USB External Drive Not Recognized On Surface? Troubleshooting Tips

Here’s the scenario:

You’ve decided to get an external USB drive to store and back up your data. You did your research, read the reviews and finally chose one. You get it home, plug it into your Surface and…… NOTHING happens!

What the heck?

Well, believe it or not, this is a pretty common occurrence. It actually happened to me at my day job this week. As a result, I decided to write up a quick troubleshooting guide to help you, in the event that you run into the same problem.

In this post you will find:

  • The basics on how to get the Surface to recognize a USB external drive
  • How to run the Hardware Troubleshooter
  • How to reinstall USB drivers
  • Reported known problems
  • List of USB external drives that work (as tested by us)

USB External Drive Not Recognized On Surface: Try the basics first

  • Make sure your connection is not obstructed by anything
  • Make sure the USB external drive is powered
  • Unplug Everything from the Surface and Restart it
  • Check for recent Microsoft updates
  • Check the Microsoft Compatibility list to make sure the device should work (especially if you have a Surface RT/2).
  • Try another USB drive (if you have access to one), thumb drive, etc. to make sure other USB devices are working – if nothing works via USB, contact Microsoft
  • Plug in the USB external drive to another computer and see if it works – if it doesn’t replace the drive

If your USB port works fine with other devices and if you confirmed that the USB external drive works on other devices, proceed to the below steps.

USB External Drive Not Recognized On Surface: Run the Hardware and Devices Troubleshooter

Note: for this step to work well, make sure your Surface is plugged in and connected to the internet. Be aware that you may be asked for an admin password during this process.

  • Windows key + Q
  • Type in Troubleshooting in the search box
  • Tap on Troubleshooting
  • Choose Hardware and Sound from the window that opens
    troubleshooting1
  • Tap on Hardware and Devices
    troubleshooting2
  • Click Next and follow the prompts

If the above produced no favorable results, try uninstalling the USB drivers next.

USB External Drive Not Recognized On Surface: Uninstall the USB Drivers

  • Disconnect the USB external drive from your Surface
  • Press Windows + X key  and select Device Manager
  • Locate the USB driver (Universal Serial Bus controller)
  • Right-click on the Intel(R) USB 3.0 driver icon and select Uninstall
    troubleshooting4
  • Restart the Surface. After restarting the computer, the USB driver will automatically reinstall

Reconnect the external hard drive through the USB and see if it responds now. If not, go on to the next step.

USB External Drive Not Recognized On Surface: Be aware of existing, known problems

I have personally run into some issues with Seagate USB 3.0 external drives. They seem to be particularity problematic for devices with USB 2.0 ports. The Surface RT and Surface Pro (first gen) both have USB 2.0 and they don’t seem to work with these drives. There is lots of information available online about this issue. So, my advice would be to do your research about any potential problems before you choose a drive.

Note: According to the Microsoft Compatibility Center, many of the USB external drives only have “Limited Functionality” on the Windows RT devices, this includes Surface RT and Surface 2 but we’ve had good luck with the Western Digital drives.

USB External Drive Not Recognized On Surface: Drives that work

Here are the external drives that we’ve personally tested and they worked with our Surfaces:

Model Size Cost
WD My Passport Ultra
1 TB $69.99
WD Elements Portable
1 TB $64.00
WD My Passport Ultra
2 TB $109.00
LaCie Rugged Mini Disk

(not XL!)
1 TB $119.99

In conclusion:

It’s a great idea to have an external drive for backups and files storage. So, don’t be discouraged if you have some trouble configuring one, with a little tweaking you should be able to use it. However, if you’ve tried everything above and nothing is working, you may need to get either a different drive or contact Microsoft for help with your Surface. Either way, don’t give up because it’s worth it!

You may also like our posts on how to free up space on your Surface Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Joanna-

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