SSD Data Recovery

Flash memory manufacturers are constantly improving on solid state technology. The per-gigabyte cost of solid state technology falls year by year, and more and more computer users are trading in their hard disk drives for solid state drives. As the world slowly adopts a solid state standard, solid state drives are becoming more frequent visitors to our data recovery lab. Gillware works hard to stay on top of advancements in flash memory. If your SSD has failed, our SSD data recovery technicians can help you.

What Is an SSD?

Solid state drives are a bit like oversized USB thumb drives. If you crack open the case of your thumb drive, you’ll see a green printed circuit board with two or more black chips on it. The larger black chip is the NAND flash memory chip, where all the data on your thumb drive lives. Some high-capacity flash drives may have more than one NAND chip. NAND flash memory is “non-volatile”, meaning the information it stores stays there after the device is powered off. (An example of volatile memory is your computer’s RAM, which stores some data to improve efficiency and speed while you use your computer, and then returns the data to your hard drive when you turn off your computer.)

The basic design principle behind solid state drives is the same. However, SSDs are much more complex and have many more features than your typical USB drive. A solid state drive has many more NAND chips, and has a SATA or PCIe connection instead of a USB plug. The multiple NAND chips inside your SSD actually work similar to the multiple drives in a RAID array. Data is constantly being written to and pulled from multiple chips, instead of just one at a time. This is one of the reasons why SSDs are so speedy and efficient compared to other flash memory devices. Your thumb drive, for example, is not very fast at all compared to a SSD, even though it uses the same type of NAND chip.

In addition, some (but not all) SSDs have SDRAM chips. These chips work just like the RAM in your computer. SDRAM chips are faster than NAND chips, but they are also volatile memory chips. They only store data when the drive is powered on, and flush it all out when the drive is turned off. SSDs can load programs or files into the SDRAM chip for faster performance and then dump them back into the NAND chips when the drive is properly shut down. The next time you power on the SSD, the SDRAM chip is completely blank and ready to be used again.

If you’d like more information about what’s inside your SSD, one of our video blogs goes into greater detail here.

Solid state drives can come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Traditional hard disk drives are constrained by the sizes of their platters and other components. SSDs have much less bulky components, and those components can be arranged in many different ways. In many modern Apple notebooks, the internal solid state drive is a long, thin, rectangular shape. An SSD can also be short and stout. Many SSDs are made to conform to the 2.5” form factor of laptop hard drives as well. This makes them much easier to integrate into laptops that came with traditional spinning-platter hard drives inside them.

Here is a video in which we take the cover off an SSD and examine the inter-workings of the hard drive:

Solid State Drive Failure

Solid state drives have no moving parts. They are not limited by the top speed of a spinning platter or the movement of a read/write head stack assembly. This is one reason for their lightning-fast performance. An added benefit is that solid state drives are very durable. But this doesn’t make them indestructible or failure-proof. They are merely less prone to certain kinds of failure than hard disk drives. (For example, you will never see a solid state drive with failed heads or spindle motors, since they have none.)

SSDs, like hard disk drives, have firmware of their own. Since the underlying technology is so different, SSD firmware resembles hard drive firmware about as much as a calzone resembles a meat pie. But like hard drive firmware, SSD firmware controls, supplies, and regulates access to the data on the drive. And just like hard drive firmware, SSD firmware can fail. For example, among some models of Intel SSDs there is a notorious firmware bug known as the “8MB bug”. This firmware bug makes the SSD show up as uninitialized (unformatted, or “raw”), with a total capacity of eight megabytes.

SSD Data Recovery Process

In the case of logical damage (accidental reformat, file deletion, corruption, etc), SSD data recovery is just like hard drive data recovery. While the underlying technology is drastically different, SSDs have sectors, clusters, blocks, partitions, and filesystems, just as hard drives do. But when there is something wrong with the SSD’s physical components, the SSD data recovery process becomes much more complex.

Fixing an SSD with a failed PCB is nothing like fixing a hard drive with a failed PCB. In one way, it is easier. The platters inside your hard drive can only be read inside your hard drive. But the NAND chips on your SSD can be removed from the PCB and read in a chip reader. The problem is that the raw data inside the SSD’s NAND chips is jumbled and incoherent. Mixed in with the user data is all the data the SSD uses for its internal operations. This data is useless to the user, but vital to the device. During an SSD’s normal operations, data passes through the controller on its way to and from the NAND chips. The controller assembles the data from the chips to make it usable.

When the PCB has failed, SSD data recovery involves removing each NAND chip and reading each one’s contents individually. Next, custom software has to be written to do the controller’s job. The raw data from each NAND chip is strung together, the user-irrelevant information is stripped out, and the puzzle pieces are reassembled in the proper order.

Challenges to SSD Data Recovery

Many modern SSDs are self-encrypting. For these models of SSD, while the user may choose not to enable password-protection on their SSD, all of the data is still stored in an encrypted format by default. The encryption key is stored in the same controller that manages the flow of data to and from the NAND chips. If the controller dies, the encryption key is lost. This can make data recovery from SSDs that have failed impossible.

This is an extremely high barrier to our SSD data recovery efforts. However, Gillware Data Recovery has partnered with data recovery experts, SSD manufacturers, and security organizations to make data recovery from self-encrypting SSDs more possible. We recovered data from our first self-encrypting SSD in 2012. Since then, the number of models of self-encrypted drives our solid state drive data recovery technicians have been able to salvage data from has been growing.

Why Choose Gillware for My SSD Data Recovery Needs?

At Gillware, we work hard to stay on the cutting edge of solid state data storage technology. As a leader and pioneer in the field of SSD data recovery, we also provide financially risk-free data recovery services. We charge no upfront fees for data recovery, and if we cannot recover your critical data, you don’t owe us a dime. Talk to one of our recovery client advisors to see if our SSD data recovery services are right for you.

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