What causes a USB drive to become corrupted?
There are several common causes of USB drive corruption:
File system errors can occur if the file system structure gets damaged, resulting in corrupted data. This can happen from improper device removal, power failure during writes, or file system bugs. Virus infections are another common cause, as malicious software can damage files and structures on the drive. Bad sectors, which are damaged portions of the physical storage media, can also lead to corruption as data written to bad sectors may not be readable.
According to Secure Data Recovery, additional causes include NAND memory wear over time, USB driver issues, program crashes during USB access, and failure to follow proper disconnect procedures before removing a USB drive.
In summary, file system errors, improper device removal, virus infection, bad sectors, and power failure during writes are the most common reasons USB drives can become corrupted.
How to check for corruption
There are a few signs that indicate your USB drive may be corrupted:
– Error messages when trying to access the drive. You may see errors like “USB Device Not Recognized” or “Please insert a disk into removable disk.”
– Inability to open files on the USB drive. The files may appear damaged or unreadable even though they used to work fine.
– Slow response times when accessing the drive. It may take much longer than normal for files to open or copy.
– Unusual behavior like crashes or freezes when interacting with the USB drive.
If you notice any of these issues, it’s likely your USB drive has become corrupted. The next step is to try some troubleshooting methods to fix the corruption. We’ll cover those options in the following sections.
Try plugging into a different USB port
One of the easiest first steps is to try plugging the USB drive into a different USB port on your computer. It’s possible the issue may lie with the specific USB port rather than the drive itself. Per this Quora post, sometimes a USB port may not be able to supply enough power to the drive. Or as noted in this PCMag article, the USB driver for that specific port may have become corrupted.
By trying different USB ports, you can isolate whether it’s an issue with the port or potentially the drive itself. If the drive works fine in other ports, the problem is likely with the original port. You can then try reinstalling the USB drivers for that port or checking for any physical damage or issues.
Scan for errors
One of the best utilities for scanning and repairing errors on a USB drive is the CHKDSK tool in Windows. CHKDSK stands for Check Disk, and it analyzes the file system of a drive to check for problems. To use CHKDSK to scan for errors on your USB drive:
1. Open the File Explorer and right-click on the corrupted USB drive. Select “Properties”.
2. In the Properties window, go to the “Tools” tab and click on the “Check” button under “Error checking”.
3. This will launch the Check Disk tool. Make sure the box next to “Automatically fix file system errors” is checked and click “Start”.
4. CHKDSK will now scan the USB drive, analyzing the file system structure and checking for issues like bad sectors, lost clusters, cross-linked files, invalid directory entries, and more. It attempts to repair any errors it finds.
5. The process may take some time depending on the size of the USB drive and severity of corruption. Once it completes, you can check if the USB is now working properly.
Running CHKDSK regularly can help detect and prevent corruption issues with your USB drive before they become severe. See this guide for more details on using CHKDSK to repair USB drives.
Format the USB Drive
Formatting the USB drive will completely erase and restructure the file system on the drive. This process erases all data on the drive and reinitializes it. Formatting often resolves file system corruption issues, so it’s one of the first solutions to try.
To format the USB drive on Windows 10 or 11:
- Open File Explorer and right-click on the USB drive.
- Select “Format” from the menu.
- Choose the file system – FAT32 is recommended.
- Check the Quick Format box.
- Click “Start” to begin formatting.
The quick format will completely erase and reformat the drive. After formatting, the drive can be used again as normal. However, formatting erases all data, so be sure to back up any important files first. If formatting does not fix the corruption, other solutions like updating drivers, changing cables, or checking on another PC may be required.
Update USB Drivers
One potential cause of a corrupted USB drive is outdated or buggy USB drivers. The USB drivers are software that enables communication between your USB device and Windows. If the drivers are outdated or faulty, it can lead to connectivity issues and data corruption.
You can update the USB drivers through the Device Manager in Windows 10. Here are the steps:
- Open Device Manager (right-click the Start button and select Device Manager)
- Expand the “Universal Serial Bus controllers” section
- Right-click on the USB device driver you want to update and select “Update driver”
- Select “Search automatically for updated driver software”
- Windows will search and install an updated driver if one is available. Restart your computer after the installation.
Updating to the latest USB drivers may resolve any corruption issues and allow your USB drive to be accessed properly again. You can also try reinstalling the drivers or uninstalling and reconnecting the device if issues persist.
For additional guidance, refer to this step-by-step tutorial on updating USB drivers.
Disable USB selective suspend
The USB selective suspend setting can sometimes cause corruption issues with USB drives. This feature allows the computer to suspend power to individual USB ports when they are not in use in order to conserve battery power. However, abruptly cutting power to a USB drive before it has been properly ejected can lead to corruption.
To disable USB selective suspend on Windows 10:
- Open the Start menu and type “Power Options” to open up the Power Options control panel.
- Click “Change plan settings” next to your current power plan.
- Click “Change advanced power settings.”
- Expand the “USB settings” section and click the plus sign next to “USB selective suspend setting.”
- Change the “On battery” and “Plugged in” settings to “Disabled.”
- Click OK to save the changes.
Disabling USB selective suspend prevents your computer from suspending USB drives when not in use, which can help prevent future corruption issues.
Try plugging into another computer
Sometimes a USB drive may become corrupted or unreadable on one computer, but still work fine when plugged into a different machine. This indicates the corruption is likely due to an issue with that specific PC rather than a problem with the USB drive itself.
Before concluding your USB drive is permanently corrupted, first try plugging it into another Windows 10 computer. If the drive is recognized and accessible on the second PC, the problem lies with the original computer. Potential causes include:
- Faulty USB port or controller
- Corrupted USB drivers
- USB power management settings
- Other software/hardware faults
If the drive functions normally on a separate device, you can rule out physical damage to the USB drive. Troubleshoot the original computer instead to pinpoint what’s preventing access to external storage devices.
However, if the USB drive is still not recognized or readable when connected to multiple computers, the corruption likely stems from the drive itself. At that point, solutions like scanning for errors, formatting, or replacing the damaged drive may be necessary. Testing on a second system helps eliminate variables.
Check the USB cable
A damaged USB cable can cause intermittent connection issues that may lead to data corruption on the drive. If the wires inside the cable are broken or frayed, it can disrupt the flow of data and power to the USB device.
Try replacing the USB cable with a different high-quality cable that’s designed for data transfer. Avoid cheap cables, as they often have poor shielding and connectors. According to forums on Tom’s Hardware, faulty USB cables are a common cause of corruption on external drives .
Inspect your USB cable for any obvious damage. Look for cracked or worn connectors, exposed wires, kinks, or cable damage from pinching or pulling. If the cable looks questionable, swap it out for a new one. A simple cable replacement can often resolve random disconnections and corruption issues.
When All Else Fails, Replace The Drive
If you’ve tried everything else and the USB drive still cannot be properly accessed or keeps corrupting files, it’s likely at the end of its lifespan and needs to be replaced. Most USB flash drives last between 3-5 years with normal use before showing signs of failure . Some signs it may be time for a new drive include frequent errors, inability to format, or drastically slower performance.
Before replacing the USB drive, try to copy any important files off of it if possible. Use recovery software to extract data from the corrupted drive if you can access it at all. Otherwise, that data may be lost when you switch to a new drive.
When buying a replacement, look for a reputable brand and high-quality drive suited for your usage needs. Avoid cheap low-capacity drives which are more prone to failure over time. Also consider getting a slightly larger drive than you currently have, as storage needs tend to grow over time. Most name brand 16GB+ drives from makers like SanDisk, Samsung, and Kingston should last 5+ years with normal use .
Once you have your new USB drive, format it properly for your operating system. On Windows 10, you can right-click the drive in Explorer, select Format, choose FAT32 or exFAT file system, and give it a name. Then you’ll have a fresh blank slate to store your data again.