Common failures of USB drives

USB snapped

What is the most common failure of USB flash drives? USB drives fail for a variety of reasons. However, not all failures are the same…

Bent or broken USB connector

This is probably one of the most common issues we see at our laboratory. USB drives protrude out of laptops and desktops and, for that reason, are very prone to getting accidentally hit or kicked. If hit hard enough, the USB connector can separate from the PCB (Printed Circuit Board). Sometimes this fix can be as easy as re-soldering the connector to the PCB, but other times the solder pads that control the data and power are physically ripped up with the connector. Once the pad is gone we have to locate an alternate trace to tap into for recovery.
If your USB drive has a broken connector do not plug it back into the computer until it has been diagnosed and repaired. The first reaction is to bend it and plug it back in to see if it works, but this can cause even more damage! When a connector breaks off, the internal legs can bend allowing them to touch other components that it should never touch. What once was a simple recovery of a broken connector can become a larger problem, such as shorting out other components on the PCB.

Cracked in half

Similar to the above failure, but instead of just the connector breaking off the actual PCB has been cracked into two pieces. Typically, there is no repairing the board due to the amount of physical damage, but as long as the Nand memory chip(s) were not cracked then we can de-solder the chip(s) and dump in a special reader. This level of repair is not something your average shop can recover from. It will require specialized equipment and expertise in order to recover your data.

Device asking to be formatted

Another common issue we see are USB drives that ask to be formatted when inserted into a computer. There are a few root causes to this error. Sometimes the flash drive is on its last leg and can’t fully read the file system metadata. This could be from a physically failing component, such as the Nand chip itself. Another reason for this message could be the drive has logically corrupted data in the file system metadata. If this message pops up asking to format do not format the drive as this will only further complicate the issue.

Accidental format

Nowadays, people have multiple devices plugged in to their computer at the same time. Flash drives, external hard drives, cameras, phones, memory cards, and portable SSDs are some of the devices we use daily. It can sometimes be confusing as to which device is which leading many people to accidentally format the wrong device.
Fortunately, most times that a drive is formatted it’s a quick format, which only overwrites a small part of the drives metadata rather than overwriting all the data on the device. 90% of the time the recovery is straight forward, but as we move into the future where more devices are fully encrypted there will be new complications and hurdles when it comes to formatted data recovery. In the event of this type of failure, you should leave the device unplugged until a professional can look at the device to prevent further damage to the data.

Device ID’s as “generic device”

The most difficult to solve of all USB failures is firmware failure. USB drives have a controller, or “brain”, on the PCB that processes data stored on the Nand chips. The Nand chips also store error correcting code to help fix bit errors. Over time the Nand chips develop more and more bit errors to a point that error correction does not function leading to corrupt data. The firmware of a device resides on the Nand memory chip just like the data does meaning it can be corrupted as well. If the firmware data that translates logical addresses to physical addresses in the Nand chip becomes corrupt, the drive cannot fully initialize firmware or user data.

In Conclusion

With all of these failures in mind, be weary of letting the average computer shop attempt to fix your device if they aren’t proficient in flash recovery or repair. We have received many drives that have been taken elsewhere to be “fixed” only to find the work they performed made matters worse due to improper soldering techniques, etc. Your best bet, should you face any of these common flash drive failures, is to send your device to a skilled and experienced laboratory like Data Analyzers. You can reach Data Analyzers for assistance with USB flash data recovery, at 866-456-DATA!

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