USB ports not working well? 7 ways to solve problems

  • It is not uncommon for USB ports to stop working properly; switch to another port and change USB cables to solve the problem.
  • You can also use Device Manager in Windows to check for new hardware or uninstall and reinstall the USB controller; on a Mac, you can reset the SMC.
  • Here are seven of the most common ways to troubleshoot and fix a USB port that’s not working properly.

An unrealistic aspect of modern sci-fi movies is that future technology never seems to suffer from mundane problems; interstellar star cruisers never have wayward Wi-Fi or unresponsive USB ports, for example.

Here in the real world, these kinds of annoying issues happen all the time, and USB ports not working as they should are at the top of the list. If you’re having a USB port that works intermittently, won’t charge, or won’t recognize a device, here are the seven best ways to try and fix the problem.

Try another USB port

When you start troubleshooting a USB problem, you might not know where the problem lies. It could be related to the device you are trying to connect, the cable, the USB port, your computer software or something else. Start with the USB port – unplug the device and plug it into another USB port. If it works, great – there’s probably something wrong with the port you were using. But if it still doesn’t work, move on to the next troubleshooting step.

USB ports on the side of a laptop.

If a USB port seems not to work, switch to another device and try again.

Dave Johnson/Insider

Replace the USB cable

Another likely culprit is the USB cable, especially if it’s old or has been abused. It is not uncommon for a USB cable to fray or break under the insulation, so it may no longer function properly even if there is no visible damage. Change the cable and see if that fixes the problem.

Clean the USB port

USB ports were apparently not designed for routine day-to-day use. Not only are USB-A ports nearly but not quite symmetrical, making them very difficult to insert correctly the first time, but it’s easy to accidentally get dirt and debris stuck in the port itself when trying routine use. In extreme cases, this dirt can prevent the port from working properly. Use a bright flashlight and look into the harbor. If you see anything inside, use a very thin, non-metallic tool like a toothpick to carefully clean the port. Do not use high pressure canned air jets or you run the risk of forcing debris further into the port.

Restart PC

If you’re still not sure what the root cause is, it might be a good idea to restart your computer. Turning it off and then back on can wipe out all corrupted data and automatically reset device drivers. After the Mac or PC comes back to life, a faulty USB port will work normally again, making it a very simple fix.

Scan for hardware changes (in Windows)

If you are using Windows, the computer may sometimes stop recognizing your USB port or device. This is especially true if you unplug and reinsert a USB cable too quickly. One way to fix this problem is to let Device Manager scan your system for hardware changes. Click on Begintype Deviceand click Device Manager when you see it appear in search results. In Device Manager, make sure your PC at the top of the device tree is selected. Then click Stock in the menu bar, and choose Search for material changes. Once done, try your USB port again.

Device Manager in Windows.

Scan your computer in Device Manager to see if that solves your USB dilemma.

Dave Johnson/Insider

Reset the System Management Controller (on a Mac)

If you have a Mac, you may need to reset the System Management Controller (SMC). If you have an iMac, Mac Pro, or Mac Mini, start by shutting down the computer and unplugging it. Press and hold the power button for five seconds, then plug the power cord back in and start it up normally.

For most other Macs, shut down the computer. Press and hold the Shift + Control + Option keys, then without releasing these keys, press and hold the power button. Hold them all for 10 seconds. Release all keys and the power button at the same time. Power the Mac back on and see if that fixed your USB problem.

Reset your USB controller (in Windows)

Similar to resetting the SMC on a Mac, you have another option on Windows: resetting the USB controller. Click on Begintype “device”, then click Device Manager when you see it appear in search results. In Device Manager, locate the entry for Universal serial bus controllers and click to enlarge. Right-click the first entry in the list, then click Uninstall device to delete it. Then repeat this over and over again for each device in the list of Universal Serial Bus controllers. When you’re done, restart your computer. On startup, Windows will automatically scan your hardware and reinstall your USB controllers, hoping to fix your problem in the process.

Device Manager in Windows.

Remove all USB controllers from your computer and let Windows reinstall them.

Dave Johnson/Insider

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