How to Recover Data from a Broken or Corrupted USB Drive

crushed usb drive

Let’s face it; we can be pretty rough with our stuff. Thanks to their portability, custom USB flash drives are among the many victims of everyday wear and tear. They can withstand a battery of survival tests depending on the model, but they do have their limits. Even the sturdiest and rugged drives will be crushed under the tires of your SUV after it falls out of your pocket. Sometimes the damage isn’t so obvious, like when a perfectly undamaged drive refuses to function when plugged in. It’s either too damaged to use or it’s corrupted. What happens when you need flash drive data recovery? At what point is a broken USB drive beyond repair? When is it time to throw in the towel with a corrupted drive?

There are two categories of failure that you could be facing: hardware or software related.

Physical damage to USB drive

Physical damage could be to the drive body, connector port (the little nose that you plug in), or to interior hardware. If your metal connector is smashed to the point where it no longer fits into the USB port, you could try to pry it open with needle nose pliers—but you’ll need to be extra careful so that you don’t cause further damage to the drive, not to mention yourself. Unfortunately, usually self-repair doesn’t get you anywhere. Without expert help, there’s no telling if your attempts at reshaping will allow it to fit into a port. It could cost between $20-850 to repair your drive and recover your data depending on the level of damage and type of recovery needed.

shoe stepping on usb drive.

If another component of the USB drive has suffered from impact, there might be less of a chance to retrieve information. It all depends on the location of the damage. The most important thing to remember for your chances of salvaging precious data is that the NAND memory chip (the black silicon wafer inside your drive) is still intact. If it’s still in one piece, professional recovery experts have a strong chance of successful file retrieval (close to 99 to 100 percent).

If your drive doesn’t seem to connect to your computer but doesn’t have any apparent physical damage, there might be debris or foreign objects in the port itself. Try gently brushing a cotton q-tip or toothpick inside the mouth to brush it out. If that doesn’t work, either an interior component is broken or you have a technical error, such as corruption.

Non-Physical damage to USB drive

Corruption to a USB drive is frustrating because you often aren’t aware there is an issue until you try to use your data. Physical damage can be seen but the source of the corruption may not be clear. It occurs when your computer can’t complete a task you request due to software issues. Issues may range between being unable to open files or files that are seemingly filled with nonsense.

Common causes of data corruption are:

  1. USB driver issues
  2. NAND memory wear
  3. Sudden power loss
  4. Program crashes
  5. Operating system crashes
  6. Improper disconnect

With a non-physical flash drive failure like file corruption, a repair service can reverse the controller to get the data. The solution for data retrieval in a device that was unharmed but stopped working is to remove some of the capacitors after taking off the outer casing. A USB cable is connected so that the computer can attempt to read lost files. If you’re not the engineering type or don’t want to send out your drive to a repair shop, you can also try flash drive data recovery software to do a scan of your drive before you spend the dollars to get it repaired elsewhere.

There are also other methods to try and recover your files that don’t require software. First, you’ll need to check for logical (ie software) issues.

How to scan for logical issues using Windows:

  1. Insert USB drive
  2. Click “My Computer” and then the Removable Disk icon
  3. Right click the Removable Disk icon and open Properties
  4. Click “Tools”
  5. Click “Check Now”
  6. Check both “Automatically fix file system errors” and “Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors”
  7. Click “Start” which will start the scan
  8. Close when scan is done

How to recover data on a USB drive using Windows Checklist Utility:

chkdsk command.

  1. Plug in your USB drive
  2. Bring up the Command Prompt by going to My Computer and typing “cmd” and Enter
  3. In that window, type “chkdsk H: /f” (replace the “h” with the drive letter of your flash drive) and Enter
  4. Type “Y” and Enter
  5. Type the drive letter you used in step 3 and then Enter
  6. Type “H:>attrib –h –r –s /s /d *.*” and then Enter (Again, “H” is the drive letter from step 3)
  7. Wait for process to complete

You should find your files in a newly constructed folder on your USB drive. If you prefer to use free software to recover your data, we recommend using Recuva or EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Free.

When USB Flash Drive Data is Lost for Good

It cannot be stressed enough that a cracked or broken NAND chip will make it impossible to save your flash drive files because this central hub is where the entire library of data is stored. It operates as a whole, so having only pieces will not allow it to function.

Encrypted flash drives can be a little tricky for USB data recovery. While there’s hope to salvage your sensitive documents on an encrypted device with physical damage, a technical failure may not be so promising because of how this kind of data is digitally filed away and partitioned.

Micro flash drives and other chip on board (COB) drives are also not fixable since the chip is placed directly on the circuitry and covered in epoxy or silicon. As a result, it only leaves the plastic wafer and metal contacts, which doesn’t allow for access to the internal parts that would need to be fixed.

Data recovery, especially from USB drives, is an important skill to learn in this era of digitized information. When you have a broken flash drive, you’ll be able to handle the situation and retrieve your data without breaking a sweat.

Data Storage Tips

  • Regularly back up your files on other devices like hard drives and solid-state drives; this will limit the number of read/write cycles on your flash drive
  • Try not to be rough handling your device to lessen the chance of physical damage
  • Gently remove the drive from its port to avoid connector damage
  • Consider replacing your flash drives every few years to reduce the chance of corruption
  • Replace your flash drive if you regularly encounter data corruption; if you continue to experience corruption then use a different port or card reader