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How to Fix a USB Flash Drive that won’t Read on Windows

How to Fix a USB Flash Drive that won't Read on Windows

Flash drives are supposed to offer a convenient way to store, share, and transport data. However, it’s not uncommon to encounter the frustrating issue of a flash drive not being recognized or read by your computer. As someone who has faced and resolved similar issues, I’m here to guide you through some effective methods for fixing a flash drive that won’t read. Read on and rest assured that we’re about to troubleshoot this together, step-by-step.


Common Scenarios:

Scenario 1: Dirty or Damaged USB Port 🧹

  • Physical Obstructions: Dust, lint, or other foreign objects can interfere with the proper connection between your flash drive and the USB port.
  • Port Damage: Continuous plugging and unplugging of devices can wear out or damage the USB port, causing poor contact.
  • Direct Damage: Accidental drops or spills can physically harm the USB port on your computer or flash drive.

Scenario 2: Software Conflicts 💻

  • Driver Issues: Outdated or corrupted device drivers can prevent your flash drive from being recognized by your operating system.
  • Drive Letter Conflict: Sometimes, the drive letter assigned to your flash drive can conflict with another device or network drive.
  • File System Errors: If your flash drive has file system corruption, it might not show up or open correctly on your computer.

Scenario 3: Faulty Flash Drive 🛠

  • Wear and Tear: Over time, flash drives can wear out, especially if they’ve been used extensively or handled roughly.
  • Manufacturing Defects: In some instances, a newly purchased flash drive may not function due to manufacturing errors.
  • Electronic Failure: Sudden power surges or improper ejection from the computer can lead to electronic damage.


Step-by-Step Guide. How To Fix A Flash Drive That Won’t Read:

Method 1: Basic Troubleshooting 💡

  • Try the flash drive in a different USB port or another computer to rule out port and system-specific issues.
  • Inspect the USB connector on the flash drive and the port for dirt or damage. Clean gently, if necessary.
  • Restart your computer, as this can often resolve temporary glitches that may be causing the issue.

Note: These steps might seem basic, but they’re an important first line of action and can save you a lot of time.

Conclusion: If these basic troubleshooting steps don’t work, move on to more advanced methods.

Method 2: Checking Device Management 🔍

  • Open Device Manager on your computer by typing ‘devmgmt.msc’ in the Run dialog (Windows Key + R).
  • Under Universal Serial Bus controllers, look for your flash drive. It may display as ‘Unknown Device’ if there’s an issue.
  • If you see a yellow exclamation mark, right-click on the device and select Update Driver Software.
  • Choose ‘Search automatically for updated driver software’ and follow the prompts.

Note: Updating drivers can resolve compatibility issues and improve device recognition.

Conclusion: If your flash drive is still not reading, it’s time to look into potential drive letter conflicts.

Method 3: Assigning a New Drive Letter 🔤

  • Open Disk Management by right-clicking ‘This PC’ or ‘Computer’ and selecting ‘Manage’.
  • Under ‘Storage’, click ‘Disk Management’. Find your flash drive, which may be labeled as ‘Removable’.
  • Right-click the flash drive and choose ‘Change Drive Letter and Paths…’
  • Select ‘Change’ and pick a new drive letter from the list.
  • Click ‘OK’ and wait for the system to assign the new letter.

Note: This method helps if another device is using the same drive letter as your flash drive, causing a conflict.

Conclusion: If the flash drive still isn’t reading, the problem could be related to the file system.

Method 4: Fixing File System Errors 🛠

  • Plug in your flash drive and open Command Prompt as an administrator.
  • Type ‘chkdsk X: /f’ replacing ‘X’ with the correct drive letter of your flash drive.
  • Press ‘Enter’ to start the check disk process. The system will attempt to fix any file system errors.

Note: This command can repair issues with your file system, potentially making the flash drive readable again.

Conclusion: Proceed with caution as certain fixes may lead to data loss.

Method 5: Reinstalling USB Controllers 🔄

  • Open Device Manager and expand the ‘Universal Serial Bus controllers’ section.
  • Right-click each entry and select ‘Uninstall device’.
  • After uninstalling all entries, restart your computer. The system will automatically reinstall the USB controllers upon boot.

Note: This process resets the USB ports and can help resolve connectivity issues.

Conclusion: If your flash drive is still nonresponsive, it may be time to consider more sophisticated recovery efforts.

Method 6: Updating the Computer’s BIOS 🧬

  • Visit your computer manufacturer’s official website and locate the support page for your model.
  • Download the latest BIOS update specific to your computer’s model and follow the instructions provided.
  • Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions precisely when updating the BIOS.

Note: An outdated BIOS can sometimes be the root cause of hardware recognition issues.

Conclusion: If you’re uncomfortable with this process, it might be worth seeking professional help.

Method 7: Using Data Recovery Software 🔧

  • Download reputable data recovery software such as Recuva. Make sure to get it from the official website or a trusted source.
  • Run the software and select your flash drive for scanning.
  • Follow the prompts to scan for recoverable files and attempt to restore them to another location.

Note: These tools can be very useful for recovering data from inaccessible flash drives, but success is not guaranteed.

Conclusion: If no data is recovered, the flash drive may have suffered irreversible damage.

Method 8: Consulting a Professional 👨

  • If all else fails, it may be time to consult a professional. Look for a reputable data recovery service with good reviews and experience with flash drive recovery.
  • Be prepared for the possibility that the service can be costly, especially for complex recovery jobs.

Note: Professional services have specialized tools and clean rooms that can sometimes recover data from physically damaged drives.

Conclusion: Weigh the value of the data against the cost of recovery when considering this option.


Precautions and Tips:

Safe Ejection Matters 📤

  • Always safely eject your flash drive before unplugging it to avoid corrupting the data or damaging the drive.
  • Use the ‘Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media’ option in your system tray before physical disconnection.


Maintaining Your Flash Drive

Maintaining the health and longevity of your flash drive is crucial to ensuring it remains reliable over time. One vital aspect is to use your flash drive with care – avoid exposing it to extreme temperatures, moisture, or physical shocks. It’s also prudent regularly to back up the data from your flash drive onto another storage medium, so you don’t solely rely on it for important files.

For a deeper understanding of flash drive technology and tips, you can refer to various USB technology resources. If you’re shopping for a new flash drive, seriously consider ones with a robust build and strong manufacturer warranties. Some drives even come with built-in encryption for enhanced security.


After trying the above methods, your issue of a non-readable flash drive should, hopefully, be resolved. If not, it may indicate that your flash drive has encountered irreversible damage, and it would be time to consider its replacement. Remember to back up your data regularly and treat your storage devices with care. Good luck!


It might be a problem with the USB port or drivers. Try connecting the flash drive to a different USB port or computer. If it appears, update the USB controllers drivers on the original machine.

Perform a hard reset by shutting down your computer, unplugging all power sources, then reconnecting and restarting. If it's still undetected, the flash drive may be damaged.

Yes, open Disk Management and look for the flash drive. If it doesn't have a drive letter, manually assign one. If the drive is unallocated, right-click and create a new volume.

Unplug and reconnect the flash drive. If the error persists, restart the computer with the drive plugged in. Try updating USB drivers via Device Manager if the issue remains.

Yes, open Command Prompt as an administrator and type chkdsk X: /f, replacing 'X' with the drive letter of your flash drive. This will fix file system errors.

Always try to safely eject the flash drive before unplugging it. Use data recovery software to retrieve files from an unrecognized drive before attempting repairs.

The lack of an LED indicator usually signifies a power or hardware issue. The flash drive may be physically damaged or the USB port could be failing.

Yes, if the flash drive appears in Disk Management, you can right-click and reformat it. This deletes all data, so ensure file recovery is done first.

If your flash drive still won't read, it's likely physically damaged. You may need to seek professional data recovery services like Ontrack Data Recovery.