Windows USB Hangs PC

If Windows XP or earlier hangs when you plug in a USB device, read this, it may save your sanity.

If you’ve ever experienced this, you’ll probably do a Google search like I did, and go through countless forums and articles explaining how your device is duff and you should chuck it out and get a new one.

I knew my device wasn’t duff because it worked in other machines. But any time I hooked it up to this one machine, Windows XP would hang. The only solution was to reset the machine with the reset button. Not good. Especially after a few attempts to fix it blew up the ‘Windows Active Desktop’ and left me with a lovely white screen with some nasty diagnostic information.

I tried removing the devices – I even removed all the ‘hidden devices’ by going to Control Panel, System, Advanced, Environment Variables and adding a new System Environment variable called devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices and setting its value to 1. Then I logged out and back in (to make that change stick) and went to control panel -> System -> Device Manager and selected the ‘Show Hidden Devices’ from the View menu. I then removed all the greyed out USB devices (and some others I knew were bogus too) and rebooted.

No joy.

But I then discovered an article at which mentioned that you must do a SAFE MODE cleanup. This means doing a similar thing to what I had done above, but first you must boot Windows into Safe Mode. You can do this by pressing F8 when the PC is booting but before it gets to the Windows logos.

In Safe Mode (you’ll need at least a PS2 keyboard for this – preferably a PS2 mouse too because anything USB is about to stop working totally) you need to Uninstall all the devices in the following order;

USB peripheral devices (Scanners, Printers, Cameras etc.)
HID and/or Composite USB (Human Interface Devices)
USB Root Hub(s) (Universal Host Controllers)
USB Host Controller(s) (Universal Host Controllers)

When you’ve deleted them, reboot into normal mode. You MUST have a PS2 keyboard connected at this point, otherwise you probably won’t ever get your PC back because unless you can login, Windows won’t try to re-install the devices.

Login – Windows will re-install the devices, and then ask you to reboot. Reboot again.

If you’re real lucky (and I was) Windows USB will now function properly again. A Safe Mode cleanup forces Windows to do something a bit more thoroughly than a normal mode cleanup, and this worked for me.