USB Controller on MB, or Bad External HD?

Maxtor Onetouch personal storage externa...
September 15, 2009 at 06:33:06
Specs: Windows XP

I don't know where to begin troubleshooting this problem.

Can a bad external hard drive, or one with a faulty power supply, cause XP to be unable to do a proper shut-down and cause an extreme (like 5 minute) lag in boot-up, and also cause other USB devices plugged into the same computer to start acting flaky?

Or is it more likely the USB controller on the motherboard causing the external HDD to sometimes "disappear" or be unreadable.

I have two external USB HDDs (both Maxtor) plugged into my Dell XPS 400 desktop. The other day my computer wouldn't do a shut-down, so I re-started it manually, then Windows hung at the black screen with the blinking cursor. After several attempts, it finally booted up when I just left it at the blinking cursor, but it took something like five minutes.

When I got the computer booted up, one of my external HDDs was not visible, although it was plugged in, connected and powered up. I swapped the two power supplies for the two units. It seems like maybe the power supply could be bad, because now the other HDD is sometimes not recognized, and sometimes it looks like a bunch of files and folders on it are missing - then when I remove it from the system and reconnect it everything is there.

However, and this is the part that really has me baffled - some other USB devices are also acting flaky when connected to the computer - like my digital camera. The Dell tells me it is an unknown device, but I've been connecting this camera to this computer for years.

Last week there was a noise coming from inside the Dell's case, so we opened it up and cleaned the dust out of the interior, and the noise stopped. So I thought maybe the MB was damaged somehow.

All my backups for this computer are on those two external HDDs, so this is complicating the troubleshooting process. I'm afraid to shut off the computer for fear it will never boot up again if it's a MB problem, but I don't want to purchase a new HDD if the problem is the computer's MB and not the HDD.

Help! Suggestions, a possible route for process of elimination?

See More: USB Controller on MB, or Bad External HD?

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September 15, 2009 at 06:49:50
Not sure, but I wonder if you are overloading the USB ports with too many devices. The USB does provide limited power.

Watch for help from others.

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September 15, 2009 at 06:56:09
First of all the noise may be a failing fan somewhere in the system. If the fan is the CPU fan it can cause the processor to slow down as a protective measure. Therefore it is important to determine what is going on there. If currently quiet it may have just been an extreme amount of dust/dirt in there.

Use canned compressed air to blow out the entire case, including the power supply from both ends. You may want to do that outside as it will be messy. DO NOT ever use a vacuum cleaner on a computer.

Check to see that you are running SP3 on WinXP. Right click on My Computer and choose properties. The general tab should show what version you have.

SP3 made improvements on USB management. Windows still has issues with using multiple devices on the same USB port. That is one of the reasons why new systems are equipped with so many USB ports.

Your external drives should be disconnected or at least shut down when not actually writing a backup to them. What good are they if they get an infection along with the reset of the computer? Or if there is a power surge that ruins them.

If you are writing all the files to the root directory of the externals then that can be an issue. You should use folders for everything.

Are the externals formatted with FAT32 or NTFS?

It can take some time for any activity on the externals to finish so shutting down prior to the activity finishing can result in data corruption.

Hopefully the externals are assigned the highest drive letters. That will assure that keeping them off except when in use will not change the drive letter assignment. You will still need to turn them on in the proper order so the letters are not reversed.

Have you checked to see if the external drives need to be defragged? Go to Disk Management and choose analyze to find out. If there is not at least 15% free space Windows can't defrag.

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September 17, 2009 at 06:17:57
I believe the problem is solved. Thanks for the tips on USB management. It appears that the faulty power supply for the older Maxtor drive may have been the culprit.

I purchased a new 1T external drive, backed up everything from the two older external "backup" drives and the computer onto the new HDD, then shut all the externals down and re-booted the computer, all the while holding my breath. It booted up beautifully. So now I know - a bad power supply on an external USB device CAN cause Windows to hang on boot-up. Whodathunkit?

I can see the wisdom in keeping the external HDDs off when not actively in use. The only fly in the ointment on that score is that I have Syncback set to automatically back up my computer files when I am not at the computer. If I leave the backup drive off, then it's more than likely the backups will not happen as scheduled. I understand the risk of viral infections, which is why I will now keep TWO backup copies of everything - one on the permanently installed HDD, another on disk or on the older HDDs (if I can find a new power supply for the little one), which will only be plugged in for periodic updates.

I am running SP3 on WinXP. I do have a USB hub plugged into one of the USB ports, but the HDDs were not connected to that - I use that mainly for small peripherals that aren't connected all the time, like my digital camera and a game controller, the USB cables for those are plugged into the hub, so I don't have to go searching for them when I need to connect the device, but the devices themselves are not usually connected to the cables. Is that a problem?

I didn't know not to write files to the root directory of the externals - most of my files were already in folders, but I've cleaned the rest up as per your suggestion. One the drives is FAT32, one is NTFS. The new external is assigned the I position, the same position the Maxtor III used to be assigned. I don't know what the Maxtor will be when I fire it up again....could this cause a problem, and if so, how do I avoid it?

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