Computer question - flash drive not recognised

My girlfriend’s aged laptop, while still running fine, has a hard drive that is almost full, mainly due to her vast collection of digital photos. The hard drive is 33GB and there is currently about 4MB (sic) left. I am aware that this is not good for the computer, so I bought a 16GB flash drive from to use as a storage device for about half the photos.

Unfortunately, on plugging the flash drive into the USB port, the computer opens the “Found New Hardware Wizard”, but this fails to find the required software, so the drive is currently useless.

I tried googling “troubleshoot flash drive” (without the quotes) and from a brief look through the first few results, it appears that it is most likely a driver problem, and I may need to install SP1/SP1a (the computer is running Windows XP). I found a free download of this from, but it is 133MB, and as I said, I only have 4MB left. I’m sure I can free up enough space to download this if necessary, but I feel I’m already out of my depth here - plus, I’d like to check first that I don’t have it already, and I don’t know how to do this easily.

The exact error message from the wizard is: "There was a problem installing this hardware:

USB Flash Memory

An error occured during the installation of this device

The data is invalid."

Do any of you clever-with-computers dopers have any helpful suggestions? Ideally, I don’t plan to replace the laptop for another year or so, so I’d like to get this flash drive to work if possible, but any alternative suggestions for storing the extra data are welcome. TIA.

On preview, I forgot to mention: the computer should be compatible with USB 2.0 (I have checked this) and so hopefully this is not the problem.

Right-click on “My Computer” and select “Properties”. What does it say under System:?

Several possible solutions:

  1. Burn about 3-4 gigs to a blank DVD if possible, several CD’s if not. This should give you enough room to do move things over. I’m assuming most of it is video, pictures or music, so this should be simple to do.

  2. In the add new hardware wizard, have it search the web for the new driver. Choose “select from list” and then have the list update from the web.

  3. You can also set up another computer to temporarily hold extra stuff. Set up a network on her computer, add your computer to her network, set up a shared drive, and that’s it.

"Microsoft Windows XP

Home Edition

Version 2002

Service Pack 2"

I infer from this that attempting to install SP1 will be pointless.

Good ideas, but:

1 is not possible because the CD writer is broken;

2 I tried, but I couldn’t work out how to get the wizard to search the web, I’m afraid I’ll need some step-by-step instructions for that! I selected “Install from a list or a specific location (advanced)”, and the next screen only offered either “Search for the best driver in these locations.” or “Don’t search. I will choose the driver to install.” Neither of these gave me the opportunity to search the web;

3 is not possible as this is the only computer we own. I could try doing it with one of our parents’ computers, but as I’m sure you have guessed by now, setting up a network and a shared drive is beyond my capability, at least without extensive further instructions. I’d prefer to avoid this option if possible, but I do appreciate your help.

If you are on SP2, then you automatically have SP1. There is an SP3 as well, but it shouldn’t make any difference for what you’re trying to do.

Do you have any other thumb drives, or can you test this one on another computer? It’s possible that this one is simply broken, even though it’s new. Also, 4MB may simply not be enough room to install the driver.

Here’s my suggestion. Get a free account from picasa or photobucket to to store some photos online. Delete those, free up at least 50-100 MB, then try the thumb drive again.

Have you looked for temporary files or unused programs you can delete?

It wouldn’t surprise me if the only problem with the USB drive is your lack of disk space.

If it’s an old laptop, I’ll guess that the memory stick requires USB 2. So make sure that you’re plugging it in to a 2.0 port - older computers often had separate 1.1 and 2.0 ports.

BTW you might want to fire up Disk Manager and see if there’s unpartitioned space. Older BIOSes had a 32 GB limit.

In the meantime, you should be able to clean up the PC by running the Cleanup Wizard. Failing that, delete the %temp% directory, the Internet Explorer (or Netscape or Chrome…) cache and the \Windows\System32$ServicepackUninstall directory.

I have cleaned up the system before, but I’ve just done it again and managed to achieve 204MB of free space. However, I get the same error, whichever of the 4 USB ports I plug the device in to. Can anyone tell me how to get the installation wizard to search the internet for the right software?

Disk manager tells me that there is indeed a partition, labelled “BACKUP”. It tells me that this is 4.01GB and it is “Healthy (Unknown Partition)”. However, this is FAT32 whereas the main C drive is NTFS. Should it be OK to delete this partition and free up another 4GB of space?


I’ll check out the hardware wizard, but in general, when you get to less than 10% of free disk space of the total, you’re handcuffed, under 5% and the computer will start refusing to do anything.

That partition is the recovery section, this is why modern computers don’t come with re-installation disks.

That’s probably a system restore partition that will allow you start fresh with a clean copy of Windows. I’d keep it.

Have you verified that this drive works on another PC?

Glad I asked before doing anything rash! I have not (and will not) delete the partition in that case. I will try to verify that the stick works on another computer some time this week, but in the meantime, if my earlier unanswered questions can be resolved that would be great. I really appreciate the input so far, thanks.

You need to get about 5 gigs free to load sp2 or 3, then it should load the thumbdrive.

The broken CD presents another problem. Many thumbdrives today come with virtual CD drives. This could cause a conflict if the computer is not able to give it a unique ID. You can exchange it for a thumbdrive without any extra software on it.

Another option is to delete old programs using “add/remove programs.”

Other sources of bloat:

  1. Email: some email programs store all the emails in one file. Thunderbird and Outlook both use this system. They can easily be moved then restored when necessary.

  2. Backups: Windows Restore will automatically make backup points periodically. These can be deleted.

  3. Redundant programs: On 3 computers I purchased this year (Toshiba, Sony, and HP, all laptops,) they came with a 60 day trial of MS office and Norton Antivirus. After installing my own copies of both programs, I had to delete those to free up space. Also, it’s very simple to delete Explorer if you use Firefox, and vice versa.

  4. Temp files: If you have multiple web browsers, each one stores garbage in separate directories. Windows Cleanup won’t catch all of it, particularly the browsing histories. You have to go into the options of each one and click “clear history” and/or “delete temporary files.”

  5. Saved games, screenshots, etc. Some stuff can just be deleted outright without restoring them later. A screenshot on many games is stored in the .bmp format, which is humongous, usually 1-4MB each. I have Madden '04 and '08, and both keep save files of 9 MB each. Old games you don’t play anymore are notorious for this. For Diablo 2, each time you press “print screen,” a screenshot is taken and stored. I would check each directory in the main C: root directory, and investigate if any of them are over 5 gig.

  6. Video and pictures: when you take a picture or a video with home electronics, the default setting is huge. A 2 minute video at default settings will be screen-sized and up to 50 megs. A picture with a camera will be over a meg each, and probably be about 4X the size of a standard monitor. You can’t resize them without harddrive space, however. It’s better just to move and/or delete the unnecessary ones and doubles.

  7. DVD’s: 4-8 Gig each. Delete if you have the original disk.

The company web site of the drive manufacturer will probably have Windows 98 drivers you can download, but they shouldn’t be needed with SP2 and so are unlikely to fix the problem. Easy to try though.

First things first, backup her data, if in fooling around with her laptop you lose her pics You In Big Trouble! Remove battery. Look at the bottom of the laptop. there will be a rectangle with screws. this is where your hard drive is. Remove screws and remove hard drive. Take hard drive to the local computer store and buy a external hard drive enclosure. Place hard drive in enclosure and attach to your parents, friends etc computer. Transfer all pictures to the host computer THEN delete from laptop hard drive. sounds like this will give you lots of room to install update. Easy way to do all this is to find a local teen, its really not that hard and pretty much every teen i know can do it. Honest, very easy…

Restore points tend to take up disk space. You can clear these by Right click- My Computer - Properties - System Restore and then check the “Turn off System Restore on all drives” Don’t forget to turn it on again later.

I know you said you have done a clean up but were not specific. Have you tried

This free program is safe to use and will clean tons of junk from your computer

Sorry I haven’t been back to this thread for a while, real life intervened as usual. Thanks for all the suggestions so far, but I still haven’t solved the problem - see below.

I think we’ve established that SP2 is already installed, so this should not be the problem. It’s possible that the CD drive is causing an issue, but the flash drive was only £16.49, so I doubt it came with any extra features. It’s just branded as “” so I don’t know who the actual manufacturer is, which makes searching for drivers difficult. I have however managed to delete a few un-needed programs, so I now have over 200MB of free space. Surely this should be enough to install the necessary drivers? I must admit though that I have not yet had the chance to try the drive on another computer, so I will try to do that soon.

We only use webmail so this is not an issue.

I have temporarily turned off System Restore, so this should free up quite a bit of space once I have restarted the machine.

Done, as I say, although I haven’ t been able to completely remove Norton, of course. I have deleted as much of Norton as possible and installed AVG instead.

Done using Ccleaner as someone suggested above.

No games installed.

All duplicates have been deleted but we still have the problem with the originals!

We don’t have any saved.

I’d still like to know if there is an answer to the following:

Also, the hard disk is not compressed at the moment - can I try that, or will that fail with so little space free?

One final bump for this one before I let it die - I tried the flash drive on another laptop and it appeared to work fine. I will be keeping the drive for use on other computers, and maybe try some of the alternative solutions mentioned in the thread - unless anyone can put me out of my misery!

I’d run ATF Cleaner and free up more space. It clears temp files, the java cache, and other debris that’s not needed.

totally free

btw, a lot of people use ATF Cleaner as the first (of many) steps to clean viruses. It’s safe and proven software.

It reports back how much free space was cleared.