I have a 5 years old laptop whose USB ports are temperamental.

With some things, like external HDD, or USB drives, I often need to play around with the USB to get it functioning. For other things, like mice, they work when they are new, and then stop working although the optical mouse light is powered. Things like USB hubs doesn’t seem to work at all, and they do not even show a message.

Is this normal, as I do use the laptop a lot? Can this be repaired?

I have another older laptop, I thought of maybe scavenging its USB ports, and replacing the malfunctioning ones, but I am not sure how to, or if I should, proceed. Any suggestions?

I did read the questions in , but I don't think this is a duplicate, although there are some similar unanswered questions.

  • Unless your good with a soldering iron, you need a new motherboard. – cybernard Jun 27 '15 at 3:24

this is happening either when

  • the solder holding the USB port has broken off the mainboard
  • copper-plated pins are corroded / tired - usually this is the case

Of course, the normal solution would be to change/resolder, but if the latter is the case, there is a trick which will help you for a time.
get an old male USB connector, which you would never use for nothing, spray generously WD40 or oil inside it. Let it drip away, then plug it few times into the laptop and wiggle it around for a bit. Don't leave or use the oily plug afterwards in the computer. THe oil from WD40 is conductive and might damage the laptop. This process should just break the corrosion and create a tiny film on the pins. It shouldn't leave visible oil droplets inside.

If this is not enough, there is another thing, but it requires practice. Turn off the laptop, unplug and take the battery out. Push a needle slightly inside the loop of each pin inside the USB. Repeat with more pressure until you see difference.
BUT, there is a huge risk, that a pin will jump out from the plastic if too much pressure is applied and it might not be as easy to put it back.

a design of first hw version of USB Type A (classic connector) is not taking in account different life expectancy for plug and socket.
Every connection usually has solid pins on one side against which, when connected, are pushing pins from the other side. The connector with solid pins can last multiple times longer then the opposite. Unfortunately, USB inside the computer - female, has these pushy pins, which won't last as long as those on the plug on the cable side. USB micro and USB v3 Type A have these reversed. So these connectors should last longer on the device's side.

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  • I forgot the other part of the question. Connectors from other laptop will most probably not fit. You need to be handy with solder iron, to unsolder the connector without damage to the MB. If I would decide to change the plugs, I wouldn't use old ones to replace old ones. Get similar USB on the internet, make them fit, use part from the old one if they won't. – papo Jun 27 '15 at 3:30

Are you sure it is faulty hardware?

If you go to device manager, is the device flagged? Have you checked to see if there are updated drivers or possibly BIOS updates?

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Apart from what others have said, there are several possible solutions:

  • if Your laptop has an ExpressCard or CardBus / PC Card (PCMCIA) slot, You could buy a fitting USB card and get a new set of USB ports. Note: if You have an ExpressCard/54 slot, I would recommend buying an ExpressCard/54 card, not an ExpressCard/34 one because (I think) it could wiggle in the slot and possibly wear the slot down.

  • (not in Your particular case) buy a powered USB hub - it could fix the problem if the data pins are functioning correctly. This should also prevent you from killing a pendrive (a pendrive can become damaged if it loses power during a write operation --- happened to me twice).

  • You could also disassemble the laptop (or have the laptop disassembled) and take the motherboard (or USB modules) to an electronic repair shop that is able to replace only the USB sockets (probably not all repair shops would be able to do it, You should ask around). I would recommend not doing it on Your own unless You are very experienced with soldering. Do not scavenge USB ports from another laptop - new ones could be bought cheaply from an electronic parts shop (the repair shop will probably take care of it).

  • As I have read on another site, You could try cleaning the ports with alcohol, acetone or something similar (that does not conduct electricity isopropyl alcohol (it does not conduct electricity and does not harm most plastics so it is generally used to clean electronics) and a cotton pad - or perhaps using a USB plug as papo suggested. Please note that isopropyl alcohol is flammable so do this after powering the laptop off and do not power it on until the alcohol will have evaporated.

EDIT: I have cleaned my USB ports with acetone and cotton pads. I have cut these cotton pads with scissors to get stripes with width similar to the width of a USB port. Then I soaked these with acetone. I took a big needle and forced these cotton pads inside my USB ports. The acetone dissolved and discolored my laptop cover a bit so probably it would be better to use some rubbing alcohol instead. There are some tissues for cleaning glasses that would work.

  • You could retension the leaf-spring that holds the plug in place. To do this, You could use a needle to bend it slightly. Keep in mind that the leaf-spring could break, so this is risky. Of course, do this with your laptop powered off, disconnected from the wall socket and after removing the battery.
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