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While Macs usually work flawlessly, sometimes strange problems pop up up. One of those unusual cases is when the USB ports on a Mac suddenly stop working, seemingly out of the blue. While there can be several reasons (or no reason) why USB ports stop working for no reason, the good news is that it’s usually a very easy fix.
First and foremost, keep in mind that sometimes a USB device itself can fail, which may have nothing to do with the Mac itself. This is especially true for cheap USB devices and low-quality cables. The easiest way to determine if the USB device itself is the problem versus the Mac USB port is to try using at least two different USB devices and swap their ports. If multiple USB devices don’t work on a particular port or all ports, it’s less likely to have a device problem, and it’s more likely to be related to the Mac itself. And yes, this is true for all Macs, be it a MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, MacBook, iMac, Mac Mini or Mac Pro.
The solution to a random USB failure with no cause on a Mac: reset SMC
So you are sure that a USB port is the problem and not the device itself? The first thing to do is to reset the Mac SMC, a simple process that differs slightly depending on the Mac hardware.
You can learn how to reset the SMC on all Macs here in our detailed tutorial. For those with a MacBook, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, you just need to do the following:
- Turn off the Mac and connect the power cable
- Hold Shift + Control + Option + Power at the same time for a few seconds, when the light on the power adapter flashes or changes color, you will know SMC reset is complete
- Release all keys at the same time
- Boot the MacBook Pro / Air by pressing the power button as is typical
The USB ports on the MacBook should now work fine, which you can confirm by plugging in the USB device as usual and checking if it still works – if it still doesn’t work then try another USB port and try another USB device.
Another solution for USB not working: the NVRAM reset
Sometimes resetting the NVRAM / PRAM on Mac can also help fix USB port error as NVRAM contains different data about keyboards, mouse, trackpad and other USB components. Here’s how to do the NVRAM reset on a Mac to see if it fixes the USB error:
- Restart the Mac and immediately hold down Command + OPTION / ALT + P + R keys simultaneously – keep holding the keys until you hear a sound and see the screen flashing, this may take a few seconds
- The Mac should chime again and then start it up as usual
When the Mac starts up again up again, USB should work normally.
If after an SMC reset and after an NVRAM reset none of the USB ports work and no USB device works, then probably something else up with the Mac.
Other considerations if USB does not work on a Mac
- If a single USB port is defective, but other USB ports continue to work on the Maceven after an SMC reset, there may be a problem with that particular hardware USB port – you can either avoid using that USB port and use a USB hub for one of the other working ports instead, or you can have Apple run a hardware diagnostic test on the machine to determine if there is a hardware failure
- If liquid has been splashed on your Mac or the MacBook has come into contact with water, take immediate steps to shut down and dry the Mac to avoid permanent damage – contact with liquid can destroy a Mac fairly quickly or hardware damage functionality, such as USB
- If some USB devices work on the Mac, but another USB device won’t, consider that the device may not be compatible with that particular Mac, that the USB device is faulty or not working, or, in some situations, the USB device may need specific hardware drivers from the manufacturer to work properly (usually the case with special-purpose devices, advanced scanners, etc.)
- If firmware and OS X software updates are available, install them on the Mac. You can check this by going to the Apple menu> App Store> Updates section – make sure you have a backupup of the Mac before installing system software
Why USB suddenly stopped working isn’t always clear, but when everything else is fine and the USB error came out of the blue, the hardware SMC reset is almost always the solution. This exact scenario happened to me recently when I was traveling with a MacBook Pro, where mysteriously many hardware functions on the Mac failed at the same time, with all USB ports stopped working with a USB device, a Bluetooth unavailable error appeared, sleep disturbance and fans were running up like a jet engine with no apparent cause – all the classic symptoms of something messed up with the system management controller, all easily resolved by the reset process outlined above and here. Of course I am an experienced Mac user so I knew this but since many other Mac users are less well known, this kind of troubleshooting is always worth discussing and sharing.
So if you ever run into total USB glitch on a Mac for no apparent reason, try the SMC reset, it will most likely work for you too.
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