versions as well as other OS. Just give it a go and with a little luck and diligence, you may have a working flash drive again!

#1 Your operating system may not meet the minimum requirements, especially if its an older version like Windows 3.1 or 98. Check with the flash drive packaging, manual or the manufacturer’s website to see what the requirements are. If you find that your OS isn’t compatible you may want to try formatting the drive to a different format. The best solution however would be to upgrade to a newer OS. (Where have you been all this time? ;-)

#2 Often this message is brought about when the flash drive was not properly removed via the “safely remove hardware” procedure. Often, a drive is still being operational or written to when simply yanked out. Since that can corrupt the memory (and your data!), the error message is likely to appear next time you plug in your drive.

Screenshot example of Safe To Remove Hardware

Patience is a Virtual: “Safe to Remove Hardware”
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Check with another USB port if you have one and see if it gets recognized there. If it doesn’t, check with another computer altogether. If it works there, you know the problem is with the respective computer/OS and not the flash drive. As a possible solution, simply reboot that computer. This may help as the computer will reload the drivers and settings for the removable hardware. You can also try restarting the computer with the flash drive plugged in. Be aware though that this is also often the cause for the “USB device not recognized” error. So this approach is kind of like “a tooth for a tooth”.

In the future, make sure to click on the remove hardware icon with the green arrow.

Screenshot of Safely Remove Hardware with enlarged icon and Thumbs Up

Better safe than sorry: “Safely Remove Hardware”
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Or to right click on the USB drive icon on your desktop or in “my computer” and choose “Eject” or “Safely Remove”.

2 Screenshot examples of Safely Eject flash drive

Equally safe: “Safely Remove” or “Eject”
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Alternatively, you can ensure that the “safely remove hardware” balloon notification is turned on in your settings (so that this wont happen again). Go to your start menu, right mouse click “properties”, then at the bottom click “customize” – which opens a new window named “customize notifications”. To the right of “Safely Remove Hardware” choose “hide when inactive” or “always show”. So next time you get notified, click on the balloon and follow the safe removal prompts.

2 Screenshots of Windows Notifications for Safely Remove Hardware "always hide" and "always show"

Ensuring to be notified: “Always Show – Safely Remove Hardware”
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#3 Your USB port may be broken or just throwing the occasional hissy fit (they’re entitled too, aren’t they?). To find out, plug in another USB device and see if it works or gives you the same type of trouble. If so, try the rebooting solution for #2 or simply buy a new USB port.

#4 It is also possible this is caused by switching the flash drive between different computers (which is pretty much its purpose, isn’t it) and generating drive letter conflicts. But usually this only happens when you have a fixed drive letter assigned to it via your main computer which is in conflict with the letter assignments on the other computer. Drive letter conflicts may also suddenly occur after service pack upgrades. In this case, assign or change the drive letter. Go to the control panel, use category view, choose performance and maintenance, click computer management and then disk management. After you have located your flash drive, use right mouse click, choose “add”, “assign the following drive letter” and “accept”.

3 Screenshot Steps of Change Drive Letter and Paths for Flash Drive

Letter of Approval: Changing or Assigning a Drive Letter
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If you just need to change the drive letter, find the one associated with your USB drive (via disk management or “my computer”) and click the right mouse button and choose “Change Drive Letter and Paths”. This will display a window with the currently assigned drive letter. Click on the “change” button in that window so that a drop down list with all the possible drive letters will appear. Simply choose a new one that is less likely to cause conflicts like x, y or z. You can insert the flash drive and see if it shows up with the newly assigned drive letter.

#5 Your current USB driver may be outdated. Go to your start menu, “my computer”, right mouse click and choose “manage” and then “device manager”. Locate your flash drive which may be found under disk drives, DVD/CD-ROM or USB controls as USB mass storage. Click your right mouse button and choose “update driver”.

Screenshot example of Update Driver for USB Flash Drive

Going for a Tune-Up: “Update Driver”
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If that doesn’t help, click “uninstall” instead. Then choose action and scan for hardware changes. This will completely install the driver again. If that also doesnt solve the error, you may want to use your installation CD for this step (if it didn’t already ask you for it) since its possible that the driver on the computer has become corrupted. It is also possible that you simply need to install the latest service pack from Windows. This is unlikely to be the cause but its worth a shot. (Actually, some users have reported that their flash drives weren’t working after they updated to the newest service pack. Usually changing or assigning the drive letter will help in this regard. See #3)

#6 If youre using a USB extension cable try plugging in the flash drive without it. (I love this one ;-) )

Click here for Part 2 (coming soon)


and others.

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