Physical vs Logical USB Data Recovery

USB – which stands for universal serial bus – is an industry standard that was adopted by manufacturers in the 1980s. While they are incredibly cheap and portable, they are prone to physical and logical damage. But how easy is USB data recovery?

The USB flash drive first went on the market in the early 2000s, and since then it’s become an incredibly popular way to store files due to its portability and affordability. Thanks to continued developments in NAND flash technology, USB flash drives are now reaching unprecedented capacities – there is currently a 1TB model manufactured by Kingston. Because of the ubiquitousness of the format, more people than ever are finding themselves in need of professional USB data recovery. As NAND flash technology has developed over the years, the cost-per-bit has drastically reduced, and the ultimate aim of flash storage is to replace traditional hard disk drives. So how are USB flash drives different from external USB hard drives? There are essentially two types of memory – volatile and non-volatile. Volatile memory is only temporary, so when the power supply is cut off, the data vanishes, and this is how data is stored on hard disk drives. Data is written to a magnetic platter with heads, which is why hard drives emit a noise and are generally more prone to physical damage. Non-volatile memory is present all the time, even when there’s no power supply – and this is how data is stored on USB sticks. Because there are no moving parts, in theory, flash-based devices are safer from knocks and bumps. But they’re not immune from physical damage, and we complete USB data recovery on dozens of devices every month.

It’s everyone’s worst nightmare – you plug your USB flash drive into your computer, and it’s not being recognised, or your files and folders are missing. Because USB flash drives are often made with cheap components, they are very susceptible to physical damage; typically, this involves damage to the NAND memory chip, USB connector or circuit board. If the USB connector is damaged, it can cut off the power supply to the drive, leading to it not being recognised by the operating system. If this is the only problem with the device, USB data recovery will be relatively easy, as the data will still be intact on the NAND flash chips. Repairing the damaged connector will require soldering and circuit repair, which we highly recommend leaving to a professional USB data recovery specialist. It’s definitely worth trying your USB flash drive in another USB port, and on another machine, just in case it’s there’s a fault with your computer’s connector. If you can rule out a physical issue with your USB flash drive, it could be a logical one.

Generally, logical USB data recovery is easier to complete than physical recovery, and can be done at home. If your USB flash drive has seen a lot of use, there’s a possibility it has developed bad sectors. These are portions of data on your USB flash drive that are unable to be read by your computer, and require the file structure to be repaired before the drive can be accessed again. On Windows machines, you can scan for bad sectors right-clicking on your USB stick in ‘Computer’ and clicking ‘Properties’. Click the ‘Tools’ tab, and check both ‘Automatically fix file system errors’ and ‘Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors’, and then click ‘Check Now’. The operating system will then begin scanning for bad sectors, and if successful, you’ll be able to access your data again.

If you’ve ruled out a logical problem and suspect a physical fault with your USB flash drive, we’d advise consulting a USB data recovery expert.

USB Data Recovery