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July 11, 2020

USB Drive Dropouts = Sign of Failing Dock


I’ve got an interesting problem emerging on my now-aging Surface Pro 3. I keep it plugged into a matching Surface Pro Dock, which includes a GbE port, mini DisplayPort, and 3xUSB3 + 2xUSB2 ports. Lately, I’ve been experiencing some backup issues. Sometimes, the Seagate 2 TB drive I usually employ for Macrium Reflect backup will drop out while the backup is underway. Just recently, I’ve noticed that if the drive is plugged into the USB 3 port on the tablet itself, rather than into the dock, such drop outs don’t happen. What’s it all mean?

I get one more clue from the drive activity indicator light on the Inatek 2.5″ drive enclosure in which the drive is mounted: when that drive becomes unavailable, the indicator light pulses at a steady pace of about 3 times a second. As I understand it, that means the drive is trying to find a USB hub with which to connect. Thus, I’m inclined to believe that the issue is in the dock itself. An additional point of confirmation comes from HD Tune Pro: the drive itself shows healthy, but that program also shows a high Interface CRC Error Count (Google Search documents point to a failing USB cable or a bad USB port; the drive works fine on other PCs, FWIW).

USB Drive Dropouts = Sign of Failing Dock.crc

Standard troubleshooting techniques point to the dock as the problem source. I’ll use the tablet port for now.
[Click item for full-sized view.]

What To Do About Failing Dock?

The warranty’s long since run out on this dock, purchased in 2014 along with the SP3. The built-in GbE Ethernet still works fine, so I’m inclined to believe something is up with its built in USB circuitry, either at the port or hub level (the device includes built-in USB 2 and USB 3 hubs both of which show no flags in device manager, nor associated errors in Reliability Monitor). I’m inclined to believe that the drive may be drawing too much voltage for the USB port to supply and keep running, or the port itself may be failing. If the PC or its dock were newer, I might consider repair or replacement. But given the age of these devices and my intention to replace them later this year anyway, I think I’ll just stick with the workaround I’ve already determined lets the scheduled backup job complete without issue — namely, leaving the backup drive plugged into the SP3 Tablet’s lone USB 3 port. ‘Nuff said.

Author: Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.

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