Flash drives, also called thumb drives, are convenient for file storage because they are highly portable and can easily access the computer tower or laptop by way of the USB port. However, thumb drives are also very vulnerable to damage. Once plugged in they are precariously hanging out and vulnerable to being accidentally bent.
A bent thumb drive with a broken connector will need delicate repair
It’s all too easy to bump a flash drive while it is plugged into a computer, ultimately bending or breaking the USB connector from the printed circuit board (PCB). This disconnects the PCB that allows the drive to get power and to communicate with a computer. In these cases, the computer may display a “device not recognized” message. In most cases the existing USB connector will have to be soldered back onto the PCB in order to prevent a higher level of service called “chip off” recovery, which we will talk about later.
To repair the device, its external plastic case must be carefully pried apart to expose the PCB so the full damage can be assessed. If there is any other damage in addition to the broken USB connectors, chip off recovery may be required. If no other damage has occurred soldering several wires to reconnect the device is the preferred method due to the lower cost and skill level required to complete the service.
The replacement connector will need to be cut away from the cable and have the cut end stripped down to the four wires, with at least a quarter inch of wire exposed for each one. These must be carefully soldered to the pads where the prongs of the old stem were connected. Once the solder cools, the drive can be plugged into a workstation and the data transferred. If the drive still doesn’t work, chip off recovery may be required.
Professional flash drive data recovery is the safest course
Flash drive repair work is very delicate and should be performed by someone with years of data recovery experience. DIY soldering often results in more damage to the drive and can often make a second attempt impossible despite professional help. Anyone who is not very familiar with soldering and circuit boards should leave repair to an expert.
If repair fails, or there is additional damage to the circuit board, then it’s time to use a method we call “chip off” recovery. This involves removing the chip(s) off of the PCB that contain the user data files and reading them through a special flash reader machine. This is a combination of hardware and software designed specifically for flash memory data recovery services. Each case is a little different and a customized solution to get past the manufactures proprietary file storage system is often needed. This is a highly specialized process and can only be performed by a technician that is experienced with file storage systems and programming abilities.
This is an example of a SanDisk 16GB thumb drive that was successfully recovered by re-soldering the broken connections.