I am a user of external USB powered disk drives for years and thought of writing a guide to help many in need of help…
You need USB 2 or 3 compatible interface on your Desktop/Laptop to make use of these newer external drives. USB 1 compatible PC’s takes ages to transfer large files such as movies. So upgrade your Windows PC or install PCI/ PCI Express card with USB2/3 functionality.
1) USB Power Starvation due to computer motherboard limitations
You may complain:
My USB Disk drive not properly reorganized; Driver not installed properly; My Disk drive and USB port are USB2 compliance but running at USB1 mode; My pen drive/mouse/camera working perfectly on these ports but USB drive unable to connect etc.
Each USB port is capable of delivering 500mA @ 5Volts max and each port has built in semiconductor fuse that disconnects when external device power drain exceeds rated power output. This fuse will heal itself once the offending device disconnects. This fuse inherits tolerance of 5-10% of 500mA plus or minus. That means it could be disconnecting either on 450mA or 550mA of current drain.
Most of the newer desktop PC’s equipped with 1Amp (1000mA) self-healing fuse; so drawing more than 500mA from a port may not be an issue. Please note that this 1Amp fuse in motherboard may be shared to several ports so connecting multiple USB powered (Drives) devices simultaneously could still could be leading to power starvation on drives. Low power devices (Pen drives etc.) may not exhibit this problem.
Now let us look in to 2.5in hard disk drives. Drives built many years back draws over 500mA current and are unable to spin-up on modern PC’s. So you’ll hear ticking sound inside the drive. If the drive is ticking, disconnect it immediately or you’ll end up with a physically damaged hard drive. These drives needs an external power adapter capable of delivering 1A (1000mA) or more. So you need a new USB drive enclosure with external AC power adaptor, loosing portability.
Newer drives are capable of running under 500mA power drain but most of them needs 460mA or 480mA of current. Technically these newer drives fit for USB only power source. But some PC’s are unable to provide adequate power to the drive due to above mentioned fuse tolerance. Fuse may be disconnecting intermittently for a brief period causing drive/file system errors. Drive tends to drain peek power while writing larger files for longer period. Writing smaller files in to disk drive may not exhibit this issue.
As a remedy, you can purchase USB Y connector that would occupy two USB ports. Please note that WD Passport supplied with USB micro connector and it is not proprietary. But length of WD micro USB male connector is somewhat long and standard micro USB connector won’t connect to WD drive properly. If this is the case, you can either buy Y connector cable with USB A Female connector on drive side or modify micro USB side jack (on the Y connector) by cutting off 1.2mm portion from the plastic jacket making male jack part lengthier. (Please do not modify WD supplied cable. If you have an old WD cable which has loose connection issue; request a new improved one from WD) But still you may need third party Y connector, if you experience power starvation issue as I mentioned previously.
2) USB Power Starvation due to connection issues:
You may complain:
My USB Drive was working perfectly for the last 6 months. Now it is refusing to connect; and complains mention on the first chapter.
USB connectors equipped with four connection pins. These pins are gold plated so they won’t get rust easily. USB ports and jacks get soiled with dust, salty atmosphere, airborne fibers, and due to higher humidity.
If you often carry USB drives and cables in your pocket; THINGS (Fabric fibers) in your pocket get in to the connectors and make them dirty.
These connectors are also subject to wear out over usage. Once gold plating is partially gone, underneath copper conductor become exposed. Copper rust very easily compared to gold and become highly resistive to current flow. Airborne dust accumulates on rusted connectors resulting current flow more difficult.
As a remedy, you can clean these connectors on PC, after shutting down with an artist’s brush/flattened cotton bud soaked with isopropyl alcohol. Make sure all the connectors are bone dry prior to turn on PC. You can use hair dryer at lower temp with safe distance to make this quick. Please note that this is a temporary measure and USB ports get soiled again if you let them exposed to dusty environment.
If you happened to live in a dusty/salty/high humid area, or carrying your notebook around; make sure your exposed USB ports are sealed with electrical tape/USB cover plug or keep them plugged with unused clean cable. If cables are old and have rusty pins, don’t use them. They will damage/contaminate your PC’s USB ports and your USB powered drive render unusable.
Connecting, disconnecting USB ports regularly is a bad habit. This will lead to wear connectors and make them wobbly. Also try to allocate dedicated cable for each USB device. Don’t use the same cable for different devices even though they share common port size/type. You can always buy new cables but you can’t change USB female connectors on PC or on devices unless you’re a skilled hardware tech with available new parts.
On some desktop PC’s front USB connectors cannot deliver adequate power to external drives (Motherboard design issue). If this is the case, always use back panel USB ports available on the motherboard itself. Avoid using un-powered USB hubs on External USB powered drives.
3) Power starvation: How to fix the drive, if it becomes unusable on any PC?
At first rule out all connection issues mentioned on the previous chapter.
You may complain:
My USB Drive cannot be seen on My Computer/Windows Explorer; My Drive cannot read/write files though it is visible on explorer; I cannot copy large files in to USB drive – but smaller files can be copied. Drive get stuck in the middle of writing a file and become unresponsive etc.
Please note that WD or third party USB driver is not required if you’re using Win XP SP1/SP2/SP3, Vista X86/64Bit, Win 7 X86/64Bit OS. With native driver loaded you should be able to access your USB 2 drive without any Smartware or third party software installed.
How to check the drive is connected properly; Right click on “My Computer” icon and choose “Properties”. Now navigate to “Device Manager” and look under “Disk Drives”. Your USB disk drive should be listed there. If it is not listed under disk drives, look under the “Other Devices” If any unknown device listed, right click and choose “Update device software” you may need an active internet connection at this point. Internet device driver update may not work properly if you’re using Win XP. Also note that it is highly unlikely that USB Disk Drive would be listed under ‘Other Devices”. This may be an indication of an interface hardware fault on USB drive.
If you’re using previous versions of WD Passport and out of warranty, you can open the drive enclosure (Look in to You Tube for various case opening methods) and install SATA 2.5in hard disk in to a working USB drive enclosure. Newer WD USB Passport drive cannot be swapped as USB2/3 interface is integrated in to Disk drive electronics so SATA and Power connectors are absent. Also this drive could well within WD warranty period, so you have a chance of getting it replaced.
But the good news is most of the WD Passports are simply going bad because of power starvation issues and can be restored to fully functional state after following under mentioned steps.
(Non destructive method)
1) Make sure the drive is visible under device manager. (You have resolved all the potential connection issues and Drive is connected to reliable port with good cable – may be on a different PC.)
2) Now download “HD Tune” basic (for $0.00 full version: Google for it) and look under Info/Health tabs with subjected External USB device selected.
3) You may see some errors/warning on health tab. (Note down what they are for future reference)
4) Now under “Error Scan” run the utility by un-checking the “Quick Scan” option. So called quick scan will not reveal any sector errors.
(This may take several hours depending on your drive size – usually one hour for 100GB)
5) If you monitor error scan, you’ll see some red blocks indicating bad sectors on the drive map.
(Green blocks represent good sectors and red block represents physical/logical damage)
6) Let the error scan complete. Now you can capture a screen with current drive map for future reference and close HD Tune application. (Now you know where/how much bad sectors available on your USB drive)
7) If you see all green without and red blocks means you don’t have physically or logically damaged disk. Please skip to step 20.
8) For those who are able to see USB drive on explore – Never run Windows scan disk. This will mark all the bad blocks and render them useless.
9) What we want is to eliminate all the bad sectors/blocks in this drive and make them usable again.
10) Most of bad sectors are recoverable on USB powered drive, unless you have physically abuse them like dropping on the floor.
The Top Secret
11) The secret is that USB powered devices keep writing to the disk at lower magnetic strength while they experiencing lower power conditions through a bad USB connection. This cannot be rectified using format utility.
12) Bad USB connections also contribute to drop data packets. Once the data written to disk is become garbled (CRC Fail) it will be marked as a bad sector(s). Both of these bad sector errors are recoverable by means of using specially designed software.
13) Download and install HDD Regenerator 2011 Trial (Google for $0.00 full version if you wish)
(This is very useful utility – you should consider buying it for future use and for free updates)
14) This software can regenerate bad sectors even the disk drive is not partitioned nor formatted.
15) Again, use good cable and proper USB connections.
16) Run Pre Scan and then run Repair Mode of scan in Windows mode. You don’t need to create boot disk as you’re repairing an external drive. This will regenerate all the bad sectors recorded with lower magnetic strength.
17) On trial version it will correct one bad sector to prove the software is useful. But in my opinion, pre scan with trial version would fix most of the magnetic errors on the disk. Sometimes you may not need to buy it after all. But the full version would surely fix your disk drive unless your disk drive doesn’t suffer from head damage or platter damage.
18) Repair scan will take hours to complete on 2 GHz PC and it can repair 100GB within one hour or so. (For e.g. 1TB disk drive will take 10 to 11 hours) You need to have UPS or notebook with battery backup to ensure uninterrupted recovery.
19) Once completed, you can view a report of what it had done.
20) Now you have undamaged or fully regenerated USB disk drive in your hand.
21) You need Admin privileges in your Windows account at this point.
22) Right click “My Computer” icon and choose “Manage”. On the Management console click “Storage and then select Disk Management”.
23) Look on the right hand side of the window for a disk drive closer to your drive size. E.g. 930GB for 1TB (1000GB) Drive.
24) Since you have used non destructive method to regenerate the drive, you don’t need to delete or create partitions on this drive.
25) If you don’t see a drive letter assign to the drive, you’ll not see it on explorer. Right click and assign a new drive letter.
26) At this point you should be able to access your drive and copy needed data back in to another backup drive. Also you can repartition and reformat your drive using Disk Management Console.
27) If you elected to Repartition and reformat your drive, you’ll lose everything in your drive including WD Smart Software. Be sure to select correct disk drive at this point. (Of course you could reinstall this software from WD Download site.
28) But make sure to format your drive with NTFS and not to create logical drives. FAT 32 format and logical drives tends to corrupt easily.
Hope this long technical guide would enlighten many troubled USB Powered Disk Drive users.