Unraveling a USB Mystery

About two months ago, I finally got a break in my schedule and used part of that time to replace the motherboard in my ailing production PC with a newer, more capable one. The “new” mobo is actually about two-three years old in technology, if still brand-new for the unit I rebuilt my system upon. It’s a Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H and it features more USB 3 ports than its predecessor, and support for an mSATA slot that now houses a dandy Samsung EVO 512 GB SSD. I was all ready to go off to the races, and my initial impression of the system was overall pretty positive.

z77x-ud3h

The specs looked good and I saw uniformly positive reviews, so I bought it.

About 5-6 days after the rebuild, right when I started moving my 1 TB of music files from older smaller drives to the newer bigger ones, I started losing USB 3 devices: first a couple of big drives (2 TB and 3 TB) connected to an Eagle dual-drive caddy, various plug-in ports on the case (from interior on-board USB3 header), and once my keyboard went away and didn’t come back. This motherboard features 4 Intel USB 3 ports, and an equal number of VIA USB 3 ports. Somewhere in those ports (and it looks like the Intel chipset is the culprit) one of those ports seems to jump in and out of failure mode. The big drives in my caddy seem particularly likely to go off-line, the more so when I’m doing huge file transfers over an extended period of time, which makes me suspect something heat related might be involved, or perhaps some of the circuitry that supplies those ports with power is flaking out under higher loads.

It took me quite a while to get to the bottom of this problem, not because the problem was especially difficult: the symptoms were obvious and the devices involved rather more consistently failing than mysteriously flaking out only every now and then. I just haven’t had a lot of time for troubleshooting research lately, and it took me a long time to find the right search string to get confirmation that this is a known problem (I ended up using the mobo designator and “USB port fail” and finally found reports from others of the same problem I’ve been having).

At long last, I finally stumbled upon some forum posts up on Toms Hardware where other buyers reported similar USB 3 problems and seemed to indicate that this is a known defect of this particular motherboard. I don’t want to replace it once again, so it looks like I will install one or two (I have a LOT of USB 3 devices on this machine, mostly for external storage) 4 port USB 3 cards that connect via PCI-Express x4 lanes and feature a separate controller chip for each connection so as to support max bandwidth for each one. The make and model is HighPoint RocketU 1144C 4-port USB 3 Controller card (here’s a Newegg link for this somewhat pricey item, that gets good reviews, on the site and at AnandTech). At $108 and change, I’m going to try one first and see how it goes. If I like the results, I’ll consider buying another one.

Something about the potential for less-than-optimal results, in the wake of this modest but nevertheless frustrating motherboard flake-out has me feeling more wary and chary of new technology purchases than usual right now. Wish me luck!

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Comments

Unraveling a USB Mystery — 2 Comments

    • I bought an add-in USB 3 card (PCI-E x1 from Syba, I think, via Newegg) and started using those ports instead. Agreed on the VIA issue. I just steer clear of them.
      –Ed–

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