How to stop HP printers from grabbing drive letters

A few months ago, I purchased a used HP Officejet Pro L7780 for my parents.  It was quite an upgrade from the little Epson all-in-one that they had been using for the past few years.  But there was a problem…

The software and drivers are painful to use.

I don’t know what kind of UX work went into this stuff, but it wasn’t enough.  The drivers aren’t easy to install (especially for the scanner function), errors are cryptic and have a morbid finality to them, and a lot of the software’s behaviour isn’t user-customizable.

My biggest gripe, outside of the installation problems, is with the network mapping feature. The printer has a set of media card slots (SD, compact flash, etc.) that can be mapped to a drive letter on the user’s computer.  For some reason, known only to HP, the mapping isn’t persistent and it isn’t controlled by the user; that is to say, the mapping has to be re-established each time the system boots, and the user can’t tell it which drive letter to use.

HP’s kludgy solution to the persistence issue (which is odd since persistent mapping is a feature in many operating systems) is to run a service at boot time.  The service checks for available drive letters starting at Z and working backwards.  When it finds one, it assigns it to the printer’s card slots.  This means that no matter how you arrange your drives, the printer’s card slots will always show up somewhere in your drive list.  It also means that the card slots can bounce around the drive listing with no fixed address.

For most of us, this isn’t a practical problem, just an annoyance.  I can see that this behaviour would be beneficial in some situations.  For instance, a novice user won’t be able to accidentally block access to the card slots by assigning their preferred drive letter to another device.

Personally, I want to be asked for my preference and I want to be able to change the software’s behaviour.

There is no way to use HP’s software to assign a preferred drive letter.  It will always do the search from Z to A.

Stop the HP mapping service

The network drive mapping is done by a service called “HP Network Devices Support”.  By default, the service launches when Windows boots.  The easiest thing to do is to disable the service completely.

Open up the Services management console.  In Windows 7, click on the Start button, type services.msc then press the Enter key.

Scroll through the list until you find HP Network Devices Support.

You can see that the “Startup Type” is set to Automatic (Delayed).

Right-click on “HP Network Devices Support” and left-click on Properties.

Left-click on the Startup Type drop-down box and select Disabled.  Click Apply.  Now turn off the service by clicking on Stop.  Now click OK.

When you’re done, the Services console should look like this:

Okay, you’re done!  The HP software will no longer try to map your printer’s card slots.  Please note that you will still get pop-ups from HP software telling you that your printer is disconnected.  If you want to stop those notifications completely, go back to the Services console, then Stop and Disable the following services:

  • HP Cue DeviceDiscovery Service
  • HP Service
  • hpqcxs08
If you still want access to the media slots, read on.

Making a permanent mapping

Under Windows 7, setting this up is quite easy.

Click the Start button, then click on Computer in the menu that appears.  You should see a list of drives.

There will be a set of links near the top of the window which say Organize, System properties, etc.  Click on the one that says Map network drive.

Choose your preferred drive letter from the list.

For this next part, you need to know the IP address or the network name of your printer.  The network name is best, since the printer’s IP may change if your router uses DHCP to assign addresses.  The network name will stay the same.

If you’re unsure of the IP or the network name, check your router’s setup.  It should have a list of connected devices.

Click in the text field next to Folder, then type two backslashes, followed by the IP or the network name of the printer.  Now click the Browse button.  A dialog window should open with a list of network devices.  If your printer appears in the list, click on the triangle next to it to reveal a folder named “memory_card“.  Click on “memory_card“, then OK.

To make this mapping permanent, click the checkbox next to “Reconnect at logon”.

The printer should now be listed in Computer with the drive letter you chose.

Some User Experience Mistakes

  • Unexpected behaviour:  the printer’s card slots are storage devices, but they are behaving unlike other storage devices.  When the user adds a new USB stick or other memory device, Windows either asks for a preferred drive letter or it assigns the next available drive letter sorted from A to Z.  The HP software doesn’t ask the user for a preferred letter and chooses the next available letter sorted from Z to A.
  • No choice / lack of choice:  there is no way for a user to change the drive mapping behaviour by using the printer’s software.  The user is forced to either live with it or disable the mapping service entirely.  The card slots can be manually mapped to a specific drive letter, but this is an advanced procedure that most users couldn’t do.