How do I recover a flash drive that won’t read?

What to Do First

If your flash drive is not being read or recognized by your computer, the first things to try are using the drive in another USB port and on another computer. USB ports can malfunction, and trying a different port may allow the drive to be accessed properly. If the drive fails to work on another computer as well, then the issue is likely with the drive itself rather than your computer’s USB ports.

You’ll also want to check if the flash drive is properly formatted and recognized by your operating system. On Windows, open Disk Management and see if the drive shows up there. If it does, you may just need to assign a drive letter to the flash drive for it to show up in File Explorer. On Mac, use Disk Utility to verify the drive format and partition scheme.

Finally, physically inspect the flash drive for any damage or corrosion. If the metal contacts are damaged, that can prevent the drive from making proper electrical contact in the USB port. Dust, debris, and liquid spills can also interfere with the metal contacts reading properly. If you see any physical damage, the drive may be beyond DIY fixes and require professional data recovery.

Check the Drive Format

The first step is to check what file format the flash drive is using. This can determine compatibility issues between your computer’s operating system and the drive. Here are some common formats:

FAT32 – One of the most widely compatible formats that works with Windows and Mac OS. But it has limits on individual file sizes.[1][2]

exFAT – Allows larger file sizes. Works with newer versions of Windows and Mac OS.[3]

NTFS – Default Windows system format. Limited compatibility with Mac OS.

To check the format on Windows, open File Explorer, right click on the flash drive and select Properties. On Mac, open Disk Utility and view the drive info.

If the format is incompatible with your OS, you may need to reformat the drive before it can be accessed properly.

Try a Different USB Port

Sometimes the issue is with the specific USB port you are using rather than the flash drive itself. There may be compatibility issues between the flash drive and that particular port, or the port could be damaged in some way.

Try plugging your flash drive into a different USB port, ideally on the front of your computer if you were using a rear port before. If the drive is detected and functions normally, then the problem was isolated to the previous USB port.

USB connectivity issues can arise from faulty ports, cables, or controllers. Updating your USB drivers may help if switching ports does not work. You can also try using a USB hub to connect your flash drive if you have limited ports available (cite:

Troubleshooting the basics like trying different ports and cables is an easy first step before determining hardware failure. Simple connection issues are a common reason for flash drives not being detected.

Update Drivers and USB Controllers

Outdated or corrupted USB drivers can sometimes prevent your computer from detecting the flash drive properly. Windows relies on these drivers to communicate with connected USB devices. If they become outdated, certain USB devices may fail to be recognized.

You can update your USB drivers through Device Manager in Windows. Open Device Manager, expand the Universal Serial Bus controllers section, right click on each USB device and select Update driver. This will prompt Windows to search for and install the latest driver software.

Additionally, make sure you have the latest USB controller software installed. Companies like Intel, AMD, and Via provide USB controller drivers that work with their chipsets. Check your motherboard or PC manufacturer’s website for the newest versions of these drivers. Installing these can optimize how your USB ports function.

Updating these drivers and software may allow Windows to properly recognize your flash drive again. If the drive previously worked on the same computer, outdated drivers are a common reason for the change in detection. Be sure to keep them updated going forward.


Check for Physical Damage

Physically inspect your flash drive for any signs of damage. Common issues include:

  • Cracked or broken housing
  • Bent or missing USB connector
  • Exposed circuit board
  • Loose components

If the housing is cracked or components are exposed, the drive may have suffered internal damage from moisture, shock, or static electricity. Bent pins on the USB connector can prevent proper contact. In severe cases like a cracked circuit board or separated chip, the drive is likely beyond DIY repair.

For more minor issues like a loose or separated housing, you may be able to snap the case back together. However take care, as forcing pieces could further damage internal components. Avoid handling the circuit board and chips directly.

Overall, physical damage greatly reduces the chances of recovering data intact. But specialized data recovery services may still be able to access the memory chips and extract files. According to the Salvagedata article, the cost ranges from $300 for minor issues up to $1600+ for severe PCB damage ( Though keep in mind, there’s no guarantee of recovering anything.

Test on Another Computer

One of the easiest troubleshooting steps you can take is to try plugging the flash drive into a different computer. Connect it to another Windows PC, Mac, or Linux machine if you have access to one. This will help determine whether the issue is specific to your computer or a problem with the drive itself.

For example, if the flash drive works fine when plugged into a different computer, the problem likely lies with your PC’s USB ports, drivers, or OS. You may need to update your USB drivers, install the latest Windows updates, or tweak your USB power settings as covered in other sections.

However, if the flash drive fails to mount or read on multiple computers, the issue is with the drive itself. Potential causes could include:[]

  • Physical damage
  • Corrupted data
  • Drive formatting issues between Windows, Mac, and Linux

In this case, you’ll need to try reformatting the drive or using data recovery software. If the drive still doesn’t work, it likely needs to be replaced.

Format or Partition the Drive

Formatting or partitioning the flash drive using the Windows Disk Management utility may resolve detection issues caused by file system errors. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Open Disk Management. You can access this by right-clicking the Start menu and selecting Disk Management.

2. Locate your flash drive in the list of disks. It may show up as an unknown device or have no drive letter assigned.

3. Right-click on the flash drive and select Format. This will erase all data on the drive.

4. Set the file system to FAT32 or exFAT and start the formatting process.

If formatting does not work, you can try partitioning the drive instead. This sections the drive into logical sections and creates a fresh partition table.

To partition:

  • Right-click on the flash drive and select Delete Volume. This deletes all existing partitions.
  • Right-click again and select New Simple Volume. Walk through the wizard to create a new partition.

Formatting or partitioning through Disk Management should assign a new drive letter if the flash drive is detectable. This resolves many file system issues that could prevent detection.

Use Data Recovery Software

There are many data recovery software options available to help rescue data from a flash drive that won’t read. Some top data recovery software tools include:

Stellar Data Recovery, Recoverit, Disk Drill, Recuva, and Pandora Recovery.

To use data recovery software to restore data from an unreadable flash drive:

  1. Download and install the data recovery software on your computer.
  2. Connect the flash drive to the computer.
  3. Open the software and select the flash drive to scan.
  4. The software will scan the drive and display files that can be recovered.
  5. Preview and select the files you want to restore.
  6. Choose a location to save the recovered files.
  7. Allow the software to recover and restore your data.

Data recovery software provides an easy way for the average user to rescue lost or inaccessible data from a flash drive. Just be sure to use a reputable program and save recovered files to a different location than the original flash drive.

Send for Professional Recovery

If you’ve exhausted all the DIY options and your flash drive still won’t read or you can’t recover the data, it may be time to turn to professional data recovery services. Companies like Secure Data Recovery, SERT Data Recovery, and DriveSavers specialize in recovering data from damaged, corrupted, or unresponsive storage devices.

The professional data recovery process typically involves the following steps:

  • Initial evaluation – The flash drive is examined to determine the cause of the issue and estimate the likelihood of recovering data.
  • Imaging – The drive is cloned using specialized tools to create a forensic image, without risking further damage to the original.
  • Data extraction – Advanced techniques are used to reconstruct damaged files and folders from the forensic image.
  • Data validation – The recovered data is checked for completeness and integrity.
  • Return of data – The recovered files are transferred to another storage medium provided by the customer.

Professional recovery services can salvage data even from drives that are mechanically damaged or have corrupted firmware. The cost for flash drive recovery ranges from a few hundred to a thousand dollars, depending on the severity of the issue. This option makes the most sense when the data is critical and irreplaceable.

When to Buy a New Drive

There are a few signs that indicate it is time to replace your flash drive with a new one:

If you’ve tried all the troubleshooting steps like changing USB ports, updating drivers, reformatting, and data recovery software without success, the drive is likely too damaged to repair. Excessive physical damage or corrosion on the drive connectors can also make data irrecoverable.

Most flash drives last between 3-5 years with normal use before performance starts to decline. If your drive is very old, has reached its write/erase cycle limit, or is much slower than when new, it’s a good idea to replace it.

Check the manufacturer’s lifespan estimates. For example, SanDisk rates many of their flash drives for 5-10 years of life. If your drive is past this age, replacement is recommended.

When disposing of old flash drives, make sure to wipe the data first or physically destroy the drive if it contains sensitive information. Recycle the drive components responsibly when possible.

For a new drive, look for one made by a reputable brand like SanDisk, Kingston, or Samsung. Try to get one with a warranty of at least 2 years. The latest USB standards like USB 3.2 provide faster speeds. An all-metal casing can improve durability and heat dissipation.