No USB sticks or external drives detected: all solutions

Key problems A rather common problem on everyone's computers is that related to the recognition of USB sticks connected to the computer which, sometimes, are not detected or disappear suddenly, perhaps during the transfer of an important or very large file.
The problem could be caused by the port (ie the single USB socket of the PC), by the key that has some internal malfunction or there may be problems with the partition of the external disk, an incompatible file system, drivers or other things.
In the worst case, the unit itself or the socket can simply be broken and need to be replaced.
In this guide we will show you the steps to follow to diagnose and solve all kinds of problems related to broken USB ports or USB sticks not detected and recognized.

How to solve problems with USB sticks

Before giving up the USB stick for dead or damaged, we carefully follow all the steps described below, so that you can solve most problems without having to buy a new USB stick.

Try other USB ports

In the event that every connection to the USB port does not work, the problem could be with the port in use, which is in fact damaged or with "forced" pins (especially if it was used by someone not familiar with the keys).
In this case it's worth it see if the other USB ports are working or not. In the case of a USB stick or external disk that does not work with any port, the suspicions that the drive is damaged increase significantly, although it is possible to try the other suggestions below before adopting "extreme" solutions.

Use only USB 2.0 ports

If the problems were born using the USB 3.0 ports (the blue ones), we can try one of the other classic USB 2.0 ports (white or black) and check if the disk or the USB stick are seen without problems.
If it works correctly we can probably fix it restoring the USB 3.0 controller driver, as we will see later in the guide.

Turn the PC off and on again

An old trick getting effective when problems arise out of nowhere provides for turn the computer off and on again, so as to see if Windows is able to recognize all the hardware connected to the PC when restarted.
At this point, if the drive still does not work, there are still some checks that we can perform.

Check device and driver management

You can start Device Manager in several ways, the fastest one is to go to the Start menu, type devmgmt.msc and press Enter; on Windows 10 we can also press the right button on the Start menu at the bottom left and click on the item Device management.
In the window that opens we must check if there are problems with the drivers for the USB ports, identified in the category Universal Serial Bus Controller.
USB devices

The item to click in the list is the one with the name Advanced standard host controller; the name is more or less similar for all but may change slightly depending on the type of USB host controller installed on the computer. To try to solve it, click on it with the right mouse button and press on Detect hardware changes to force the computer to reinstall the driver.
The more experienced can also try to open the details (by right-clicking on the USbB controller and selecting Property), see if the driver is working properly and, in case of problems, press on Uninstall, restart your computer and let Windows reinstall it completely automatically.
In the same screen we can also check the section of disk drive to see if the attached USB stick or external disk is seen by Windows. We also try with these (being careful not to detach the main hard disk) to restore and reinstall the driver.

If nothing happens, go back to the devices screen, open the USB controller and then restore the driver (with the automatic search in the computer). Be careful during these operations, because uninstalling the USB controller driver will not work the mouse and keyboard at least until the USB drivers are re-installed.
Are USB devices not working properly on USB 3.0 ports? In this case, just repeat the steps seen so far on the USB 3.0 controller, identifiable among those listed under the section Universal Serial Bus Controller.
If we want to update the USB drivers we can also rely on dedicated programs such as Driver Booster, which we also talked about in the guide on how Update the drivers of a Windows pc automatically.

Disable USB selective suspend

USB selective suspend allows the system to disable unused USB ports to save energy, especially on notebooks; sometimes the door is not reactivated when needed so it may not work. Since this type of energy saving is very minimal on a desktop PC, you can disable this function; to do so let's take the path Control panel -> Hardware and sound -> Energy saving options, identify the currently active power plan and click on Change combination settings, then on Change advanced power management settings and, in the list that will appear, we expand the item "USB settings"and adjust the voice USB selective suspend setting, setting both items to Deactivate. If we are on a notebook it may be a good idea to leave this item active only when we are connected to battery, so as to slightly increase the autonomy duration on notebook PCs with Windows 10.

Disk or USB stick connected but not recognized

If the problem is related to a USB stick or external disk not recognized, we can open the app Disk Management from the Start menu (or alternatively by pressing the Windows + R keys and typing diskmgmt.msc) and check if Windows detects the connected drive.

Please note that if it is an external hard drive, you may need to press a power switch to activate it. The external disk, even if it does not appear under my computer, should still be listed in the Disk Management window as a drive with no partitions, ready to be formatted in FAT32 or NTFS; to find out how

Format the USB stick not recognized or locked

From Windows Disk Management we can solve the USB stick partition problems; if the disk is not partitioned and shows "unallocated space", you should immediately create a new partition to make it usable. Right-click the unallocated space inside, select the option New simple volume, and through the wizard create a new partition, we choose to use FAT32 on USB sticks and NTFS on external USB drives.

If the drive is partitioned and still not visible, in the same screen make sure you have set a drive letter, so that you can access it from Windows; to do this, right-click on the removable disk partition and press on the item Change drive letter.
We can learn more by reading the guide on how clean the USB stick and force the drive to format.

Key completely invisible to the system

If the USB drive just doesn't show up in Disk Management, even after trying other ports and other computers then the USB stick or external drive is most likely damaged. and there are problems at this stage it is difficult to fix them because you may need to open your computer and do a repair.
In a desktop PC it is better to change the USB ports card if they are not included in the motherboard, otherwise they need to be repaired, just like in a laptop.
To attempt the recovery of important files we can also try with Linux, as seen in our guide File recovery from broken disk or dead computer.

Conclusions

As seen above there can be many solutions for a USB stick or an external hard drive that is not seen by the PC or has problems transferring files. Some remedies are simple to apply and will save you a lot of time, while others require a minimum of computer knowledge to be applied.

In another guide we have shown you how to fix a broken USB stick that won't open on PC.
If, on the other hand, we are looking for other valid suggestions to regain access to unrecognized devices, our article is worth reading Solutions to errors on unrecognized USB ports, unknown or impossible-to-use devices.

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