Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Workaround: ThinkPad docking station USB ports fail after dock

My current work PC is a Lenovo ThinkPad T530 running Windows 7.  I’m using it with a Lenovo ThinkPad docking station, the “Thinkpad Mini Dock Plus Series 3 with USB 3.0”. 

Occasionally, when I re-dock the PC, some or all of the USB 2.0 ports in the docking station do not “turn on” and work properly.   This most obviously manifests in my USB keyboard and/or mouse plugged into the docking station not working.  The keyboard’s indicator lights (Num Lock / Caps Lock / Scroll Lock) won’t turn on, and the red laser light on the underside of the mouse doesn’t come on.

Removing and re-inserting the keyboard and mouse USB cables into the docking station does not fix the issue.

The workaround that I found that does work (under Windows 7) is as follows:

  1. Open Device Manager.  (From the Start menu’s Run field, type “device manager” and press Enter.  Obviously, use the laptop’s onboard keyboard and mouse if the external keyboard and mouse aren’t working.)
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the Device Manager window, and click on “Universal Serial Bus Controllers” to expand it.
  3. Right-click on the first entry in the expanded list named “USB Root Hub,” and select Disable from the context menu.
  4. Right-click once again on that same “USB Root Hub” entry, and select Enable from the context menu.

If it works, the list of items under “Universal Serial Bus controllers” should refresh, and you should see some additional items in the list.  The USB ports on the docking station and devices connected to them should be working once again.

I’ve never had the single USB 3.0 port on the docking station fail to work in this way, so another workaround might be to attach an external USB hub to that port, and plug all external USB devices into the hub.

I did try replacing the docking station with another copy of the same model, but the intermittent issue persisted, so the issue appears to be with the PC software or hardware itself, not with the docking station alone.

This workaround is inconvenient, but it beats rebooting!  Let me know if you know of a better workaround or a fix.