Can't access external USB drive with Windows ME
March 2, 2004 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Large external drive on ancient laptop: I've got a 160 gig USB drive I'm trying to access from a laptop running Windows ME.

The computer is an old Compaq with an AMD K6 processor (P1 equivalent, I think.) It won't run XP. Windows ME has some kind of size restriction that caps HDs at 120 GB. The drive is a Seagate in a Syba USB 2.0 enclosure. Now I'm screwed because this was going to be my music server.

Any suggestions on how to get it to recognize the hard drive anyway? Partitioning won't help, right? I'm open to installing a new OS or do whatever the hell it takes (although I'd like to be able to run WinAMP.)

Thank you all.
posted by muckster to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
Will it run Win2K? WinME is garbage.
posted by jpoulos at 11:59 AM on March 2, 2004

I have a 160GB Seagate USB2/ Firewire drive running just fine under Windows 2000. Not sure what the requirements for Win2k are.

On preview: Windows XP ain't so hot either. I think Win2K is easily the best of a shitty bunch.
posted by yerfatma at 12:01 PM on March 2, 2004

Yep, WinME is a pox on the computing world.
posted by bshort at 1:15 PM on March 2, 2004

I'm not even remotely technical, so try not to laugh, but will plugging the external HD into a box with a more modern OS and partitioning its HD into two virtual drives under the ME 120 Gig restriction work?
posted by mojohand at 1:23 PM on March 2, 2004

Oh, and if you do that being certain to keep the external HD's file management system as FAT 32, but you knew that, I'm sure.
posted by mojohand at 1:26 PM on March 2, 2004

Oh, again. Maybe I ought to be read the whole question, including the last paragraph, before answering. I'll shut up now
posted by mojohand at 1:28 PM on March 2, 2004

This may or may not be of help, depending on whether or not other systems can see the drive (If the drive is recognized and works on another PC with a different OS, ignore me) but . . . when I got my Metal Gear Box I had to set the jumper on the drive inside to cable select (I think) as well as do some farting around in XP's drive management (not sure if ME has drive management) before everything would work. It didn't come with these instructions, but they were available on the manufacturer's web site.

Another bit of perhaps useless information: I just put two 200 gig hard drives on a Windows 98 system, and it worked fine with the use of a controller card. I could be way off base here, but I'd think the USB interface and the controller it presumably hooks up to inside the drive box thingy would serve the same intermediary-like purpose.
posted by littlegreenlights at 2:52 PM on March 2, 2004

I think the 128 (?) Gig limit is more of a hardware limitation, isn't it? Your "I just put two 200 gig hard drives on a Windows 98 system, and it worked fine with the use of a controller card." seems to verify my impression...
posted by pmurray63 at 8:01 PM on March 2, 2004

pmurray is correct: If the issue isn't strictly a software limitation (i.e. your operating system doesn't support large hard drives), it is the product of hardware limitation. The maximum support drive size for standard 28-bit IDE addressing is 137GB. If you have a larger drive, you'll need an IDE controller that supports 48-bit addressing to reach the full capacity. More here.

Your first step should be to ensure that your hardware supports 48-bit addressing. Check with manuals and/or manufacturer. You may need to flash your BIOS to achieve such a result, if it is in fact possible on your machine.

After that, determine what it'll take to make your existing version of Windows compatible. If this is too much of a hassle, and you're up to it, install Windows 2000 and follow the instructions I linked above.
posted by Danelope at 8:50 PM on March 2, 2004

The 127GB limit, as far as I know, applies only to onboard/internal IDE controllers; USB does not have this problem. Since the USB interface (not the system BIOS) communicates with the drive, there is no reason you shouldn't be able to use drives of greater capacity than what your BIOS likes.

I may be wrong, but I really, really think what you're experiencing may be a misconfigureation of the enclosure/drive, and I'm thinking of the jumper in particular as a prime suspect. I know it's not exactly the same since the manufacturers of the enclosures and drives differ, but if I get a chance I'm going to try my MGB on a few WIndows ME boxes at work tomorrow just to see.

If the drive is not even audibly spinning up when you attach power to it, regardless of whether the USB cord is attached to your laptop, that's a sure sign that the drive itself is misconfigured inside the enclosure. Try the cable select setting, or the single drive setting (what you would choose if the drive were the only one on an IDE cable). Try no jumper. When I'm installing drives, I think often of Yoko Ono advising everyone to smoke everything.

Also, even if ME doesn't show the drive or its correct capacity in Explorer, it should still go through the rigamarole of recognizing and trying to install it. If the drive spins up and is recognized but ME just doesn't allow you to access it, check Device Manager and expand both USB trees (the one for your device, if present, as well as your regular USB host/controller). A question mark there is always a big clue.

If all else fails, you might also look into updated usbstor.inf and other USB-related files (check that first link). The manufacturer may also be able to clue you in on common ME issues.

All that said, ME is indeed garbage--utter and absolute shit, in fact--and upgrading to 2000 would be a nice option, but sometimes you just want something to work without having to raise a new rabbit herd, which is understood, and if that's the case maybe this will help.
posted by littlegreenlights at 10:50 PM on March 2, 2004

You can't format or fdisk a drive that big with WinMe. You will have to use linux, or Partition Magic, or whatever else you like. Fdisk it into a bunch of bits (probably at least 3) then you can format it.

That's the biggest hurdle you will face.
posted by shepd at 11:46 PM on March 2, 2004

Thanks all. The drive is working fine on my XP laptop. (The jumpers were an issue initially; it only worked once I set it to Master.) I will look into the hardware issue and then give Win2k a shot.
posted by muckster at 7:46 AM on March 3, 2004

Success! Win2k with all the necessary updates runs and recognizes the drive! Hip hip hooray for AskMe!
posted by muckster at 9:31 AM on March 4, 2004

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