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External SATA hard drives using USB ports not recognized by Windows XP on Dell Latitude C840 laptop

Posted on 2008-06-14
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I have long used IDE pocket-sized external hard drives with my Dell Latitude C840 notebook.  However, I've now tried Western Digital and other SATA pocket external hard drives on the laptop and they NEVER show up at all on Disk Management of Windows XP Home OR Professional.  NOTE: These same hard drives ARE recognized by my Sony VAIO.  
The Dell Latitude C840 has USB 1.1 ports (the external hard drives connect to these).  I have tried both these USB 1.1 ports directly as well as hooking them to a PCMCIA card that upgrade the laptop to USB 2.0.   The various IDE external hard drives work fine... the SATA
The Laptop Bios is upgraded to the latest version.  Basically, I've tried every possible combination to rule out everything (USB port problems, Windows XP problems, etc.) except that there might be an inherent problem with using a SATA external hard drive on this laptop.   If there's a workaround that I don't know about, I'm willing to try it.  If SATA external hard drives simply don't register on some laptops/computers, I'd appreciate knowing why.
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Question by:Hamamas
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Expert Comment

by:rindi
ID: 21786245
Your Laptop's USB ports probably just don't provide enough power for the external Disks. Try using a powered USB HUB between the laptop and the disks.
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Author Comment

by:Hamamas
ID: 21786322
I assume that your reply means that SATA external pocket drives inherently use more power than IDE external pocket drives....   I also assume that the kind of USB hub that you're talking about is the kind that requires an external power source.

Thanks for the suggestion.
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rindi earned 1800 total points
ID: 21786364
External drives all use power that is at the upper range of USB ports, and many external devices really are at the limits, particularly harddisks. Laptops and their USB ports are usually also at their limits. So it just takes a little for it not to work. The electronics that converts from SATA to USB also uses some power. It isn't necessarily just for SATA, but also IDE disks connected via USB often have that problem.

Yes, a USB hub with external power could help.
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Expert Comment

by:nobus
ID: 21788172
what external case are you using? it may just be incompatible with ? .. something ?
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Author Comment

by:Hamamas
ID: 21788509
I've tried both a proprietary Western Digital external pocket hard drive (case already included) as well as an external case made by a company that makes them both for IDE as well as for SATA drives.   Again, the only in-common features coming out of the various permutations I've tried is that it has something to do with it being a SATA drive (no matter what brand or kind of SATA drive) AND/OR something to do with the Dell Latitude C840 (as opposed to a Toshiba and Sony Vaio laptop alternatives that I've also tried the pocket external hard drives on.  

IF SATA hard drives tend to require more power from the USB ports AND the Latitude C840 delivers less power (even when I insert a PCMCIA card to deliver USB 2.0 ports rather than the usual USB 1.1 ports) than the alternative laptops then that might explain the problem.  I've just ordered an externally powered USB hub as Rindi suggested to see if that resolves the problem but won't have an answer for another week!
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by:nobus
nobus earned 200 total points
ID: 21788827
usb 1 and 2 ports deliver the same 5V output : 0.5 A = 2.5 W Max
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Author Comment

by:Hamamas
ID: 21814887
Well folks, as suggested, I tried using a USB 2.0 hub with an EXTERNAL POWER SUPPLY BOOST instead of my PCMCIA card USB 2.0 slots and the portable external SATA drives FINALLY WORK.   When the external power supply is disconnected, the hard drive disappears from view on Window's Disk Management.  

Because external portable SATA disk drives don't register when plugged into the Dell Latitude C840 USB 1.1 slots but DO register when plugged into the USB 1.1 (a Toshiba) or USB 2.0 (a Sony VAIO) slots, the only conclusion I can come up with is that the Dell Latitude C840 does NOT put out as much power in their USB slots as do the laptops where the SATA hard drives work.  

Is there any other alternative explanation to my conclusion?  And if that's the conclusion, is there any software/bios workaround to that obstacle on the Dell Latitude C840?

Thanks for your continuing help, experts -- it's really much appreciated!
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Assisted Solution

by:rindi
rindi earned 1800 total points
ID: 21814962
That is the conclusion. USB power output very often just isn't as high as you'd like it to be, and it will normally also deteriorate with the age of the PC and it's components. So what works today on a PC it is quite possible it'll not work tomorrow. There is no software workaround for this, as it is a hardware issue.
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