Can you recover data from a bent memory stick?

USB flash drives are convenient, easy-to-use and – thanks to continuously developing technology – can even offer up to 2TBs of storage. For all of the positives these mobile and reliable pieces of storage media offer, however, their diminutiveness and fragility are significant problems that are regularly behind physical damage that leads to data loss. So delicate are these devices that it’s by no means uncommon for them to bend or even break in two, leading owners to conclude that their files are lost forever; an understandable but incorrect assumption.

Whilst HDDs store data by writing it onto the surface of a magnetic material, flash drives write data onto NAND chips. Just as a damaged platter will significantly and negatively impact the prospects of recovering data from a damaged hard drive, a broken or damaged NAND chip or chips will make the of recovering the data stored on them harder. Generally speaking, though, when a USB stick suffers damage, it is rare that these chips that have been affected.

The common fault with flash drives

As they’re the weakest point in all flash drives, damaged USB plugs (the part of the drive that you physically insert into a computer or other device) are beyond a shadow of a doubt the most common physical problem afflicting USB sticks. Generally, this can be resolved by soldering the cap back onto the drive but this is extremely delicate work – particularly as drive’s NAND chips tend to be located near the USB plug – and, sometimes, this makes it too risky to attempt such a repair. When this is the case, the data can be retrieved via one of two methods.

How do you recover data from damaged flash drives?

Chip-off recovery

As the name suggests the chip-off data recovery technique involves removing the NAND chips from the afflicted device’s circuit board. This, as you can imagine, is a task that requires time, a steady hand and delicacy.

Once the chip has been removed, we use specialist equipment in order to read the data held on the chip, identify a bespoke recovery plan and, following this, attempt to retrieve the data that’s present.

JTAG

Unlike the chip-off technique, JTAG can be used to recover data without needing to remove the NAND chip thus significantly reducing the likelihood of it being damaged. Whilst this would suggest that JTAG is superior to chip-off techniques, though, it is a far more time-consuming process.

What’s next?

Once we’ve extracted the raw data from the chips, our engineers begin the process of piecing it back together in order to generate readable, working files.

Previously, recovering data from failed and damaged USB sticks was often an impossible task but, thanks to developing technologies, it is now significantly more feasible. Furthermore, with technology also continuing to improve on a frequent basis, recovering data from damaged and failed USB drives is becoming more and more practicable every day. 

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