Your computer’s USB ports help you customize and control your PC experience. Need a mouse? A new keyboard? Just plug it in. It can make working and playing on your computer much more enjoyable, unless one of your USB ports is not functioning properly. Here’s everything you can try to get things working again before you call in the pros.
Rule out alternatives
(Photo: Aleksandrs Muiznieks / Shutterstock)
First, plug the device into a different USB port, if your computer has more than one, to see if the problem is port specific. You can also try a different cable with the device you plugged in; make sure the existing one is not torn, melted, or damaged in any way.
Another option is to change the device. If a mouse doesn’t work on a specific port, try a keyboard or printer instead to see if there’s an issue with the device itself. Or, plug the device into another computer, if you have one.
Do you have the right port?
(Photo: Molly Flores)
Are you trying to charge your laptop through a USB Type-C port? Some manufacturers designate some ports as data only, which means you can transfer data through it but cannot consume power. Check your USB ports to see how they are labeled. Some may include a charger plug icon, or something similar, to indicate that it is intended for charging. If you’re trying to charge through a data-only port, moving to the charging port should resolve the issue. (For more on this, see our guide to when your laptop is plugged in but not charging.)
Clean up debris
Falcon Dust-Off Electronics Compressed Gas Dust Collector
Take a closer look at your USB ports. Debris or grime can block the port and prevent a proper connection between the computer and the outlet. A good indicator that something is stuck is if the cable does not fully plug in.
You may need a flashlight, but see if you can spot any food or dust clogging the port. If so, turn off the computer and use a toothpick to gently free whatever is stuck inside. You can also use canned air To clean the space, just do not stick the plastic nozzle directly into the port as the condensation can build up and cause more harm than good.
If you plug in your device and can connect briefly by shaking it lightly, there is probably a physical problem. At this point, you may need to open the computer chassis to see if you can repair the port yourself or bring in a professional.
Restart and update
Your USB port may only need a quick reboot. Sometimes there is an internal error that can prevent components from acting as they should, and restarting gives the computer a chance to repair itself. In Windows, click the Start menu> Power button> Restart. On a Mac, click Apple> Restart.
The problem you are having can also be fixed by updating your computer. The drivers used to run all of your devices may experience issues and require updates over time. Driver updates usually come packaged in regular system updates, so it’s worth a try. In Windows, go to Settings> Update & Security> Windows Update and click on the Check for updates button. Click it Download and install button if there is an update. Mac users can open System Preferences> Software Updates to check for updates.
Manage USB controllers
Your USB ports are controlled by their own drivers. If there is a problem with these drivers, it can result in unusable USB ports. Right click on the Start menu and choose Device Manager from the list. Scroll to Universal serial bus controllers and expand the list. Look for the option that includes “USB Host Controller” in the name.
Right-click on the entry and select Uninstall the device. If there are several announcements with the name, do the same for all of them. Let the drivers uninstall, then restart your computer. The USB host controllers will be reinstalled automatically upon reboot and hopefully resolve any issues.
Things work a little differently for Macs. The System Management Controller (SMC) supports many hardware functions on a Mac. So if you are unable to get a USB port to work, you can reset the SMC. The method differs depending on whether it is an Intel-based Mac, a removable battery, or a T2 security chip. Apple’s silicon backed Macs only require a simple reset. Apple has instructions on how to reset SMC in your device.
Disable USB selective suspend
Your computer’s power management settings can interfere with your USB ports. USB Selective Suspend can disable a USB port when not in use to save battery life, but it can also sometimes disable the port when you try to use it. When this happens, you can go to the power options and turn off the setting.
Type “Control Panel” in the Windows search bar and select Control Panel. Go to Power options> Change plan settings > Change advanced power settings. Find USB settings, then go down to USB selective suspend setting. Disable the options next to On the battery and Plugged, then click To apply. You must then restart your PC to prevent it from unnecessarily disabling the USB ports.
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