Ever connected a USB drive or other device into your computer, only to find later that it won’t work? There’s a good chance that the USB port has a problem.
But what can you do about it? Here’s how to diagnose and fix a suspect USB port.
USB Port Not Working? Give a Physical Examination
Before proceeding, note that you’ll need to be sure that it is the port that is faulty, rather than the device you’re connecting.
To establish which is the problem, connect the device to another USB port. If it works, then the problem is the first port; if the device remains undetected, then you have a faulty device. If you can’t reformat the USB drive, it will need replacing.
If there’s a problem with your USB port, you’ll notice it thanks to either of these things:
- The device fails to be detected
- Your operating system displays an error message relating to the device (removing and replacing the device might solve this)
Either way, you should investigate the state of the USB port. Has it been damaged in any way? The safest way to find out is to shut down your PC or laptop.
Next, look at the USB port. Is it clean and dust free? If you’re using a desktop, or the USB port is at the back of a PC tower, there’s a chance that dirt, dust, and general detritus might have become embedded in the port.
Dust will reduce airflow, causing your system to overheat. It is particularly damaging to laptops, where overheating can reduce performance in seconds. Clean out the drive with a can of compressed air. A vacuum cleaner might also prove handy here.
Finally, grab a USB cable (or flash drive, whatever) and gently wiggle it around. If the drive is moving and feels loose—typically this will be up and down—then you have a problem.
Fix Broken USB Hardware
We’ll look at some software fixes in a moment, but first, what if the USB port is loose?
The ports are soldered to a board within your computer. This may be the motherboard, but is typically a secondary printed circuit board (PCB). With regular use, ports can become movable, at times completely unattached.
Often, this is down to the shape of the connected USB devices. While small Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and even new USB flash memory are unlikely to put any significant strain on the port’s physical connection, older “stick” memory drives are a different story. So are USB cables. Their size and associated weight act as a sort of lever, contributing to USB ports working loose.
Replacing a USB port isn’t easy. On a desktop computer, you may be able to find a replacement board that can be slotted in without too much effort. However, if you’re using a laptop, it’s going to take a soldering iron. Here’s an example of what you might need to go through to re-solder the USB connector back into your laptop:
Of course, you could take this to an expert for repair, but there will be associated costs with this. If you want to do it yourself, make sure you know how to solder. If you’re not sure, check out the software fixes first.
Can Restarting a Computer Fix Broken USB Ports?
“Have you tried turning it off and back on again?”
This old tech support standby is well-known for a reason: it works!
With your unrecognized USB device correctly inserted into the suspect USB port, restart your computer. Once the operating system has rebooted, it should detect the USB device. If not, it’s worth looking at the device in the Windows device manager.
Check Device Manager on Windows 10
Begin by right-clicking on the Start menu and selecting Device Manager.
The Device Manager lists the devices attached to your computer, grouped into categories. It’s arranged alphabetically, so you should find Universal Serial Bus controllers towards the end of the list.
Expand the list, and look for the USB Host Controller. The device you’re trying to find may have a longer title, but it will feature those three words.
No USB Host Controller? This may explain why your USB device doesn’t work. To fix this, click on the Scan for hardware changes button on the toolbar. This will commence a check of all connected hardware, and in most cases will detect the USB port and anything connected to it.
If this still hasn’t worked, it’s worth taking the time to reinstall the USB Host Controllers. Right click on the USB Host Controller items in turn, and select Uninstall on each. Wait while they’re uninstalled, then reboot your computer.
As Windows restarts, the USB Host Controllers will be automatically reinstalled. This “refresh” can help to fix problems with the USB port.
Note that if you’re using a USB mouse or one with a USB receiver, it will be disabled while the USB Host Controllers are uninstalled.
Try Disabling the USB Selective Suspend Feature
If power management settings are overriding your USB controller, this will impact the detection of devices. This is particularly relevant if you use a laptop. If you’re keen to keep power usage low, you might have set a low power option on your Windows 10 desktop.
USB Selective Suspend is a power saving setting that cuts power to the USB device, thereby reducing battery use.
The feature usually works well, but at times makes it look as if there is a problem with your USB ports.
Fix this by opening the Windows Control Panel (it’s still in use… for now). This is best done by clicking Start and typing control panel. Click the corresponding result, then Hardware and Sound > Power Options. Here, click Change plan settings, then Change advanced power settings.
Here, find USB Settings and expand this to find USB selecting suspend setting. Change the drop-down menu to Disabled, then click Apply and OK to confirm. Reboot your PC to ensure this change is applied.
You’ve Fixed Your Broken USB Port!
As you can see, you have several options for repairing an unresponsive USB port. In most cases, it won’t be dead, and you’ll be able to fix it. Remember, when your USB port is not working, you need to:
- Make a physical check
- If necessary, make a physical repair to the port
- Reboot Windows
- Check the Device Manager, uninstall the USB Host Controller
- Disable USB Selective Suspend power saving option
USB ports aren’t the only potential weak spots on your computer. Looking after your hardware will reduce potential failures, and you can save a lot of money if you know how to test your PC for failing hardware.