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External USB hard disks have no drive letter assigned

Posted on 2009-05-15
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Last Modified: 2013-11-14
Weird problem: we have a number of external drives (Freecom ToughDrive 320GB USB) for backup purposes.  When connected to any of a number of XP or Vista computers, or a server running Server 2003 standard, they work fine, assigning a drive letter (usually F:) to the partition.  There's also another 1MB drive that shows up as a CD-ROM containing password software, but that's not relevant (at least I think it's not).

However, plug them into one of the two servers we want to back up (both running Server 2003 R2 Enterprise) and the no drive letter is assigned.  You can assign one manually, and everything's fine - until you remove the drive and reconnect it, when it has no letter again.

There are a couple of mapped drives, but plenty of spare letters.  We need to be able to have a non-admin user swap the drives, and this isn't possible if you have to manually assign a drive letter every day.

Any ideas?  Thanks in advance.
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Question by:David Haycox
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by:Callandor
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If the drive has a non-standard partition, it can exhibit these symptoms.  How were they formatted?  Are the USB ports the same on all the servers?
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by:David Haycox
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The drive comes with a single FAT32 partition, but if you delete it and create a new NTFS partition, the problem still occurs.

USB ports are all USB 2.0, doesn't matter whether you plug into any of them, front or back.   It must be down to something on the machine itself, or more likely software configuration - like network drives or something like that.
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by:Callandor
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Can you test a different brand of external drive?  Perhaps the electronics in this brand have a design flaw that causes this?
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David Haycox earned 0 total points
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We tried a different brand, same problem.

The server is running headless, so we connected a monitor (if only to be able to troubleshoot this more quickly) and oddly, that seems to have fixed the problem (i.e. after logging onto the console).

Now, even if we disconnect the monitor again, we can remote desktop to the server and see drive letters every time we change the drives.  For each drive, we removed the default partition and created a new NTFS one (we tried this previously with one drive and it didn't work), plus removed the letter assigned to the virtual CD-ROM with the password software, and the settings are now preserved when disks are changed.

I'm at a loss, but am pleased it's working now!
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by:Callandor
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Well, it's good to know your problem is resolved.
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