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Tablet Data Recovery Case Study: Surface Pro 4 Boot Loop

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Our client in this tablet data recovery case had a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet stuck in an endless boot cycle. We’ve encountered boot loops in Windows devices before. Usually these situations aren’t dire enough to require a trip to a data recovery lab. But sometimes boot loops can happen due to a failure of the device’s storage medium, such as a hard disk drive or SSD. In these situations, it requires the expertise of data recovery specialists to recover the user’s data.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4


Tablet Data Recovery Case Study: Surface Pro 4 Boot Loop
Tablet Model: Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Drive Model: MZ-FLV2560
Drive Capacity: 256 GB
Operating/File System: Windows (NTFS)
Data Loss Situation: Microsoft Surface Pro 4 boot loop; tablet powers on but could not complete boot cycle
Type of Data Recovered: Photos
Binary Read: 100%
Gillware Data Recovery Case Rating: 10


What Causes a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Boot Loop?

Usually, when a computer gets stuck in a boot loop, the problem has to do with the operating system. Some file the O/S needs to access in order to complete the startup process has become unreadable or otherwise doesn’t make sense to the O/S anymore. This causes the O/S to go back to square one and start over. Sometimes this fixes the problem, because that file had just gotten a momentary hiccup and now it’s fine. Sometimes the problem with the file is more permanent. In this case the O/S reaches the point where it failed the first time, fails again, and goes back to square one. It does this again and again, until you tell it to stop.

Computers and tablets and phones can do math very fast, which makes them look very smart. But they still cannot think or make decisions the same we we (or even a dog or cat) can, although their mathematical prowess can make it seem otherwise. The truth is that for the most part, our computers, phones, and tablets are actually idiot savants—in other words, very stupid.

These loops usually happen because of a problem with the operating systems. As a result, users tend to end up in these frustrating situations after a Microsoft update goes wrong and inadvertently messes up a critical file. But these situations can also occur due to a failure of the data storage device itself (in this case, a PCIe SSD).

Fixing a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Boot Loop… The Easy Way

In many cases, Microsoft Surface Pro 4 boot loops have easy solutions:

  1. Press and hold the Surface Pro power button for 30 seconds.
  2. Press and hold the volume-up button and the power button simultaneously for 15 seconds or more, then release both buttons. The Microsoft Surface logo will flash at some point, but do not release the buttons until at least 15 seconds have passed.
  3. Wait 10 seconds.
  4. Press the power button on its own to turn on the Surface Pro tablet.

This causes a hard reset and momentarily loads the UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface). In many situations this alone can often fix whatever problematic file is causing the boot loop and snap the Surface Pro 4 tablet out of its funk. Sometimes, though, slightly more drastic measures are required.

If a hard reset doesn’t work, you may have to boot from a recovery USB drive. First, create a recovery USB for your Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet. Next, you’ll want to boot into the UEFI and stay there. Press and hold the volume-up and power buttons until the Surface logo appears to enter the UEFI. Once there, choose your recovery USB drive as the primary boot device. Booting from the recovery drive gives you access to system repair tools that can often fix whatever ails the operating system.

Fixing a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Boot Loop… The Gillware Way

Of course, since the Surface Pro 4 tablet made its way to our tablet data recovery engineers, obviously the easy ways to fix a Surface Pro 4 boot loop hadn’t worked out so well. Now it was up to us to recover our client’s data.

We quickly deduced that the flash memory device inside the Surface Pro 4 tablet had failed. All tablets use flash memory in lieu of the hard drive found in most computers. The type of memory can vary from brand to brand. Some use the same type of eMMC chip found in mobile phones. Others, like the Surface Pro, use PCIe or M.2 SSDs.

Cody, a tablet data recovery specialist here at Gillware, found that a failure of the SSD controller was preventing us from accessing the SSD through an external recovery environment. From prior experience with Surface Pro tablets, Cody was prepared to deal with one of two possible tablet data recovery situations. Either the SSD’s firmware needed fixing, or there was a short somewhere on the circuit board of the PCIe SSD.

In either situation, making these repairs required Cody to completely dismantle the tablet. Unfortunately, dismantling the tablet to get at the SSD would render the tablet utterly unusable, as it would require destroying the LCD screen. We informed the client of this and, when we sent them our firm price quote after evaluating their data, asked for their consent to permanently dismantle the tablet.

Surface Pro 4 Tablet Data Recovery Results

With the client’s consent, Cody dismantled the Surface Pro 4 tablet and got to work. Once he’d fixed the SSD’s firmware issue, he could salvage all of the client’s critical data. We rated this tablet data recovery case a 10 on our ten-point case rating scale.

The PCI SSD our tablet data recovery expert needed to fix to solve our client's Microsoft Surface Pro 4 boot loop issue

The PCI SSD our tablet data recovery expert needed to fix to solve our client’s Microsoft Surface Pro 4 boot loop issue.

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