USB drives are very convenient for storing and transferring files between computers and devices. However, like all storage media, they can become corrupted or damaged, making it difficult or impossible to access the data on them. When this happens, it’s natural to wonder if there’s any way to fix the USB drive and recover your files. The good news is that in many cases, it is possible to repair and uncorrupt a USB drive using various data recovery tools and techniques.
What causes a USB drive to become corrupted?
There are several potential causes of USB drive corruption:
- Improperly ejecting the USB – If the USB is disconnected from a computer without properly ejecting it first, it can cause file system corruption.
- Physical damage – Dropping the USB drive, getting it wet, etc. can physically damage the drive and make data inaccessible.
- Electrical issues – Power surges, static electricity, or problems with the USB port can damage the controller chip or storage media.
- File system errors – The file system managing the data on the drive can become corrupted for various reasons, rendering files inaccessible.
- Virus infection – Viruses or other malware that infect the USB drive can damage or corrupt files.
The way the USB becomes corrupted determines the likelihood and methods for recovering the data. Physically damaged drives are harder to repair than those with software-based file system issues.
Software troubleshooting steps
If your USB drive is recognized by your computer but you can’t access the files, there are some software troubleshooting steps you can try first before resorting to data recovery tools:
- Try the USB on a different computer – Corruption may be due to incompatibility issues with that particular PC.
- Check for errors – Use built-in disk checking utilities like CHKDSK or fsck to detect and repair file system errors.
- Update USB drivers – Outdated motherboard drivers can sometimes cause USB issues; update them to the latest available.
- Format the USB – As a last resort, you can try reformatting the USB to factory settings if software fixes don’t work.
Formatting the drive will erase all data, so only do this if you’ve exhausted other options and have backups. But reformatting may clear up file system corruption and make the USB usable again.
Best data recovery software
If the USB drive has more serious corruption and standard troubleshooting doesn’t fix it, you’ll need dedicated data recovery software to try reconstructing your files. Some of the best USB data recovery programs include:
1. EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard
EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard is user-friendly data recovery software with an intuitive interface. It supports recovery from partition loss, formatting, corruption, as well as external devices like USB drives. It can recover documents, photos, music, videos, emails, and more from USB drives quickly and easily. The free trial version enables previewing files before recovery.
2. Stellar Data Recovery
Stellar Data Recovery performs seamless USB file recovery through any corruption scenario. It has advanced scanning algorithms that thoroughly search storage media for recoverable data. The Basic version is free and allows recovering up to 1GB of data from USB drives and other external storage devices.
3. Disk Drill
Disk Drill features powerful data recovery tools, both free and paid. The free version contains all functionality for recovering lost USB files but is capped at 500MB of recovery. Paid plans unlock unlimited recovery capabilities. Disk Drill can recover from external drives andRetrieve up to 1GB of data for free.
Recuva is free data recovery software with full USB support. It can undelete files that were accidentally deleted from USB drives through its deep scan algorithms. Recuva is easy to use with a basic wizard-based interface ideal for casual users. The free version contains all the core recovery tools.
TestDisk is free, open source software that focuses on partition recovery but also enables file recovery. It can rebuild corrupted partition tables and restructure lost or damaged file systems. For USB drives, it can be useful for finding lost or deleted partitions that may hold recoverable data.
Physical data recovery
For physically damaged USB drives that software can’t fix, you may need professional data recovery services. Companies like Seagate, Ontrack, and Gillware offer USB, hard drive, and SSD data recovery from physical damage like:
- Water damage
- Fire damage
- Failed drives
- Clicking sounds
- Head crashes
However, physical recovery services can get very expensive. Costs often start around $500-600 and can exceed $1000 for difficult cases requiring clean room disassembly and advanced component-level repairs.
Data recovery tips
To maximize your chances of success when trying to uncorrupt and recover data from a damaged USB drive, follow these tips:
- Avoid continuing to use the USB after corruption – This can overwrite your files making recovery harder.
- Don’t open recovered files before saving – Open them only after recovering and saving to another location.
- Try multiple recovery tools – Each program may recover different sets of files.
- Try recovery on a different PC – A different OS or hardware setup may have better results.
- Send for professional recovery as a last resort – If DIY options don’t work and the data is valuable.
Can you recover data after reformatting a USB drive?
Reformatting a USB drive erases all data on it to restore to factory settings. However, data recovery software can often still recover files from a reformatted USB drive as long as you haven’t written significant new data to it.
When you reformat a drive, the file system structure is renewed, but the actual data doesn’t get immediately overwritten. Recovery software can scan the raw storage media and reconstruct parts of the original data.
However, the longer you continue using the reformatted drive and adding new files, the more likely old data will get overwritten. So for the best chance of recovering files after a reformat, you need to use data recovery software as soon as possible before writing new data.
Steps to recover data from reformatted USB
Follow these steps to attempt recovery after accidentally reformatting a USB drive:
- Stop using the USB right away.
- Connect the reformatted USB to a PC.
- Run data recovery software like EaseUS, Stellar, Disk Drill etc.
- Scan the USB to find recoverable files.
- Preview found files to check their integrity.
- Recover files and save them to a different safe location.
Again, the sooner you run the recovery process after a reformat, the better your chances of success. But it’s still possible to recover at least some files unless the USB drive has been filled with new data.
Can you fix a corrupted USB drive?
It’s often possible to fix and continue using a corrupted USB drive depending on the cause and severity of corruption. Software-based errors like file system issues or partition table problems have the best chance of being fixable. Here are some potential solutions for repairing a corrupted drive:
- File system checks – CHKDSK (Windows), fsck (Linux/Mac) can fix file system errors.
- Formatting – Reformat to exFAT or FAT32 file system.
- USB repairs – Try drive repair tools like TestDisk, Boot-Repair, or USB Disk Storage Format.
- Update USB drivers – Outdated drivers can cause USB corruption.
If none of those software fixes resolve the corruption, the USB controller hardware itself is likely damaged and the drive will need to be replaced. For severe corruption causing physical malfunction, professional data recovery would be required to extract any data before replacing the USB.
Can you fix RAW USB drives?
USB flash drives may suddenly turn RAW when they become corrupted, meaning the file system is not recognized by the OS. RAW drives cannot be accessed normally through the file explorer.
RAW corruption is usually repairable through formatting tools. Some solutions include:
- Using disk management utility to reformat RAW USB drive.
- Using DiskPart clean command in Command Prompt.
- Using third-party formatting tools like HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool.
- Quick formatting RAW USB drive to FAT32 or exFAT.
It’s critical to back up important data from the RAW drive first before attempting fixes, as formatting will erase all data. Reformatting a RAW USB drive to standard file systems like FAT32 or exFAT is usually the quickest way to get it working again.
Tips to avoid USB drive corruption
You can help prevent USB drive corruption by following best practices:
- Always eject USBs safely before unplugging.
- Don’t unplug USBs while files are transferring.
- Store and transport USBs properly to avoid physical damage.
- Scan USBs regularly for errors and bad sectors.
- Make regular backups of important USB data.
- Encrypt USB data in case of loss or theft.
- Avoid using USBs on public computers with malware risks.
Following these tips will minimize your risks of file system errors, disconnect issues, physical damage, and malware infection leading to USB drive corruption.
USB drive corruption can happen unexpectedly, but there are ways to uncorrupt and recover data in many cases. Software recovery tools, drive repairs, and data recovery services can help retrieve important files. It’s also possible to fix the underlying corruption issue and continue using a USB drive in some situations. Staying vigilant against corruption by practicing drive care and maintenance can also reduce your risks considerably. So don’t abandon all hope if a USB becomes corrupted – with the right approach, you have decent chances of recovering your data and restoring full functionality.