Why Is My USB Drive Not Showing up on My Computer?

Welcome to the first weekly Tech 911, our all-new tech tips column designed to help you solve problems with your desktop, laptop, or other favorite gadgets.

In this week’s first installment, we’ll take a look at the curious case of missing USB devices – an issue that shouldn’t be a problem as the standard should be the world’s easiest standard to address. You plug something, waiting for the sound ba-donk (at least on Windows) and start to move through the flash memory / listening to headphones / use everything that you have connected to your computer.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

Where did my USB go?

Lifehacker reader JohnW writes:

Right now I have a USB stick that is not recognized by my computer. I stuck it in several different ports and no bones. I connected it to another computer and it recognized it perfectly. I tried to remove and run a “hardware change scan” but no dice. Any solutions?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for finding a missing USB device, but I can at least suggest a few methods that will hopefully help you find what your computer seems to have lost or ignored.

Eliminate more serious problems first

First, I am assuming this is a Windows problem. I’ve run into this issue before on Microsoft OS, but never on Mac. (Not to say it’s impossible; I just haven’t encountered it yet.)

I will get the worst result in the first place: there might be some nasty hardware issue with your computer that is causing your system to now be unable to see any USB devices. Perhaps you have damaged USB ports or your system controller simply died.

If so, there is nothing you can (or probably should) fix on your own. You will need to contact your computer manufacturer for warranty service if you are still covered. If you’ve put together a desktop system yourself, it might be time for a new motherboard if this issue really bothers you. (You can also buy a third-party internal USB stick that you plug into your motherboard via PCI, which will at least give you some USB functionality.)

Use device manager to do detective work

Assuming we’re not dealing with a catastrophic hardware issue, one good way to understand what’s going on is to take a look at Windows Device Manager after you plug in your USB device. You can find this in Windows 10 by clicking the Start button and typing “device”, or you can open Control Panel and click on “Device Manager.”

The first thing I’ll try is to tell Windows to manually scan for USB devices. Click your computer name, click the Action menu and click Scan for Hardware Changes. With any luck, Windows will find your missing device – lost for whatever reason – and you can access it again.

If, when starting Device Manager, one of your computer’s device categories has been expanded and an unpleasant warning icon appears next to a specific list, it’s time to dig deeper. The hardware connection is most likely fine, but for some reason Windows cannot find the previously recognized device.

My first thought was to make sure that your device has the most recent drivers from its manufacturer – however this doesn’t really apply in your case as it is unlikely that any special drivers are required for your USB drive to work. (If you’re having trouble with something like a USB printer, that’s another story.)

You can try right-clicking the device with the warning icon, uninstalling it, and scanning again for hardware changes. If that doesn’t work, check with your desktop or laptop manufacturer – or, depending on your system, your motherboard manufacturer – and see if there are updated drivers for your USB controller. Installing them can also fix the problem. (Make sure your system also has the latest BIOS, which you can usually check and automatically install using some software utility from your desktop, laptop, or motherboard manufacturer.)

Since you are talking specifically about USB drive issues, Lifehacker WhiskeySnob reader notes that it is possible that Windows is simply having problems assigning a drive letter to your device. With your USB device connected, click the Start menu, type Computer Management and select it. (You can also find “Computer Management” in the regular control panel.)

Once there, find the Storage section on the left sidebar and click on Disk Management. Does your USB key appear in the list of storage devices? Does it have a drive letter? Try assigning one to it (or changing the drive letter) by right clicking the partition.

Microsoft itself suggests making sure your USB stick isn’t accidentally disconnected for any reason, which you can try to fix by disabling selective suspend for your device (scroll down to method 5 ).

Finally, it is possible that your flash drive just broke. Plug it into another desktop or laptop you have, or even a friend’s system – does it work? Can you access your files? Otherwise, your device may be the cause, not your computer. It’s time to buy a new USB drive!

If you have a technical issue that is scratching your head, or just need advice on the latest and greatest way to accomplish a specific technical task, let us know in the comments! You can also send your questions to david.murphy@lifehacker.com . They will not be answered in the order in which they were received, but they may be presented in next week’s column!

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