USB ports not working.

By Qwertify ·
I study overseas and I brought my laptop (Dell Inspiron 5150 Windows XP) over here from the US and it has been working fine for over a year.
Just today, my computer began to work in a very strange way. I came back from school, and noticed that I left my computer on and it had gotten really hot with the sun on it. In response I turned on the fans on the stand on which my computer rests, designed especially for cooling down a PC. A few seconds later the whole computer shuts down instantly. This can happen when the computer overheats so I gave it a half an hour to let the internal temp fall. I figured that the fan pushed air into a sensor and that caused the comp to shut down. When I tried later, I got nothing. I tried removing and reinserting items (hard drive and battery) and eventually got my PC to start without the battery inside. I thought it was the battery, but later with more experimentation I don't know what it was, but I do know that my battery is not the issue.
Now I have a completely different problem, which from a hardware perspective confuses me, as to why my computer acts as if it is dead one sec, and then fine the next. Currently, everything works fine except one thing (while an hour ago it felt like the whole computer melted down). This is with the USB ports. They send out electricity to any device that needs it, like the fans on my cooling stand or the light on a USB stick. The thing is that it won't actually use the device. If I plug in certain items, like a keyboard, my entire computer freezes up. When I was moving out parts I did notice a smell as if something was burnt. I can't be sure what that something was however. I tried to investigate but it was impossible to take apart the laptop safely as the screen cable is very short, short enough that you can't take the bottom panel cover off. The external appearance of the USB ports looks normal.
I am going to try to reinstall my chipset drivers and perhaps that will allow them to work. I don't think that will do anything as they often work without installing any drivers (for instance when I had to reinstall Windows a few times). I am thinking that maybe my tinkering disconnected the port and now Windows is having problems reinstalling it (without telling me). I did notice that it had to reinstall my DVD-ROM.
My best guess is that something got shocked. I say this because earlier that day I had a new arrangement for all my USB devices (I have 6 of them plugged into the computer one way or another.) One of these is a printer, and it said that one should turn the printer off before plugging in the USB, or it can damage the printer. I did it anyways and it was fine. But I am thinking that maybe the extra electricity from turning on my fans could have done it? Or caused an overload? I had all 6 ports in before, just not in such a configuration.
In any case, most of this seems to be linked to the fans and the printer, as I never used the printer before in my new configuration and it was the fans that apparently caused my comp to shut down only seconds later.
Is there any way to be sure? Also, if something did get electrocuted, what could that possibly be in a laptop by the USB ports and is there any way to fix it? I would hate to have to type and use the mouse on my keyboard for the time until my next computer.

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All Answers

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The "something smelled burnt" part tells the tale

by robo_dev In reply to USB ports not working.

To me it sounds like you fried the USB circuitry on the motherboard of the computer. Even if you are skilled in performing repair and rework of surface-mount components, the best bet is to replace the motherboard.

If it has PCMCIA slots, you can buy a dual-USB adapter and this will give you USB ports.

You should invest in a powered USB hub, as these are able to provide enough current to power just about anything, and less risk if you overload it.

To confirm the hardware diagnosis, either:

A) download and create a Linux live distribution, either to USB flash drive or to CD-ROM. If the machine boots and runs linux properly, then it's a Windows problem.


B) Run Diags

Your Dell has a diagnostics partition on the hard drive.

Starting the Dell Diagnostics From Your Hard Drive

1. Turn on (or restart) your computer.

2. When the DELL logo appears, press F12 immediately.

Here is the service manual:

I've taken apart and fixed many laptops, and also found many that could not be fixed.

While it's possible that it's a single simple-to-replace burnt component, it's typically never that simple.

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by Qwertify In reply to The "something smelled bu ...

I will have to conclude, unfortunately, that it is burnt. I am staying out of the US for sometime in Eastern Europe, where it makes no sense to try and service one's computer. I have a new tower on the way, and I should have it by the end of the year, so it is not a problem. If the wireless modem were to be damaged, then that would be much more serious. There is nothing wrong in having to adapt to the situation and improvise.

Thank you for that response however. Very useful indeed. I am very glad to have resolved this so quickly. Again, very appreciative of your time.

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More Failed Attempts

by Qwertify In reply to USB ports not working.

Looks like it is a hardware problem. I uninstalled all my USB drivers and reinstalled them along with my chipset drivers. Reset BIOS. All I get is a message from Windows saying that it does not recognize the device, and that I should replace it if it continues to not work. I know the device works, so I guess I burned some part of my USB port? It is odd because nothing externally suggests that, and I don't know what internally could be damaged as to only affect the USB ports but literally, nothing else. Anything I can do to add working USB ports to a laptop?
I have a 1394 4-clip firewire connection and I free CAT5 port. If I want to take info off this comp, not much here that needs to really be taken, but without using a million CD's or sending out e-mails to myself, any good way to get data from this computer to another? Can I just use a firewire to USB port on another comp? Can I do it over a WLAN somehow?

Thanks ahead of time if you can give me some helpful info/solutions.

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It would be nice if there were a Firewire-to-USB adapter

by robo_dev In reply to More Failed Attempts

But there is not. You can convert the (slower) USB to firewire with a $50 adapter, (like those made for digital video cameras), but to convert the other way around would take some active circuitry, and not just a cable of some sort. There may have been one company who made these at one point, but not anymore.

Unless there were another computer involved, cannot think of a way to do this via the Ethernet port.

It is absolutely possible that the USB input circuity got fried. There is typically a USB controller chip, and some diodes/resistors/capacitors that are part of the signal path. Since there is voltage involved (5V), there may be a surface-mount fuse or two as part of the circuit.

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by Qwertify In reply to It would be nice if there ...

That is what I have been reading.

Also, I guess that explains why I might have the 5 volts still running through the USB, but no info, or no chance for recognition.

I will be using a CAT5e cross-over cable to transfer files out eventually.


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Well as you have the Ethernet Port

by OH Smeg Moderator In reply to More Failed Attempts

Why not just add a crossover cable and transfer the data to another computer?

It's called Networking.


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Solution to Second Problem

by Qwertify In reply to Well as you have the Ethe ...

Yes. That is what I am going to do. It seems to be the simplest solution as it only requires you to change IP's and connect the comps with this cable. I could go Ad Hoc on wireless, but that is more work I feel, plus in the future, I am not sure if I will have a router around that I will be able to understand, as the one I am using now is not based in the English language.

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