How to prevent and remove ‘phantom’ devices

Fred langa By Fred Langa

A little ghostbusting is all it takes to free your system of nonexistent devices.

Windows sometimes displays USB drives and other removable devices that are no longer connected to your system. Here’s how to cure the problem and prevent it from happening again.

Keep phantom devices at bay

Have you ever had Windows show you a device — perhaps a USB drive or other removable device — that’s no longer connected to your system? When this happens, you can run into trouble if software tries to access the phantom device.

Or, because the nonexistent device is still consuming a drive letter assignment and/or other resources, you may have problems when you add additional devices that need the already-assigned resources. I’ve seen some cases where people were running out of drive letters because their systems were maintaining a whole flock of phantom drives!

Let’s begin with ways to prevent the phantom devices from appearing in the first place. Then, we’ll come back to removing any that may already be there.

Phantom devices can appear for any number of reasons. Perhaps the most common reason is a shutdown error with a removable drive. Most people don’t know this, but there are actually three different ways to disconnect a removable drive. Two are correct, and one isn’t.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2007-04-05:

Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.