Assigning the right drive letter for a USB drive

Is your USB drive not getting the right drive letter assigned to it? Check out three ways to solve this problem in Windows systems.

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I have a USB drive that is either being assigned the wrong drive letter or no drive letter at all when I insert it. What could be wrong?

The most likely culprit here is a collision between the drive letter previously assigned to the Universal Serial Bus drive, and another drive letter such as a network drive.

The assignment of drive letters for network drives and physical drives has traditionally been handled by two entirely separate systems in Windows. As a result, network drive assignments can inadvertently gobble up drive letters that are normally assigned to removable drives such as USB drives.

Depending on what you're trying to accomplish and how much control you have over which drives are assigned, there are a few solutions to this problem

  1. Set network drive letters to be assigned from Z: on backwards.
    Many people dislike this option because it's a little counterintuitive, but it has the benefit of keeping network drive letterings far away from other drives. However, this might not be possible if: a) network drive mappings are not changeable on your end, or b) altering them will break the behavior of applications in your network.


  2. Use symbolic links for USB devices.
    If you are using Windows Vista or higher and the underlying problem is that network shares take up too many drives, you may want to use NTFS symbolic links instead of drive shares. This feature lets you attach a network path to a folder on a New Technology File System volume and is accomplished via the mklink command. This way, the drives shares can be placed within an existing drive as a subfolder, and they won't each gobble up a drive letter. Again, this might not work if existing programs look for the drive letter in question and can't be easily revised to look in a folder.


  3. Use a utility to manage USB drive-letter assignments.
    A piece of freeware, the USB Drive Letter Manager lets you control how directories are assigned to USB devices. One useful feature of this tool is it allows USB drives to be mounted at NTFS mount points on an existing drive. You don't use up drive letters for such devices, which is handy if you have a lot of network shares.

ABOUT THE EXPERT:   
Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the "Windows Power Users Newsletter." Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators.>.
This was first published in February 2010

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