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Fix a Bent USB Drive/Broken USB Drive

The tiny thumb-sized USB flash drives/USB sticks we use to carrying data files 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), a USB stick can easily get bent out of shape. Literally.

If your flash drive broke, whether it’s showing physical damage or logical damage, rest easy! Gillware Data Recovery Services are standing by to help. It doesn’t matter if the USB connector is snapped, the USB cable melted, or your Mac storage devices have fallen off your desk. Gillware Data Scientists and IT Professionals have the best tools and data recovery software to tackle any broken USB device problem.

Do you have a broken USB flash
drive and need the data on it?

USB Flash Drives: Portability Meets Fragility

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.

What’s the Weakest Point in a Flash Drive/USB Stick?

Flash media and USB memory stick manufacturers didn’t have many options to reinforce the leads connecting the USB plug to the control board. And so, if an errant move of your knee were to jostle your flash drive with the USB stick connectors securely anchored to a laptop or desktop computer (PC), you could end up putting a lot of force on a very small and very fragile area of your flash drive. Snap! Your thumb drive is toast – you’ve got a broken USB stick.

Thumb drives removed from their casing for USB flash drive recovery Top: The 48-pin NAND flash memory chip mounted to the thumb drive’s PCB. Bottom: The controller chip mounted to the underside of the PCB
Thumb drives removed from their casing for USB flash drive recovery Top: The 48-pin NAND flash memory chip mounted to the thumb drive’s PCB. Bottom: The controller chip mounted to the underside of the PCB

Flash device manufacturers were finally able to design a thumb drive that didn’t have this glaring weakness using monolithic flash chips. This device has all of the components of a typical USB flash drive soldered together into a single package, similar to a microSD card. The client in this data recovery case, unfortunately, did not own a monolithic thumb drive. When they accidentally bent their thumb drive while it was plugged into the USB port of a computer, the USB plug snapped right off and the customer couldn’t access the files.

Bent USB Flash Drive Repair or Broken USB Flash Drive Repair

When you can’t access the data files on your thumb drive through its broken USB connector, there is a “Plan B.” However, Plan B just happens to involve removing the heat pads, then the NAND chip itself, and piecing its data files together. It’s hard work, requires specialized tools and knowledge, the file recovery process is slow, and this type of error is not cheap to fix. In many instances, the file recovery process would make the cost of data recovery vastly outweigh the value of the data files.

We approach this fix a little differently; instead, Gillware can repair the physically broken USB flash connector, repairing the physical damage between the USB connection and the circuit board connector on the PCB. It’s painstaking work to repair USB drives, but it’s something we do to make sure our customers are happy.

How Hard is it to Repair a Thumb Drive / Pen Drive?

USB drive repair can be difficult depending on how the device has been broken. In cases where the connectors have been damaged, it takes an experienced electrical engineer to repair a thumb drive. Engineers use a soldering iron to carefully resolder the damaged connection between a flash drive and its USB connectors. If done wrong, the data files on your drive can become even harder to recover.

But the hard work pays off with these bent flash drive repair cases as the overwhelming majority are successful. The USB drive hadn’t sustained any logical damage or file corruption due to its sudden and violent ejection. Despite the damage, we were able to make the stick visible to computer disk management software, and as a result, our in-house data recovery software, affectionately known as Hombre, was able to reimage and recover 100% of the user’s critical Word documents and Excel spreadsheet files.

This data recovery case was rated as a ten on our ten-point scale. The method our data scientists had to develop to fix this error was incredible, and the client was delighted to have his computer files back.

It is precisely because of their fragility that we here at Gillware do not recommend using USB thumb drives to store sensitive data. They’re also easy to lose and easy to damage. And if your flash drive goes missing, Gillware’s data recovery experts can’t help you find it. Thumb drives should only be used to transfer data from one computer to another, and never to store critical data on a PC or Mac.

If you have questions about our recovery process

How to Fix a Bent USB Flash Drive

A bent USB drive is another very common occurrence, often caused by people sitting down and bending the drive in their pocket. The next time the customer goes to use the drive with their PC or Mac, they discover the media is damaged.

If you are experiencing this issue and you need your data back now, log a support case with a Gillware data recovery expert. The Gillware customer service will provide a shipping label for you to send us your damaged media (at our expense).

Once on-site, we catalog the device and set to work. We assess the media, confirm if a fix is possible, and then provide an accurate estimate before any work is completed. It doesn’t matter how the device broke; we are a data recovery company that excels at fixing physically damaged devices. All steps are recorded for Gillware client subscribers on our website, allowing the reader to monitor the end-to-end process.

To recover the data from a bent USB flash drive, our flash drive repair experts focus on fixing the tip of the USB drive. In other words, we need to repair the damaged USB plug connection. This is difficult and delicate work in itself, and can easily be done wrong by an inexperienced data recovery novice, making data recovery more difficult. But we don’t have data recovery novices tackling these cases—we have data recovery experts with tens of thousands of hours of experience between them.

Exploded view of a non-monolithic USB flash drive
Exploded view of a non-monolithic USB flash drive

Do you have a physically broken USB flash drive and need the data back urgently?

Contact our Data Recovery Services Team on 1-877-624-7206 or contact our Client Advisors direct at the following email address [email protected]com

Bent USB Flash Drive Case Study:

Flash Drive Repair Case Study: Bent USB Drive

Drive Model: Micro Center

Drive Capacity: 8 GB

Filesystem: FAT32

Situation: USB plug bent and snapped off, user tried to re-solder it

Type of Data Recovered: Word documents and Excel spreadsheets

Binary Read: 100%

Gillware Data Recovery Case Rating: 10

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.

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Will Ascenzo
Will is the lead blogger, copywriter, and copy editor for Gillware Data Recovery and Digital Forensics, and a staunch advocate against the abuse of innocent semicolons.
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