Data Recovery Flash Drives – Software For Formatted/Deleted Files

by Rod Dunne on August 11, 2010

in Data Recovery

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Deleting or formatting a USB flash device is an easy mistake to make, and especially frustrating as we rarely back up data from these devices. That said, in terms of data recovery flash drives can be easily scanned with recovery software to find deleted files and retrieve your documents.

Here, we’ll look at how these applications are capable of doing this.

File Recovery Software

If you simply want a data recovery software recommendation, and are not too concerned about the technicalities of how file recovery happens (i.e. the rest of this post), then two tools worth trying are Remo Undelete.

Both come with a FREE trial scan, so you can at least demo them to check if they can locate your flash drives documents.

Data Recovery Flash Drives – FAT-32 Support

The great thing about flash memory is that it uses the FAT-32 file system format (the same as Windows). This means your flash device will have its own master boot record, file allocation table (FAT) and boot sector.

Critically for data recovery flash drives can make use of any recovery software that supports the FAT-32 format, and most of these applications do. So you do not need a specialist application just for flash devices.

Each of these tools restore lost data by scanning the memory and reading the FAT file. The FAT stores a list of all documents on the flash memory, directory locations of each document and its associated data clusters. Each document you see in Windows Explorer can be stored to memory as numerous data clusters, dispersed across the memory sectors.

Deleted File Recovery

It is possible to recover deleted files due to the fact that the deletion process leaves the data clusters intact. Even the index for your deleted document remains in the FAT, although the directory location reference is cleared so that you no longer see it in any directory.

Data recovery applications can therefore read the FAT, locate de-indexed files and locate the associated data clusters. The software presents you with the list of lost documents that you can clone (effectively copying the data clusters).

Format Recovery

A post format recovery of flash documents has an extra level of difficult for data recovery tools. Formatting a drive will clear the FAT of all document references; only system files will be listed. However, the data clusters are left on the flash drive.

So without using the FAT, flash memory data recovery applications have to scan the memory for data clusters and attempt to reassemble them into files you will recognize. Different tools use different algorithms for piecing these together so it is worth noting that the amount of found files can vary from program to program.

Things To Watch Out For

  • Deleting/formatting leaves the clusters intact, but they are labeled as available to use for saving files. This means that in time they will be overwritten with new files. Therefore don’t wait too long to complete your data recovery as your files are gradually lost the more you use the flash drive.
  • Data recovery tools will not be useful if the flash device has a mechanical fault – they need to be able to read the memory sectors.

See also
~ Our guide to external hard drive data recovery – common mistakes to avoid.
~ Our guide to USB flash security; Password protecting the drives contents.

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