What Is a Mass Storage Controller?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A mass storage controller communicates between a mass storage device and a computer system. It acts as a driver to allow the systems to exchange information and commands with each other. The driver may be installed with the device, and it is also possible to replace it if it becomes corrupted, as may occur after a computer virus or hacking. Manufacturers of mass storage devices may make downloads of their controllers freely available for customers.

An external hard drive, a type of mass storage device.
An external hard drive, a type of mass storage device.

Devices used for mass storage can include internal and external hard drives, as well as equipment like flash drives, designed specifically for portability. In all cases, the device holds data in a consistent and stable fashion that includes a file structure and various security measures. The difference between “mass” and other kinds of storage can depend on the device and the use, as data capacity continually increases. An amount of data that may seem large for one system could be considered small for another.

A USB drive.
A USB drive.

When users want to access their mass storage, they do so through the controller. The controller provides the computer with a list of the contents, organized in a file tree or other system. Users can select the individual files they want to transfer, copy, edit, or otherwise work with. Signals from the user are sent through the mass storage controller to make the necessary changes. Controllers can also temporarily stop operations while the device is busy, and may shut down the mass storage device to allow the user to safely remove it.

Operating systems often include a library of common drivers and controllers. When users plug in new components, the system may be able to automatically connect with them, install the right driver, and establish communication. In some cases, the computer’s library may not be sufficient and the user may need to install a driver package that includes a mass storage controller. If the computer uses the wrong device, it may compromise the stored data or provide inaccurate information, such as a message that a disc is full when it is not.

Computer users may occasionally encounter an error related to the mass storage controller, such as a message that it cannot be found or is not operating properly. Restarting the system may resolve the problem. Users can also work backward from the last major system change to determine if they did something that might have caused an issue. If these troubleshooting tactics do not work, the controller may be corrupted, in which case it should be removed and reinstalled.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Markerrag

Although mass storage controller drivers are among the most common on the planet and are typically built into operating systems, there has been a problem with some mass controller drivers working with Windows Vista/7/8. This is particularly true when it comes to older, external hard drives.

If you're getting a new computer and have an older external drive that is important, it might be a good idea to check and make sure if it works with your new operating system. I found that out the hard way -- I got a Windows 7 machine that wouldn't pick up an old Seagate drive, so I had to plug the drive into an XP machine, download the files and migrate them to my new computer. That process is as time consuming and as awful as it sounds.

The same is true if you're moving from one operating system to another -- will that critical hard drive that you used with Windows XP work on Linux or Mac OS? Maybe or maybe not.

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