The tiny thumb-sized USB flash drives we use to carry data around in our pockets are an odd mix of both fragility and resilience. These “thumb drives” or “jump drives” can survive perilous falls that would put any spinning disk media (such as your portable external hard drive) out of commission. Some can even survive taking a trip through the wash or accidentally accompanying you when you go for a swim. And yet in spite of their portability (and, paradoxically, in part because of their portability) these USB flash drives can easily get bent out of shape. Literally.
There are no moving parts in your USB flash drive, which is a massive point in its favor for resilience, as it doesn’t have to worry about things like read/write head crashes and platter scratches. All of the data lives on a NAND chip soldered onto the device’s PCB. The flash memory equivalent to platter damage and rotational scoring would be if the NAND chip became cracked or shattered by a heavy impact or crushing force, which is very rare.
However, your typical USB flash drive or jump drive has one glaring weak point—bigger than the Death Star’s thermal exhaust port. The NAND chip and its controller board are soldered pretty securely to the thumb drive’s control board. It would take an unusual display of force to dislodge them from the board without breaking the chips. But the USB plug that connects the device to your computer is a different story.
When you can’t access the data on your thumb drive through its USB connection, there is a “Plan B”. However, Plan B just happens to involve removing the NAND chip itself and piecing its data together. It’s hard work, requires specialized tools and knowledge, and isn’t cheap to do, which would in many instances make the cost of data recovery vastly outweigh the value of the data. And so instead of doing that, we work on getting that USB connection back.
This client came to us with a bent USB drive for Gillware’s flash drive repair services. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly an uncommon scenario. In many models of flash or jump drives, the point at which the USB plug meets the rest of the drive is the weakest and most vulnerable part of the drive. While thumb drives can withstand many things, excessive force on that portion of the device can sever the connection between the USB plug and the data living on your flash drive, cutting you off from your data. And unfortunately, due to the weakness of this particular area, “excessive” force isn’t really all that excessive. It can take just a nudge in the right place to render your data inaccessible.