What steps can I take to try to recover lost or inaccessible data from any storage device?
- This applies to any computer storage device, e.g. internal/external hard drives, USB sticks, flash memory.
- The most important thing is to STOP using it , any type of I/O can ruin your chances of a recovery.
- Click here in case you suspect corruption or bad sectors.
- Click here in case you suspect mechanical issues.
We have separate questions covering common problems with USB flash drives in greater detail:
- Click here if your flash drive appears as an empty disk drive with no media inserted.
- Click here if your flash drive appears to be much smaller than it should.
- Click here if your flash drive is write-protected or read-only.
If you have a mechanical failure (e.g. random crashes, just stops working one day, weird “screeching”/”beeping” type noises), EVERY time you plug it in and turn on, you could be making it much worse. If it is very important data, I would recommend taking it to a lab / professional data recovery service.
However, if you want to do it yourself, you can summarise mechanical failure into two categories:
First, Spindle/inside problems. This is the worst thing that can happen to a physical hard drive, If it is this, it really depends how bad. My favourite tool for this (not free) is R-Studio, it allows you to create an image from the drive and performs many passes*, then perform the recovery from the image.
* (I have actually had drives fail a read from a sector, but just from trying over and over, it has worked – even unplugging and plugging it back in)
Depending on how important the data is, and if you are not able to read, I would try the freezer trick. This sounds like a joke but it really is not. Put the drive in an air tight bag and stick it in the freezer for a good few hours (I usually leave it in for 6 hours or overnight), then, when you plug it in, you can get a good 15-30 minutes before it crashes again.
If it is a controller board problem then, the only way to fix it is to re-flash the drive (check manufacturers website), or most commonly, switch the controller board (Carefully) from one that is an identical model.
For flash drives, again, if important, go to a lab. If you want to do it yourself, there isn’t really a lot to say.
Typically, if it is the controller, when you plug in the drive, nothing will happen. If it is the flash memory itself, it sort of acts like a floppy/CD drive without the media in – you can see a drive letter, but just can’t access it (sometimes get the insert media warning).
If it is the memory itself, I do not know a fix.
If however it is the controller, I have only ever had luck about 40% of the time doing it myself(and it depends on the architecture of the stick). Many of the cheaper sticks you see have two boards – one is the controller and the second (not sure the technical term), is a snap on daughter board. You can usually just unplug the memory and plug it in to another board.
Usually the board doesn’t even have to be from a similar drive, just try to get the chip provider correct (e.g. branding on one of the ICs), the most common one I see is from Winbond and they typically work with any memory chip.
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