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Flash Drive Failures: Most Common Causes, And How to Prevent Them

Flash Drive

Despite the huge variety of alternatives that greatly surpass flash drives in terms of capacity, performance, and durability, USBs remain in great demand among thousands of users for they provide an incredibly convenient and compact means of data storage and transportation. With an impressive number of write/erase cycles — depending on the memory technology used, a USB can withstand 10,000 to 100,000 such cycles — thumb drives offer an excellent solution not only for the temporary storage of information but also for long-term data backup, which may be particularly advantageous for small businesses and individual entrepreneurs.

However, just like all forms of digital storage, the media can become corrupt or inoperative — and this is most likely to happen at the least appropriate time, as we all know from Murphy’s law. Whereas flash drives have a much lower ARR (Annual Replacement Rate) compared to, say, traditional hard drives, 20 percent of them have been proven to encounter uncorrectable errors over a four-year period. What’s more, 30-80 percent of USBs also develop bad blocks during their lifetime, possibly leading to complete loss of data. Of course, if you lose important files, you can always count on the help of a professional data recovery company; but the ability to diagnose a problem can save you from a lot of stress. To this end, we bring to your attention a comprehensive guide on the main causes of USB drive failure and how to deal with them.


Flash Drive Failure Symptoms

As you may know, flash drives have no moving parts; instead, they consist of printed circuit boards (PCBs) covered in rubber or plastic housing and relies on Flash Memory technology — a type of non-volatile memory that erases data in units (also known as blocks), rewrites it at the byte level, and retains the information even when the power is off.

However, while their design lacks fragile components or moving parts, USB flash drives can be more susceptible to damage — especially if you use one that is made by a low-quality manufacturer. Errors, inability of the system to recognize the device and unreadable data on the flash drive are some of the most common symptoms of a faulty USB.


File System Corruption 

If the USB flash drive is constantly connected to the computer, it will remain in continuous contact with voltage for long periods of time. As you probably guessed, due to constant contact with electricity, the flash drive heats up and eventually stops working. If you allow this to happen, you will receive a USB not detected error.

The bad practice of leaving a flash drive permanently connected to the system also has a good chance of causing a device failure and significant data corruption. Despite all the caveats, the vast majority of users tend to ignore the rules for properly removing USB drives. In the meantime, unplugging the USB stick during the process of writing or transferring files can lead to irreversible data loss. To protect your device from a premature breakage and prevent both of these problems, always make sure to disconnect your USB drive from the system when not in use via the “Safe to Remove Hardware” feature.


Damaged Flash Drive Components

A USB is made up of multiple tiny components. When microcontrollers, capacitors and resistors burn out or get damaged, the drive goes out of operation, which implies that failure of at least one of these components can result in severe data loss. In addition to external damage, NAND chips may fall off the drive’s Printed Circuit Board if exposed to overheating or excessive use, which is another reason for a flash drive to fail. To retrieve lost files in this case, you’ll need to fix or replace the damaged component; such a repair, however, is not recommended to be performed by yourself, since the process requires in-depth knowledge and professional equipment.


Broken Flash Drive Connectors

Damage to the PCB caused by abrupt or rough removal of the flash drive from the computer’s USB port is one of the most common problems — along with moisture-included corrosion of the components. When the connector is bent or broken, the components of the USB flash drive may suffer a short circuit. To avoid this data loss, make sure you unplug the flash drive, and don’t use it until it is repaired.


Cheap And Defective USBs In Use

Today’s market is full of tempting offers of extremely cheap USB drives that claim to provide you with all the features that expensive ones have… but it’s full of unscrupulous manufacturers, too. When you opt for a cheap storage device, you actually pay for the inferior material used to make it, meaning that odds are you’ll end up with a faulty device covered in unreliable casing that breaks at the first opportunity and low-quality microelectronics that, most likely, does not correspond to the declared characteristics (such as read and write speeds). Taken together, this means that when you invest in the cheapest flash drive, you must be prepared for it to shortly become inaccessible, putting all your vital files at risk.


Wear And Tear

Finally, as it was mentioned previously, all flash media have a limited number of write and erase cycles. Of course, it will take years to wear out the flash drive if you use it only a few times a month to download a movie or update your photo folder. However, once the cycle limit is reached, some portion of the medium’s memory may stop functioning properly, which will eventually cause data to become corrupted or lost.


Summing Up

The popularity of flash drives is well deserved: they are nimble in processing data, easy to use (since they do not require any configuration on modern systems) and extremely portable, thanks to which we can carry an entire library in our pants pocket or cosmetic bag. However, USB drives are not the best option for storing vital files or critical backups, as they rely heavily on proper operating conditions and are highly prone to physical damage.

The good news is that SALVAGEDATA has accumulated thousands of successfully resolved data loss cases from USB drives over more than a decade of experience. If your data is at risk, our specialists will do their best to return important files to you, regardless of the amount of data to recover and the complexity of your case. Just contact us for a free consultation — and entrust the rest to professionals!