When you store your data on a USB flash drive, an SD or microSD card, or in a solid state-drive (SSD), you’re counting on that piece of hardware to keep your files safe. While these flash storage systems have become an invaluable tool for data storage, the unfortunate reality is that even the most advanced hardware can fail when you need it most.
At TeraDrive, we’ve successfully recovered data previously thought lost from hundreds of USB flash drives, SD cards, and solid state drives (SSDs). In order to understand how we do our SSD data recovery process, you’ll need to have an understanding of how a flash storage drive works.
How Flash Storage Works
A USB flash drive is a small data storage device that has been steadily improving for years in terms of stability and capacity. We use USB drives for all manner of technical tasks, including simple file transfers from computer to computer, backups of important files, and simply keeping one around just in case you need to upload or download a file on the fly. These little sticks aren’t the only things that use flash media storage, however. Although they look and work a little differently, solid state drives and SD cards use essentially the same process to store your data.
Are They a Good Choice?
There are some drawbacks to using flash media over a mechanical storage method. Whereas a hard disk drive with a capacity of 4-6TB (4000-6000GB) can be purchased for just a couple hundred dollars, the same amount of money will get you a solid state drive with a much lower capacity. For any SSD larger than 120-512GB, prices for those are dropping slowly, however you still need to be prepared to part with a lot more of your hard-earned cash.
With that said, there are major advantages to using flash media storage rather than a physical storage method. One such selling point is the speed of a flash drive versus a mechanical one. A computer using an SSD can boot up at an incredible speed compared to one that’s using a hard disk drive. Another advantage of flash storage is its durability. Unlike a hard disk drive, which uses a mechanical disk to store and read data, a flash drive doesn’t have any moving parts. Instead, the drive utilizes an electronic storage method called flash media.
Put simply, flash media is computer memory that can be electronically changed and rewritten. This memory type isn’t reserved for just your USB stick, however. Other devices that use flash media include your cell phone, digital cameras, and more. This difference of flash media versus physical storage media generally makes a flash drive much more durable than other storage systems. Whereas dropping your hard disk drive can be a major concern, a flash drive will often hold up after more significant wear and tear. However, this doesn’t mean that flash drive failures can’t happen.
What Causes a Flash Drive Failure?
There are a number of possible reasons your flash drive could quit out on you. Here are some of the most common causes of flash drive failure that we run into during the course of our recovery work at TeraDrive:
Flash drives reaching their ‘endurance’ and ‘retention’ limits
When you get a new cell phone, you might be initially wowed by the long battery life. However, you may notice after months or years of using the phone that the battery seems to die slightly more quickly with every subsequent charge. This battery degradation is normal, and is similar to how a flash drive can degrade over time. Every flash drive is rated for a certain amount of write/erase cycles, which essentially tells you how many times the device can be connected to a device and have its files uploaded, accessed, or erased. These days, a flash drive can be rated for anywhere between 10 thousand to 100 thousand of these cycles.
Because a flash drive has no power supply, it relies on the device it’s connected to in order to receive power. However, each time the device is powered, it takes a physical toll on the hardware inside. Over time, the memory chips in your drive will wear out. The amount of time it takes for this to happen is often referred to as the ‘endurance’ of the drive. The exact rate of the drive’s endurance is dependent on the storage components used by the manufacturer.
Similarly, data retention is another factor to consider with your flash drive. This can be looked at as the shelf life of your drive. A drive with a good retention rate can safely store your data with no power provided for months or years. Again, this depends greatly on the hardware used by the manufacturer, but can also be impacted by extreme humidity.
What this means for a flash drive user is that, through no fault of your own, your USB drive can eventually fail simply through extended regular use. Since when it comes to data, it’s better to be safe than sorry, we recommend swapping out drives holding important files somewhat frequently, perhaps every year or two.
External environment factors
One of the greatest enemies of any kind of circuitry is moisture. While your drive hopefully has some kind of physical protection to separate the delicate hardware from the environment around it, this is bound to fail eventually. If your hard drive’s circuitry comes into contact with water of any kind, there’s a very good chance of a drive failure. This isn’t just limited to dropping your drive in a puddle, however. Seemingly harmless environmental factors, such as humidity, can create a build up of condensation inside the device, eventually causing a drive failure.
Fluctuations in power supply
While an SSD is less susceptible to data loss due to mechanical failure than a physical storage solution, unlike hard disk drives, SSDs are very sensitive to variations in their power supply. Power surges, unexpected shutdowns of the device, electrostatic discharge, and other variations in power supply can negatively impact the drive’s performance, and possibly lead to file corruption.
Improper device removal
By far the most common cause for a failed flash drive, improper device removal is a serious concern when it comes to keeping your data safe. There’s a reason your system tells you when your media device has been improperly ejected from your computer. That’s because an improper ejection may cause harm to the drive’s file system. By simply taking the extra three seconds to eject the drive, you essentially eliminate the chance of a drive malfunction.
The risk of removing your flash drive without properly ejecting it is less to do with erasing the actual contents of your drive, and more to do with damaging the drive’s file structure itself. What this means is that the drive itself still seems to be functioning, but you can’t access the files that were previously on it.
Don't Panic! We've Got You Covered
No matter the factors that led to your flash drive malfunction, TeraDrive is here to help. We have extensive experience in recovering data from all manner of flash media storage systems, including:
• SD cards
• MicroSD cards
• xD media
• Monolith chips
• Solid state drives of all kinds
• USB flash drives
When you choose TeraDrive for your flash storage data recovery, you’re not just enlisting our extensive experience in the field. You’re also getting access to a sophisticated data recovery lab in BC’s Lower Mainland, our CLASS 100-compliant clean room, and the most advanced proprietary recovery software.
If you need help
You can bring us your failed flash drive at one of our drop-off locations or we can retrieve it ourselves via our complimentary courier service sent to your home or office. Within 24 hours of us receiving the device, you’ll receive an extensive report of our diagnosis of the problem along with a quote.
Once you’ve approved the quote for the job, we immediately get to work on recovering your lost data, which will be transferred to a new drive, or made available via secure digital download for collections less than 20GB. Best of all, we don’t charge you for a single thing if our recovery is unsuccessful. That’s how confident we are in our ability to restore what’s been lost.
Recover Your Flash Drive Data
Our motto is “nothing is lost forever” and our policy is: no data, no fee!
So contact our experts at TeraDrive today!