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Why would a computer show drive letters for discs that don't exist?

If a computer shows drive letters for removable discs that aren't physically connected to it when no hard disk partitioning has been done, could a virus be responsible? Our network administration expert explains.

I am an assistant systems administrator in my organization. One computer in the network shows that there are four removable discs (i.e., Drive E, F, G and H), but in reality there is no such device connected to it. I am surprised to see this, because when I go to my computer and see that list of drives, no partitioning has been done. Do you think there is a virus causing this?
Ah, this is a case of the phantom drive letters! I haven't seen this in a while but there are a few things that I would recommend to investigate. The first thing to do is to navigate to drive management (Right click on My Computer -> Manage -> Disk Management for XP machines) on the computer and identify what the Operating System thinks that these drives are. Are they accessible? Can you click on them? Do they open up anything? What are they formatted as?

Since they're listed as removable drives, can you navigate to the USB management platform and click remove? Do they disappear after that?

If neither of these options work, the only proven solution I've had was to backup the computer and re-install the operating system. I don't know that it's a virus. I haven't seen any viruses with that type of signature but it is very possible that you need to re-install the OS anyway.

This was last published in May 2009

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