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Issue #508: April 16-22, 2017

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Q: I am having problems with Win10 disabling USB ports that have devices attached. With mine it was my speakers and in the beginning I was able to reinstall the drivers and they worked. It also happens to my video camera and with it I am able to disconnect and reconnect and it works.

I logged into the Microsoft forum and got a BS answer as they only read the title but not what you wrote. Not the first time.

– Jim R.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A:  USB ports are one of the most useful things to come along in the world of modern PCs.  Since the “U” stands for Universal, this capability instantly eliminates one of the biggest problems we, as end-consumers of PCs have: hardware interfacing.  Countless vendor-specific interfaces were replaced by one universal, and highly capable little port.  The result was a figurative explosion of products that connect via USB: memory devices, external hard drives, keyboards, mice, monitors, sound cards, and countless little special purpose dongles that provide innumerable specialized functions, from security to wireless connectivity.

Have you ever noticed that, with the exception of large devices like scanners, printers, and such, that many, if not most USB devices don’t have power cords?  They get their power directly from the port.  The typical USB bus supplies between 1/10 and 1/2 an amp of DC voltage, as well as a high-speed data connection. That’s why so many modern devices such as smartphones have chargers that look like a USB port, and why they can be charged by plugging them into the USB port on a computer.  I mention this because I think it’s significant to what you’re experiencing, Jim.  When it comes to USB ports, most problems such as you are describing are related to power issues.  One of two things happens: either you’ve exceeded the power capacity of the port and Windows has shut it down to protect it from damage, or Windows Power Management (WPM) has decided that it’s time to save power, and has shut it down.  One example of when this occurs is when your PC sleeps or hibernates.  This is an important power-saving step on laptops, because every bit of electricity that is supplied to devices connected via USB comes from the laptop’s battery, thereby reducing overall battery life.  So, WPM has the ability to power-down these ports either when they’re not in use, or when the system sleeps.  The problem with doing that is that Windows sometimes has a difficult time re-enabling some USB devices once they’re shut down.  Depending on the attached device, and the urgency of your need to access it right now, the impact can range from mildly annoying to maddeningly frustrating.

In cases of ports shut down because their power capacity was exceeded, it’s a good practice to unplug the offending devices and reboot the PC.  Then, either plug in fewer devices, plug them in to a high-power USB port (your PC’s documentation will tell you if your system has one and what its rated capacity is), or plug-in an external, powered USB hub.  This is a device that makes one port into several ports, and has its own supplemental power supply, so power is not drawn from the PC.  This option is usually not practical when working on a laptop and running solely on battery power.  In that case, do your best to limit the number of devices connected, and try plugging them into different USB ports, since you can’t really tell from the arrangement on the outside of a laptop’s case just exactly how they are electrically connected internally.

For cases when WPM is powering off ports, you can take that ability away from Windows as long as you understand that Windows will no longer attempt to manage the power consumed by devices attached via USB.  To do this, start by opening Device Manager.  One quick way to do that is to use the key combination WinKey+R, then type devmgmt.msc into the box, and click “OK”.  When you have the list of devices, drill down into the USB controllers until you find devices named “USB Root Hub” (there will probably be more than one).  For each one in-turn, double-click the device name, then click the Power Management tab. Uncheck the box that says “Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power” and click “OK”.  Remember, this is a major step that can affect how long the laptop will operate from a single battery charge, so it’s a good idea to only do this on those hubs you’re having issues with.  It may require a little experimenting to figure out which ones those are.

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