Welcome to the first real Windows post :) Now, I know this place mostly has a Linux bias but really, The Node is about solving technological problems…it’s just that Linux makes it easier to do so. As my main interest and inspiration for starting this site was Linux, it has a Linux slant…but I use all sorts of computers. Since July I have become responsible for a Windows network as well as my yummy Linux servers. While I don’t hold Windows very highly, I have been using it…even at home with my new gaming laptop (I tweeted about the joys of Crysis 2 on max detail last week).
So there are bound to be little problems that crop up. This particular problem is so seemingly prevalent on Windows that I just took it as Windows being dreadful. This is when you have an external USB hard drive that you plug into Windows and Windows makes the “bing bong” noise…yet no drive pops up in Windows explorer. Your brow furrows, and you probably do what I did which was to switch it off and on again (grin). Still no luck. However, this isn’t Windows having shoddy USB drivers or anything like that. It’s totally fixable and here’s how.
Note: This fix can also be achieved with Windows XP, but the location of various options and windows may have been moved. Anyway, there are two main ways to fix this. The first way is more common, less complicated in cause and solution.
As you probably know, Windows uses drive letters to distinguish between partitions. I think this is a bone-headed method of file system design, but fine. Anyway, in order for your USB drive to show up as…well…a drive, Windows has to assign it a letter when the USB subsystem alerts it to a new device being connected. No drive letter, no drive to use.
Before we start, make sure that you’ve disconnected or switched off any other external USB devices you may have attached to your computer else it’ll make identification of the problem device difficult.
So, first make sure your USB drive is plugged in and switched on. You’ll hear the “bing bong” sound Windows makes when it’s alerting you to a new USB device being attached. As expected, the drive doesn’t show up.
Open the Start menu and right-click on “My Computer”. From there, left-click on “Manage”. This requires Administrator privileges. From the left panel on the new window, click on: –
System Tools -> Device Manager
From the tree list, expand the “Universal Serial Bus Controllers” option. You’ll probably see many devices, but you only need to look for one, the “USB Mass Storage” entry. If you see more than one, you didn’t take my advice above and switch off and disconnect any other USB hard drives you have. Go ahead and do that and then come back :)
If you only have the one entry for “USB Mass Storage”, that’s your drive. Right-click on it and choose “uninstall” from the options. Switch off or disconnect your drive and then power it up again. This will allow Windows to attempt to re-install the driver for the device. If that was your problem, you should now see your device assigned with a correct drive letter. Done.
If this didn’t work, you’ll need to try the second method.
From the Start menu, select:-
Administration Tools -> Computer Management -> Disk Management
In the bottom middle panel of this new window, you will see a graphical representation of your disk drives. “Disk 0” is usually your drive C: and should not be touched. If you have more internal drives or partitions, they will also show here. In order to match up your external USB device to the devices listed, either match it up by the approximate size listed or simply switch off and on your USB drive to see which entry vanishes and reappears. Once you’ve identified your device, right-click on the blue bar running along the top of the device entry and select “Change drive letters and paths”. Click change and choose an unassigned drive letter. Save your changes and reset the device and it should show up! If it was not seen there, go to “Action” on the menu bar, click on “Rescan Disks” and it should appear.
The blue bar menu is all greyed out and I cannot select the change drive letter option!
If you get this, you have a GPT Protective partition which means that the drive was probably installed on a Linux, Mac or Windows XP 64-bit edition machine. You can override this and get a functional drive, but you cannot save the data as the following solution is a data destructive process. In my case, I didn’t mind, but if you do, consider using the parent operating system of the drive to read the data.
In any case, you won’t be able to recover the data under Windows 7. The drive is inaccessible and Disk Management reports that the drive has a GPT Protective Partition on it. The drive cannot be re-partitioned and formatted in this state, so you’ll need to clean the drive before you can use it.
First, make a note of the disk number listed in the Disk Management window as you’ll need this information in a minute.
Open a Windows command prompt window and enter:-
From the diskpart prompt, type: –
You’ll get back something like: –
Disk ### Status Size Free Dyn Gpt
-------- ------------- ------- ------- --- ---
Disk 0 Online 698 GB 0 B
Disk 1 Online 111 GB 0 B
Disk 2 Online 298 GB 1024 KB
Select the disk number for your device that you noted down earlier with: –
select disk [NUMBER]
Where [NUMBER] is the number you wrote down. Windows will say that “disk [NUMBER] is now selected”. Now enter: –
This removes the disk’s partition and signature from the drive. After you are returned to the diskpart prompt, type “exit” and go back to your Disk Management window. Windows should now be aware that the drive is uninitialised and should prompt for the wizard. From here you can reinitialise and format the drive. If you’re using a regular USB drive, you’ll probably want to format it as FAT32 (or exFAT) so that it can be used on older versions of Windows, Mac or Linux. Be aware – this format will take ages. Once it’s done, close the Disk Management window and power cycle your USB device. It should now should up with the assigned drive letter :-)