Bad laptop USB ports

My USB mouse on the laptop stopped working the other night.  I replaced the mouse with a known-working one and even it didn’t work on the laptop.  I wasn’t prepared to debug the thing at the time, so I continued my work using the built-in mouse stick.  But the computer was slow and Task Manager showed that I was using 100% CPU.

A little debugging with Process Explorer revealed the culprit:  the USB driver.  Odd, that.  Still going with the bad mouse theory, I figured that the mouse had somehow caused the driver to freak out.  So I rebooted the computer.  That solved the problem.  For a bit.  Then the mouse stopped working.

Now here’s the odd part.  As long as I leave the mouse plugged in to the USB port, everything else is fine.  None of the USB ports work, but there’s no excess CPU usage.  But as soon as I unplug the mouse, CPU usage goes to 100%.

I’ve looked around online and have tried most of the solutions others with this problem have tried:  uninstalling the devices and letting them re-install on reboot, updating the driver, etc.  All to no avail.  The mouse works fine for a while when I first restart, but it stops working after some unpredictable amount of time.

The one solution I haven’t tried yet is re-installing the operating system (Windows XP Pro).  I hesitate to go to that effort if it’s not required, but I have no idea what else to try.  The USB ports on this Dell 630 notebook are built into the motherboard, so there’s no chance of just replacing them.  And by the time I pay for a new motherboard and the labor to install it, I’m out about the same amount it would cost me to just buy a refurbished replacement computer.

I can limp along without USB ports for a while, but it’s not a good long-term solution.

I’d sure like to hear from anybody who’s had a similar problem, and learn how you solved it (if you did).  I suppose I’ll try the full disk wipe and OS restore, as much as I hate to do it.  I can’t think of how that’d solve the problem, but I also can’t think of any other possible solution.