How to fix an unrecognized USB drive

It’s never a good thing to see the message “USB Device Not Recognised” after plugging in a hard drive or thumb drive full of your precious files. But before you give up all hope of ever seeing those files again, there are a few things you can try. Here’s how you can try and fix an unrecognized USB drive. (See also: Recover deleted files for free: recover lost data.)

Various problems can cause the error message, from faulty USB ports or software drivers to corrupt partitions or even a dead USB drive. We’ll explain how to figure out what’s gone wrong.

How to fix an unrecognized USB drive: try a different USB port or PC

The first thing to try is plugging the drive into a different USB port. Sometimes, this is the easiest solution, and often overlooked. It’s best to try a USB port on the back of a PC, ensuring you use one that’s directly connected to the motherboard, and not on an add-on card towards the bottom.

Sometimes, there can be a problem with USB ports connected to the motherboard’s headers, which could be why you’re seeing the error message when plugging the drive into a front-mounted USB port.

Similarly, exclude any USB hubs from the equation, as these can occasionally cause problems. Connect your drive directly.

How to fix an unrecognized USB drive

If none of these methods work, try a different PC or laptop. If the drive is recognised, there’s a problem with the original computer. If it doesn’t show up, it’s a problem with the drive.

How to fix an unrecognized USB drive: Does it appear in Disk Management?

A little-known tool in Windows, Disk Management can be your friend whenever you have drive problems.

Launch it by searching for Disk Management in the Start menu (or Windows 8 Start screen) and clicking on the ‘Create and format hard disk partitions’ result. Alternatively, hit Windows key and R together and enter diskmgmt.msc into the box, then press Enter.

How to fix an unrecognized USB drive - Disk Management

A list of drives will appear. You should be able to identify your USB drive by its capacity, or the fact it’s labelled as ‘Removable’. Some USB hard drives may not be shown as removable, however.

If you can see your drive here, but not in Windows Explorer, there are a couple of things to do. First, check the partition status. If it isn’t showing as Healthy, along with a drive letter, this explains why you can’t see the files.

You can try using a free tool such as TestDisk to fix the partition table. If it works, you should regain access to the drive and files.

If not, try PhotoRec  which looks at the data on the drive even if the partitions are corrupt.

If none of this works, or you’re not bothered about recovering the data on the drive, you may be able to right-click on the drive in Disk Management and format the drive so Windows can access it again. A wizard will guide you through the process.

If you can see that the drive is unallocated space, it means the partitions have been deleted. File recovery software might be able to help claw back deleted files.

How to fix an unrecognized USB drive: Does it have a drive letter?

If the drive has at least a primary partitions and appears healthy, it might simply be missing a drive letter. This can happen occasionally, and to assign a drive letter (so Windows Explorer can see the drive and its files) right-click on the partition and choose Change Drive Letter and Paths, then add a drive letter. Be sure to choose one that isn’t used for any other drives.

How to fix an unrecognized USB drive - Drive letter

Don’t forget you can try plugging the drive into a second PC and looking to see if it appears in Disk Management to rule out and bad USB ports.

How to fix an unrecognized USB drive: Look in Device Manager

If the drive does work on another computer, there’s a problem with the first computer. This may be a hardware or software issue. First, hit the Windows key and R together and enter devmgmt.msc into the box, then press Enter. Alternatively, type dev man in the Start menu search box and it should appear in the results.

How to fix an unrecognized USB drive - Device manager

Expand Disk drives and look for any devices with a yellow triangle and black exclamation mark over its icon. If you see one, you have a driver problem. Right-click on the device and choose Properties and read the error message in the Device status box. If the solution isn’t obvious, try searching the internet for any error codes to see what they mean.

It could be a hardware problem, but if it’s a driver issue (click the Driver tab) you might be able to roll back to a recent System Restore point or download the latest driver from the manufacturer’s website.

How to fix an unrecognized USB drive - Device manager

You can also try the Update Driver… button to see if Windows can locate a better driver (or install one you downloaded), or use the Roll Back Driver button if it isn’t greyed out.

As a last resort, try the Uninstall button to uninstall the driver, then click OK and choose Scan for hardware changes in the Action menu.

Also look under the Universal Serial Bus controllers section within Device Manager, as there could be a driver problem for one of your computer’s USB controllers, which could cause an ‘unrecognised drive’ message.

How to fix an unrecognized USB drive - Device manager

It can be tricky to track down the correct driver, but if you know your motherboard make and model or the make and model of your laptop, you might be able to locate, download and install the latest drivers.

Finally, if a USB drive isn’t recognised by any computer and doesn’t show up in Disk Management, there’s a high chance it has failed and – unfortunately – will need to be replaced.