Putting the Thumb Drive to the Screws
Thumb drives are probably one of the best things to come along in the realm of computers. Before people had to use floppy disks which could only hold a megabyte at a time, or CDs that took forever to burn. But flash drives? Put it into the USB port, save our files, give it to a friend or coworker, and we’re off.
Until the day when we put the flash drive into our media device to watch a movie, or get a file from a client for an important project and discover that the drive can’t be read. We insert it and – nothing happens. And we need to get those files back.
How Flash Drives Get Damaged
Flash drives are pretty hardy. Because they don’t have moving parts, they’re more likely than their hard drive siblings to survive being dropped, handle extreme ranges of heat and cold – some have even survived being swallowed by people. (Note: Don’t swallow flash drives.)
That doesn’t mean they’re invulnerable to physical damage. Left out in salty air and the contacts can become corroded. Expose them to too much heat, and even the electronics can melt. And like the fabled gremlins from the movie of the same name, they really don’t like getting wet.
The other way a flash drive can become corrupted is via software. Some operating systems, such as Mac OS X or Linux, require that a drive is “ejected” before it’s removed. Taking it out without ejecting it can cause file corruption.
Even on Windows, if large files are being transferred to a flash drive and it’s pulled out before it’s complete, it can cause the drive to have partition error. This is where the data for the files may be on the thumb drive, but the drive itself doesn’t know how to find them because the mapping is damaged.
Other ways a flash drive can become damaged is by being overloaded. Trying to copy too many files at once can overwhelm an operating system, and slowly grind it to a halt. Imagine 20 people all trying to squeeze through a doorway at the same time instead of taking turns, and we can see how things can go horribly wrong.
And the last way that a flash drive can lose its files is through simple user error. Accidentally deleting the file on a pen drive, or when selecting what drives to format picking the wrong drive. It happens to everyone at some point, but there are still ways to get those files back.
#1 Fixing Physical Issues
Before we stick the damaged pen drive into the computer, we should take a look the flash drive itself to see what can be done to prepare it for insertion.
Steps to recover data from a corrupted pen drive by minimizing the physical issues:
- Wet the end of a cotton swab with rubbing alcohol, and wipe clean the contacts.
- Clean off the contacts. Wait until dry.
- Examine the flash drive casing for cracks. If so, the circuit board could have gotten wet. If there are cracks, submerge it into a bowl of dry rice overnight. The rice will absorb the excess moisture, which can get the pen drive back into working order.
- Connect the drive to the computer. If it connects and the files are accessible again, then we’re finished!
If the partition map is still corrupted or isn’t recognized by the computer, then we’ll need to try fixing it at the software level.
#2 Fixing Software Issues
If the flash drive connects, the light comes on (if it has a light), but we still can’t read from it, then time to get out some software tools. First thing is to download the pen drive recovery software Disk Drill, made by CleverFiles.
It works on both Windows and macOS systems to recover a corrupted flash drive. We can download it and try for free.
To recover damaged files from the USB drive:
- Launch File Explorer and (under Windows 10) click on “This PC.” We’ll be able to see all of the drives in the system. In this example, we have C:, D:, E:, and L:
- Plug the drive into the computer. If the computer recognizes it, we’ll see the drive show up in our File Explorer.
For this example, it registers as being drive F:
- Look at the list of drives in File Explorer. If the USB drive doesn’t display, it means that Windows doesn’t recognize the drive, or perhaps the partition map has been corrupted. One way to find out is to launch the program “Disk Management” which is built into nearly every version of Windows. It will display drive partitions even if they haven’t been assigned a drive letter. It’s one way to verify that Windows recognizes the drive:Note: Do not select the partition in Disk Management and attempt to reformat it – this can cause the files we are trying to restore to be lost forever.
- Start Disk Drill. For this example, we’ll be demonstrating how to use a pen drive where the partition was deleted by accident, so Windows doesn’t even recognize the drive. Once it’s up and running, it will display all of the drives and partitions it sees. If the one we want is not displayed, look at the top right side. It will list how many item(s) are hidden. Click “show them” and even the hidden partitions will appear:
- Select the USB drive we’re interested in. In this example, the SanDisk USB Device is the corrupted USB drive we want to recover files from, but it hasn’t been assigned a drive letter. Click “Recover” next to it, and Disk Drill will start through its procedures.
- Wait as Disk Drill scans the damaged pen drive. It will start to display recovered files and directories as the process continues.If the files or folders we want to restore are displayed, click “Pause” to halt the scan procedure. If we change our minds and want it to continue scanning, select “Resume” to go back to scanning the drive.
- Choose the destination folder. Select the files we want to recover by clicking on the checkmark square to the left of the file name. Next to “Recover to:”, set the directory where the files will be restored to, then click “Recover”:
- Wait for Disk Drill to display a message when it’s the process is complete. It will look something like this:
- Go back to File Explorer, and go to the directory where we set as the “restore files directory”. Looks like we have success!
- Open the file to verify that the contents have been restored.
A damaged or corrupted USB flash drive is not the end of the world, but it can feel that way. Using the tips provided, there’s a good chance that a damaged USB drive can be restored to being a working USB pen drive. All of the tools here, like Disk Drill, are free to download, so give them a try and best of luck.