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My friend just wrote to me, all in panic, that he had broken his USB with his math homework for tomorrow. (Yes, no other backups, just that.) It looks like this now:

Is there any way that I could fix this? My thinking is soldering it together but I want to hear if anybody has experience with this or any tips?

Another option would be to see if Word has saved the file as a temporary file, but in the places my friend has looked there was nothing.

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The hard part is getting it done by tomorrow. I suspect a skilled soldering-type guy (used to call them "wiremen", but I'm sure that's changed) could put it more or less back together. But if you need to have it by tomorrow, do do the best you can, but plug it into a USB extension cord, not the computer, so you put less stress on it. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 17 '14 at 18:58
There are 4 fairly big solder points holding the connector to the PCB, it's very easy to solder them back together. – user256743 Aug 18 '14 at 0:07
I've successfully soldered a USB drive back after it snapped off like yours (only on both sides). It's at home and I'll try to post pictures of how I did it later but it is definitely possible. – Michael Theriot Aug 18 '14 at 18:35

8 Answers 8

I broke a capacitor off a (very expensive) video card once. I am not the best with a soldering iron, so I didn't want to risk ruining my card. I brought it to a TV repair shop in my area and the technician was able to solder it back on. It cost me $30, I think. That might work for you.

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+1 it is not that hard for someone with a relatively steady hand and some experience soldering to fix it - especially in the way you described in the comments to @Tetsujin's answer. I would recommend contacting someone competent in that regard, especially since a replacement plug might be necessary. – mikołak Aug 17 '14 at 18:41
If you are an a university find an electric engineer and see if he/she will do it for a beer or something. Probably cheaper than a technician. – bdeonovic Aug 19 '14 at 1:45

To me that looks fixable with a fine point iron and multicore solder. You may find it easiest to bridge the gap with wire rather than attempting to put it back into its original shape.

Alternatively, if you don't have a soldering iron, you may just about be able to strap it up with tape to make contact - I've done this on older hardware but never on USB.

Whatever you do though, don't try to write to the drive. With word that means don't open the file from the drive, copy to a PC and open from that copy. The reason for this is that if your repair fails during a write you will lose the file completely, never to be readable again, during a read this shouldn't be true. Word and its autosave features etc. are not to be trusted not to write to a file when you don't expect it.

Too late now of course, but as I used to tell undergrads when teaching them: Losing your data is a rubbish excuse that won't get you anywhere. You can always (in their case) store it on the network and email it to yourself, and put it on a USB stick.

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So, "The dog ate my USB stick" won't cut it with you? – Daniel R Hicks Aug 17 '14 at 21:24
+1 for the last paragraph alone! :) But the rest of your advice is fine, too. – apnorton Aug 18 '14 at 3:41
@ChrisH obviously, the nature of the data will change your stance greatly. We are talking about mitigating risk. You can never guarantee protection from a swiss-cheese failure. It stands to reason that the more back methods you have, the smaller the risk. Cloud storage introduces students to the idea of regular backups without crowding their workflow with file management. – Gusdor Aug 18 '14 at 8:35
@ChrisH Please don't feed the "email files", the emails protocols are simply not done for that. Even if it's just sending it to yourself, it's just feeding a very, very bad habit. – Saffron Aug 18 '14 at 12:25
@ChrisH: OCD also kicks in. SMTP is just not for this. It's just... er... wrong! :D – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 19 '14 at 8:53

All the answers so far that said it was fixable have been focused on resoldering the USB connector. While this could work, the connector is likely broken, finding a replacement is hard and soldering a connector like that isn't too easy for beginners.

A possibly easier way is to take a USB cable (eg. extension cable, phone charger cable) that has a USB A connector on one side (the normal big PC kind, like the one on the drive), cut the other end off, strip the wires and solder them to the board.

For best results, try to keep all the wires a similar length (due to the relatively fast data rate of USB), watch a simple soldering guide first and also twist your wire ends and pre-coat them with solder.

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And doublecheck which wire goes where.Mixing wires 1 and 3 will burn both flash and PC. – Barafu Albino Aug 18 '14 at 11:27
@BarafuAlbino, Shouldn't properly implemented USB host port be resilient against shorting anything with anything or with ground? – Vi. Aug 18 '14 at 12:14
@Vi.the host would probably survive. (not all current limits and protections in the spec are always implemented for reasons of cost). Plugging in to a hub may protect the host as well, at the risk of the hub (especially if cheap). The device would probably die a smoky death if 5V and ground were swapped, but swapping D+ and D- shouldn't fry anything - might need a reboot to make the port happy again. – Chris H Aug 18 '14 at 13:05
@Vi. - Most hosts should be. I've shorted VCC and GND too many times to count doing embedded dev, and the usual response is for OS X to politely inform me that one of my devices was pulling a bit much current and has been disabled. – sapi Aug 20 '14 at 10:56
You can generally assume that the ground is going to be the wire which goes all along the outside edge of the board. They do this so that the if the edge of the board is damaged it'll still work (it'll just go around the other way). Verify that this is true though because it isn't always. You may find this fact helpful when soldering so that you don't forget which side is which. – krowe Aug 21 '14 at 2:53

There's a faint chance it may still work if plugged into a computer... very carefully. If it does, get all the data off it then trash it. If it doesn't, I'd say game over - I wouldn't put a soldering iron anywhere near something that delicate.

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it cant hurt to plug it in. However, there is no reason someone (skilled) cant fix it with a soldering iron. – Keltari Aug 17 '14 at 17:14
Not sure a piece of potato & needle-nosed pliers would be sufficient, that close to the IC - though your point is indeed valid in that it isn't an impossible task, I think in terms of 'homework' & 'tomorrow' we are closer to 'don't touch it' territory. – Tetsujin Aug 17 '14 at 17:17
What would you use a potato for? – Journeyman Geek Aug 17 '14 at 17:23
Its actually not that hard. Remove the USB connector and solder 4 wires from the USB connector to the solder points on the board. This would be an easy task for someone with any skill with an iron. Then just plug the head into the USB port. – Keltari Aug 17 '14 at 17:23
Nothing wrong with any of the above... except for the word 'tomorrow' which implies some sense of urgency & also 'homework' which implies [though not a crime in itself] youthful inexperience, hence my 'use it or trash it' initial response. BTW, you used to put pieces of potato round transistor legs back in days of yore, to stop them overheating whilst soldering. – Tetsujin Aug 17 '14 at 17:43

It's hard to see from those blurry photos, but it looks like the pins that are inside the usb plug have snapped off from the circuit board. Plugging it into your computer probably won't work and risks doing damage to your motherboard. If it's just the solder joint that snapped (a so-called 'dry joint'), someone who's good at soldering might be able to repair it. If the copper pads or traces on the PCB got pealed off when it broke or if the usb pins are snapped then re-soldering will be very difficult.

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The pads look intact, most likely the pin tabs sheared along the plug edge. It would take quite a lot of force and quite strong pin tabs to peel traces themselves off the PCB! – mikołak Aug 17 '14 at 19:56
@TheTerribleSwiftTomato Don't rule that out, that has happened to me before :) – Annonomus Penguin Aug 17 '14 at 21:57
The chances of damage to a motherboard are vanishingly small in anything but the cheapest USB 1 controller. Its only 5v. Protecting from a short is trivial. Damage to the device is more likely. – Gusdor Aug 18 '14 at 7:45
@AnnonomusPenguin : wow, I'm genuinely impressed! – mikołak Aug 18 '14 at 10:11
@TheTerribleSwiftTomato Now that I think about it, twice. The first one was a flexible PCB I accidentally yanked and there was enough surface area for the two pieces to stick together and the other one was just damaged by thermal expansions/contractions... – Annonomus Penguin Aug 18 '14 at 20:54

First of all, don't let your friend near a USB flash drive EVER again! :P Apart from that, soldering is about your only option.

If you have a Raspberry Pi or old computer that you wouldn't mind if you fried the port, you could try carefully plugging it in. Like already mentioned, a USB extension cable will give you the access to more carefully plug it into the computer. If you're that desperate to risk a perfectly good computer, go ahead and use your main one.

If you can see a break in the connection, don't do it. Worse things could happen than your math homework missing.

As for soldering, it seems like it is only the connector that is damaged. If the PCB is fine, you could do this:

  1. Take an old USB cable and cut the B end off. Strip the newly exposed wires.
  2. Take a soldering iron and carefully solder the wires on. If you have an old sock/etc. I might say put that over the main chip in case the iron slips so the chip isn't damaged. It isn't foolproof, but it is better than nothing.
  3. Make sure all the connections are not dry joints and they don't bridge.
  4. After all the wires are soldered, add a ton of hot glue over it. I'd say wrap it around the main board a few times in case you accidentally tug on the wire so it doesn't undo itself. This is just a best practice thing, so not required.
  5. Plug it into your enemy's computer and cross your fingers.

If it has some sort of read only switch, I'd advise you to use that to make sure that you don't corrupt the file.

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IF you don't have a computer with a sacrificial port; you can get a cheap USB hub for <$10 and to plug into that instead. – Dan Neely Aug 17 '14 at 23:40
@DanNeely good idea! – Annonomus Penguin Aug 17 '14 at 23:46
Can a broken USB device fry the ports on your computer? – Salman A Aug 18 '14 at 7:08
@SalmanA i wouldn't worry about it.… – Gusdor Aug 18 '14 at 7:46
I usually expect USB ports to be resilient against short circuit in newer (where USB 2 is already "newer" and USB 1.1 is "old") computers. Using cheap a USB hub should reduce critical failure probability further. – Vi. Aug 18 '14 at 12:11

I've fixed usb drives (and several other similarly broken pieces of electronics) before with a soldering iron. Often, all that will be broken is the original solder from when it was manufactured (you'll see a tiny hairline crack in it where the connector wire broke away from the board, look on the backside). Remelting the factory solder to reestablish the connection often does the trick.

Just make sure you get a soldering iron with a fine tip. This is really hard to screw up so long as your hands and eyes are in reasonably good shape. Go slowly and color within the lines.

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The device board is the same width as the USB connector. It may be possible to remove the broken USB connector and insert the device board stub into a USB patch cord female end. Use a piece of cardboard inserted with the board to take up the slack. The board runs will act as the male pins. If the spacing is correct,The chance of short circuit will be reduced. If cardboard is not used, put a piece of tape on the board back to insulate the board from the USB jack's metal shell.

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