Long-time subscriber Dave Volente wrote with a question about USB and Windows XP issues he was experiencing:
I’m still running good old XP Home on my two desktops and Pro on my laptop, all "networked" and everything shared in front of me on the same desk. Have numerous USB items (back-up drives, card readers, webcam, etc), so many, in fact that I also have loads of powered hubs to run them all. However, I’ve never had much luck with reliability as far as USB is concerned on ANY of the machines.
External drives regularly vanish while transferring data for back-up (errors like "cannot find file", etc. — especially between machines, it seems). Items seem very fussy about where they’re plugged in and are often not recognised or come up as "unknown device".
When the drives re-appear at random (sometimes with the wrong drive letter), their properties (such as sharing and system restore, that I normally leave off on external drives) have been altered. A Google with "unreliable USB" seems to throw up folk with much the same problems.
Is there an ultimate answer to this USB hassle? It has never seemed a very robust way of running periphals to me!
I wrote back to David to give him some consoling thoughts. David is experiencing one of the non-joys of the way Windows XP handles USB connections.
Windows XP installs drivers on a USB port by USB port basis. If you connect a device to one port and install the USB drivers, that port will already be set up the next time you plug the USB device into it.
The problem comes when you plug the USB device into a different port the next time. Windows XP isn’t smart enough to adjust by itself. When you plug the device into a different USB port, it will install drivers for that port.
When you have a bunch of USB powered hubs and plug/unplug USB devices routinely, you have to remember which USB port you’re using for a specific device and use that port. Or, alternatively, you can put up with Windows thinking it’s a new device each time you plug it into a different USB port.