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A guy I work with just came by to ask me about a damaged thumb drive/USB flash drive. Apparently his son dropped it on a hard surface and it won't power up anymore. They've tried plugging it into multiple machines without success, even though each port they tried was able to power other USB devices. He knows it's not a lost cause because a local tech store is offering to recover the data for $500, but he says they're not worth that much. I figured someone on SU would have an idea about this; he doesn't care about using the drive in the future, just wants to salvage a few files that would be a pain to recreate. Is this possible without advanced equipment, and if so, how?

He said he already tried the advice on the Internet about typing in different drive letters and such, but that failed because there was no power going to the drive. He also said that he opened the case up at one point, but I'm not sure what, if anything, he did inside.

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It sounds dead to me, probably a broken connection somewhere inside. –  ChrisF Mar 24 '10 at 15:41
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That was my initial reaction too, but he said the store was pretty confident that they could make it happen. I have no idea what kind of tools they have, though. –  Pops Mar 24 '10 at 15:43
    
Remember that today is backup awareness day –  RichN Mar 25 '10 at 5:09
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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

At $500 I suspect the store would normally send the USB device to a data recovery specialist - the sort that do data recovery or forensic from magnetic media like hard drives, where they would try to access using various physical / mechanical techniques.

I don't have any experience in that business, but two simple types of physical damage that could be caused by a jarring force like a drop would include a broken solder joint between the chips' pins and the printed circuit board (PCB), or a perhaps less common, a break in the copper trace on the PCB itself (such as from flexing of the PCB). Someone with a electronics and soldering / re-soldering experience of Surface-Mount Devices (SMD / SMT) could attempt these sorts of repairs.

That might run you $50-100 USD if you had to pay for a electronics / soldering professional directly yourself, I would guess.

In general, if the Flash chips are electrically damaged, with electrostatic discharge damage being the most common; others include incorrect voltage (too high can be physically damaging to the chip, but too low may make a write operation to the Flash memory fail), voltage line surge (commonly caused by indirect lightning activity in area, and power grid problems), I don't know if data recovery centres have tools to extract ("dump") from defective or semi-defective chips. Perhaps, and that would be $500 worth of work.

If it is mechanical damage, data recovery software won't help. From the sounds of your situation, I suspect mechanical damage rather than file system corruption.

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@mctylr: yes, I agree with you, file system/data corruption would not have happened just from dropping the device...like you said, probably mechanical. –  studiohack Mar 24 '10 at 16:36
    
Do reinforce this fact, I accidentally plugged the wrong power source to an external hard drive of mine and accidentally fried a diode. I managed find a page online in that removing the diode allowed the drive to power on long enough to recover my info. Unless you know a few things about electronics and soldering, I would have it sent off. –  hydroparadise May 15 '12 at 13:08
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If you know someone who have some electronic skills, you can try to inspect and maybe resolder some pins that may have their solder broken.

I recently repaired a thumb drive like so. Two pins in the corner of one of the controller IC had the solder been broken between the pin and the solder pad (Barely not visible).

But be careful, as this may be very easy to destroy it if not done correctly...

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Take the flash drive apart (with cutters if necessary), making sure to harm only plastic. Reflow all solder joints carefully with a fine-point soldering iron. Enlist a friend with electronic soldering experience to do this if you haven't done it before, or you will fsck it up.

If it's BGA (and it's probably not if it's an older flash drive), you will need a hot-air rework station and a jig to apply new solder balls onto the BGA packages, then you'll need to clean the old solder off the pads and reflow the refurbished BGA parts back onto the board.

Total cost: $0, yet almost certain to be successful.

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Your total cost figure amortizes the cost of the hot-air rework station, soldering iron, jig and cutters across other projects. So, while the price may be $0 in your case, it'll be higher in his case. Good details, though. –  Pops Mar 25 '10 at 13:33
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This page might be useful if you are planning to use soldering devices: How to repair usb flah drive Good luck.

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Welcome to Super User! Whilst this may theoretically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference, rather than just posting the link. –  Pops Nov 14 '13 at 21:26
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