More and more people use their USB key for storing all their important files. It can be traumatic if these files are deleted from the drive or you need to recover lost data from it. This article looks at the approaches and tools to use for USB data recovery.
The first thing to understand about Flash drives is that they are FAT formatted which makes the USB flash data recovery process no different from hard drive data recovery – the operating system views them both as FAT based data stores. Therefore, recovery approaches for hard drives will also work for a USB key drive.
So, at the simple end of the scale, if you delete a file off of USB key then it will have been sent to the Recycle Bin. Simply open the bin, find the file and hit ‘restore’ and the files will be returned to the USB.
If you deleted a file and it is not appearing in the bin then you will need to use USB data recovery software (for example, using low cost data recovery applications such as Remo Undelete). These tools can do hard-drive or USB Flash data recovery by scanning the drives for deleted files.
Note: Deleted files are not completely removed from the computer upon deletion; they are in fact simply flagged as having no folder location and that this sector of the drive may be used for storing other information at a later stage. Recovery tools can detect these files and give you the option to copy them back into a regular folder location.
For Windows 2000 owners, they may also lose data if the USB is not ejected using the “Safely Remove Hardware” wizard. Windows 2000 did not transfer files to the USB memory drive until the wizard finished ejecting the device, which is a severe design flaw (especially when doing a photo backup). Data recovery software may be able to detect these files although you would need to scan the computer’s hard drive for the existence of the files. Thankfully, from XP onward, this should no longer be an issue.
A USB data recovery after format may be a little trickier to complete and its success depends completely on the formatting tool used. As stated above, file deletion in Windows does not wipe the information off the drive, it merely flags it as having no designated folder. It is worth trying USB data recovery software (Remo Undelete) as these may be able to detect files on a formatted drive if the formatter has not wiped the drives by overwriting sectors with blank data.
Attempting to recover data from a corrupted/damaged drive may also be possible. Flash drives are more like a silicon chip in that they consist of a series of on/off switches. The switches remain set even when the drive is not plugged.
So if a drive is damaged or corrupted then the issue may only be with a subset of the keys. Therefore, USB data recovery may still be possible on the healthy part of the drive by scanning the drive for deleted files. If there is physical damage to the drive then this should be left to data recovery experts to use a mechanical recovery approach to read the data storage.
One final thing to note is that Flash memory does have a finite lifespan. The device’s electronics can only be written to a set number of times. For most users this memory should be able to last for decades to come. But if you run applications or an operating system off of Flash then be aware that the drive will wear out a lot quicker, so you should regularly synchronize your USB drive with your computer hard drive or backup system.
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