Have you ever plugged in your USB Flash Memory Drive (also known as jump drives or flash drives), camera memory or even a portable hard drive and the contents haven't automatically appeared and you can't find your memory drive even after clicking on My Computer?
This is because of the way that the Microsoft operating systems assign drive letters. Way, way back in the days of the Microsoft DOS operating system, the programmers decided that floppy drives will always use the letter designation A for the first floppy disk drive and B for the second floppy disk drive.
A hard drive in a personal computer was unheard of at that time, but when it came along, the first hard drive was assigned drive letter C. The next device, if you happened to have a second hard drive (or hard drive partition) or CD-ROM drive was assigned D, and the next was E and so forth.
However, hard drives, USB drives, DVD drives, etc., are not the only devices that require a drive letter designation. If the computer you are using is attached to a server for file storage, the server also uses drive letters.
Most users of our Windows domain on campus have at least three of these additional drive letter designations from our server:
- your "personal" drive,
- the drive that you share within your department, and
- the Apps drive that we assign to most users
So you can see that the drive letters are stacking up.
The Conflict: Too Many Devices!
Assume your computer has one hard drive, one floppy drive, a DVD player and a CD burner. In addition, you have an all-in-one printer that will read three different types of memory cards from your digital camera. You also are on our Windows network and we map three drives for you.
Here is a sample drive layout:
- A: Floppy
- B: Reserved for a second floppy drive
- C: Your main hard drive
- D: Your CD burner
- E: Your DVD player
- F: Your "personal" directory on the server (this is only an example - it could be different for you)
- G: Your shared drive within your department
- J: The MC Apps drive
- K: The first memory card slot on your printer
- L: The second memory card slot on your printer
- M: The third memory card slot on your printer
When you plug in a USB memory drive, it tries to assign itself as the first drive that it not physically located within the computer.
In this case, the USB drive will try to assign itself as drive F:. However, there is a conflict because F: is already being used as the server drive if you plug the USB memory in after you boot up.
If your USB memory is plugged in prior to boot up, then the conflict will usually be with the server attempting to map your F: drive as a server drive.
The Solution: Make Windows Happy
How do you resolve the conflict? Take the conflict away!
The best solution is to force your USB memory drive to be a different drive letter designation. Here's how:
1. Click on Start, then mouse to Settings, and then to Control Panel
2. Double Click on Administrative Tools
3. Double Click on Computer Management
4. In the left hand pane of that window, look for Disk Management located under Storage. Click once on Disk Management
5. In the upper right hand pane, you will see a list of drives that are physically and currently connected to your computer. Scroll through the list to find your USB drive.
Keep in mind that your C: drive is your main hard drive (don't mess with it) and your D: drive is usually your CD or DVD device. Also, most USB drives will have a label with the manufacturer's name listed and will be a "FAT" file system.
And the drive size reported is usually slightly smaller than what is listed on the drive. E.g., my 512 MB USB flash drive reports that it is 486 MB in size.
6. When you find your USB drive, right click on the current drive letter designation and scroll down to Change Drive Letters and Paths. A new window will open.
7. In that window, click on the "Change" button and you will be presented with a list of available physical drive letters. Keep in mind that if you have server drives mapped, they will appear to be available.
Stay away from changing your USB drive to anything from the letter A to M as a safety factor.
(Usually you can just change the drive to Z:.)
Click OK or "X" to get out of the windows that you have opened.
Within a few seconds, your USB drive will magically show its contents on the screen. If not, just double click on “My Computer” and you should see your USB drive.
The Conflict Part II
When you made the drive letter changes, it updated the drive letters on that particular computer for that particular USB drive.
When you take your handy-dandy jump drive to a classroom to give a presentation, it may not show up on the classroom computer.
Just quickly roll through the instructions again.
There are so many different scenarios that come in to play on a computer and the use of a computer that there is no good standard way of making removable drives work on a computer. What works for you probably won't work for another user.
Microsoft is getting closer to doing away with the drive letter designations, but has to keep them because it's been their standard for so long. Until the days of Computer Utopia arrive, we will have to manually manipulate items on our computers, including our drive letter designations.
Two maintenance programs can help to keep your PC running smoothly.
- ScanDisk checks for drive errors. (Always use this program first.)
- Defragmentation identifies fragmented files and moves them to optimize system performance.
Please note: The defragmentation program may take a little time to run. It is recommended that you start the program before a lunch break or before leaving for the day.
Defragmentation on Windows 2000/XP
- Double click the My Computer icon on your desktop
- Right-click on the C: Drive and go to Properties
- Click on the Tools Tab
- Click "Defragment Now..."
Defragmentation on Windows 98
- Click on the Start Menu.
- Go to Run.
- Type "tuneup" and hit enter.
- Decide if you want to perform cleanup now or schedule the tasks for later. Click the appropriate radio button and choose OK.
If your printer is not printing, do not click the Print button again.
- Make sure that the printer is on.
- Double-click the printer icon in the task bar, located in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, next to the clock. Clear out the Print Queue.
- If the printer is connected but the printer icon doesn't appear, restart the computer.