Compact Flash Data Recovery

by Rod Dunne on July 14, 2010

in Data Recovery

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Trying to recover lost data after deleting/formatting a flash card can be a traumatic experience – especially if the card contains a large volume of photos or data. This article highlights one approach to compact flash data recovery along with an explanation of how successful these tools can be.

Recommended software

Remo Undelete: FAT/NTFS support, All Windows OS; Free trial scan.

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The starting point for compact flash card data recovery is to connect your flash card to a computer. This can be easily done using a compact flash card reader with a USB connection. These types of reading devices are widely available and shouldn’t cost too much.

Once connected to your computer it should be possible to browse the file system on the compact flash card (open the ‘My Computer’ folder on your computer – the card will be identifiable as a removable device). The reason that flash devices are so easily recognized by Windows is because they both use the FAT32 file system which requires the presence of a file allocation table (FAT), a master boot record and a boot sector (so Windows data recovery and flash data recovery are one in the same thing).

The simplest file retrieval scenario you can encounter is to recover deleted files by checking the Recycle Bin on the compact flash for signs of your photos/files. If there is no sign, then you need to proceed to using recovery software to restore lost data.

Recovery Software

There is no need to explicitly look for compact flash data recovery software as any applications that support FAT32 will also work on your flash device. This is fortunate as this format is used by internal hard drives, most external storage devices and flash memory so there are numerous applications to choose from.

Data recovery software like Remo Undelete are capable of browsing the compact flash card in the same way they are able to scan the internal hard drive of your computer for lost files. All you need to do is identify the files to recover and copy them over to your computer. Both these applications provide a free trial for scanning your card for lost files so you only need to buy a license if the tool finds the files you wish to copy back over to your computer.

For more information, see our post: Data Recovery USB – Simple Guide To Using Software To Recover Lost Files

Success Rates Explained

The success rate for compact flash card data recovery depends upon

  • Whether the files were deleted or the card formatted
  • Level of card use since deletion/formatting
  • Mechanical damage, which normally requires calling upon data recovery services

To explain why these factors affect the success rate of flash memory data recovery requires a brief explanation of how your photo/file is stored. The FAT keeps an index of your document and associates this with multiple data clusters on the card.

When a file is deleted, the data clusters are not cleared out. Instead the FAT index is altered to show that the document’s folder location is set to the recycle bin (or cleared). Compact flash data recovery software can still easily read the FAT and find the data clusters to be presented back to you for restoration (just as with SD card data recovery).

When a compact flash card is formatted, different hardware/software will clear the memory in different ways. Many do something similar to ‘file deletion’ and only reset the FAT index. But if the formatting application also does an evidence wiping sweep then the data will be lost forever.

With formatted and deleted data, the data clusters that are flagged as available for reuse will eventually start to be overwrote as you make more use of the card and more documents are written to memory. Therefore, attempting a data recovery promptly will have the best results. Out article on post format data recovery has more information on the factors affecting formatted file recovery.

Lastly, if the card cannot be read due to water/fire/mechanical damage then no compact flash data recovery software is going to be capable of retrieving data. You will need to use a data recovery service/data recovery experts to attempt a mechanical recovery of your data.

- Data recovery flash drives.
- A guide to USB flash security (software versus hardware).

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