Data recovery from memory sticks…

Are you getting the error message ‘You need to format the drive, before you can use it’ when trying to read back files from your memory stick? Of course you don’t want to format the memory stick, otherwise you will lose all the data. But what you do to recover the files?

This error message is a common one and doesn’t give the user any indication as to what may be wrong. Over usage, corrupt file systems, media degradation, infection and physical damage may all cause this error message. Firstly, you need to stop any operation which may cause overwriting.

Before spending any money on data recovery software, try free utilities. The best available is TestDisk, a free open source utility. At best it will recover all your data and at worst it will collect detailed technical information about the failure, so you can get quotes from data recovery experts.

TestDisk is a command line prompt, meaning that there is no graphical user interface. Don’t be put off by this, because it is one of the most powerful data recovery program around and is relatively easy to use. Before downloading it, check that your particular file and operating system is supported. TestDisk will query the BIOS and operating system to find your memory stick and its characteristics. Thereafter it will check the drive’s structure and any entry errors, looking for a list of possible partitions that may be corrupted.

To recover data using this utility, firstly choose ‘create log file’ and select which device to use. Thereafter ‘Analyze>Proceed>Search’ to scan for partitions. This will take a little while but once your lost partition is found, select it and choose ‘List’ to get a file listing.

If TestDisk doesn’t recover your data, there is little option but to seek specialist help. Memory sticks are prone to physical damage and media degradation due to their delicate, cheap components. If the circuitry or interface is damaged, the only option is a JTAG or ‘chip-off’ analysis. Here we actually remove the NAND chip that stores your data and use a specialist data extractor to read the information on the chip.