So a friend has come to me with a problem. They have a dead USB thumb drive which no longer responds when plugged into a machine.

I've tried it in a Mac and it doesn't even respond, at least on a Windows XP machine it sees that it is there but can't show it in explorer, just that whatever is plugged in has malfunctioned. There is obviously current because the activity light on the drive illuminates.

I'm looking for suggestions, please. I have access to Mac or Windows hardware and am happy to experiment (and even to pay if the solution works!)

It's a bit late to recommend regular backups, but in the lack of that, what's the next best forensic advice?

Edit: I should stress that, if possible, we're trying to rescue the data, after all, thumb drives are basically disposable and hardly worth the bother if there's no emotional or functional reason for wanting to rescue it!


Does it appear in Device Manager? Click Start, Run and type devmgmt.msc.

If it does, there are a couple of tools I would recommend. Firstly, PhotoRec which is free.

PhotoRec ignores the file system and goes after the underlying data, so it will still work even if your media's file system has been severely damaged or reformatted.

Alternatively, I purchased and had great success with a tool called R-Studio. It comes at a premium, but hey you get what you pay for.

Additional file recovery algorithm. R-Studio not only analyzes file systems metadata ( all file types are supported ) but additionally searches for files of known types ( see list of known file types ) using typical features of their structures that allows the user: - to increase the quality of file recovery when the file system is not damaged; - to recover files that are not recognized in file system metadata and not found during a disk scanning procedure; - to recover files from devices with unknown file systems, including HD, CD, DVD, floppy disk, Compact-Flash Card, USB drive, ZIP drive, Memory Sticks and other removable media.


You could pull it apart and check for a physical problem with the drive. If there isn't an obvious physical problem then either:

  1. One of the chips is fried internally. Could be from static electricity or heat.
  2. Try this set of instructions and see if that helps at all.
  1. Download and install the HP Drive Key Boot Utility
  2. Open the desktop icon and select the correct flash drive under device
  3. Select the file system you want to format to (FAT, FAT32, NTFS)
  4. Tick Quick Format
  5. Click start

In you need the data recovered, you can try several solutions which cost various amounts of money. I have not researched any of them and cannot give an objective opinion. Next time make backups and don't trust a USB drive.

  • "Quick format"?! I was hoping to save the data if at all possible ... – Unsliced Mar 5 '10 at 21:53
  • Your last link is broken – Nifle Mar 6 '10 at 12:05
  • 1
    "Tick quick format".. :) lol. So simply, so casually.. Unsliced says: "MY DATA!!" – bobobobo Mar 6 '10 at 19:23

You can try some recovery software (I haven't used any so I can't speak to its efficacy), but you're probably going to have to format it. Even then, it may have failed permanently. Luckily thumb drives are cheap!

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