USB thumb drive stopped working; data recovery service?

I have an Ativa 4GB USB thumb drive with various Word documents on it that I need to recover. The drive mysteriously stopped being recognized as a USB device last week. On a Mac, PC, or Linux machine the USB light fails to engage, the drive does not get mounted, and the OS does not register any drive as having been inserted. The drive is dead.

I do not care the least bit about the drive, as it is a dirt-cheap purchase from Office Depot and easily replaced. I do, however, care about the data on the drive. I have tried googling for USB thumb drive data recovery services, but in contrast to hard disk data recovery services I can’t seem to find reputable news sites evaluating the various contenders.

Instead, I find a lot of search engine optimization and astroturfing which makes me extremely leery of trying a given service blind. Does anyone have a line on USB drive data recovery services? Or websites which have reviewed said services? Or, heck, a decent method for determining the “goodness” of businesses discovered through Google?

Start with your local yellow pages under data recovery.

They might not be able to help you, but they can point you to someone reliable who might.

Thanks for the pointer, but, to paraphrase Peter Griffin, for the life of me, I don’t know anyone who uses a phone book anymore. I’m sure I do not have one. The last time I checked, the library doesn’t carry them. How do I get my local yellow pages? Online yellow pages surely suffer from the same problem Google does: the cost to add your “business” into the list is near-zero, which means anyone can and already has done so.

Phone books are generally delivered annually to residences and businesses… Although they might have stopped that recently with the uprise of the internet. I agree though, for locality, few things beat an actual phone book. Here’s a form that you can use to request a copy:


I am not at all sure I want locality in this instance. I live in Portland, OR. It is a medium-sized city and we generally have at least one of everything. I am not sure, however, that USB thumb drive data recovery services will be on the list. We shall see.

I’ve used both Ontrack Data Recovery and Drivesavers to recover data from defective hard drives in the past. Both are reputable firms. No idea what it will cost to recover data from your thumb drive.

You don’t need hard drive recovery services. Thumb drives are effectively the same thing as memory cards. Card recovery has worked well for me in the past in recovering deleted files. If the card has stopped working entirely there might be another issue but card recovery has my seal of approval.

I use Google Maps as a kind of phone book replacement. Punch in your zip code and the service or business you’re looking for, and presto! Some businesses even have reviews, which can help you choose a reputable one - might also be of assistance.

I have a Micro Center 16GB thumb drive with various Word documents on it that I need to recover. The drive mysteriously stopped being recognized as a USB device a couple of weeks ago. On a Mac, PC, or Linux machine the USB light fails to engage, the drive does not get mounted, and the OS does not register any drive as I do not care the least bit about the drive but I do, however, care about the data on the drive.

I hate to be a downer. But, there isn’t much to recover in a thumb drive. Your data is stored in a silicon chip. Chip goes bad and you’re screwed. I never, ever use a thumb drive for anything important.

Hard drives are different. Data is on magnetic plates. If the electronics goes out the data is still there. Even if the motor fails, the data is recoverable. They can even recover data (in some cases) from the damaged magnetic media.

I doubt anything is recoverable from thumb drives. Maybe, if the storage chips are ok, there’s a small chance.


Is anyone else getting spammy vibes from this? All it is is a weird cut and repaste of the OP, with a 16G drive replacing the 4G drive.

Akunrunda Oligbedu, I apologize if you’re in earnest but I can’t figure out why you would take the time to re-cut the OP instead of saying “Gee, I’m having the same problem with my Micro Center 16GB thumb drive”.

I have seen a USB drive killed before my eyes by a PC that had a bad power supply. It worked for about 20 minutes, then started to get errors and then died.

The drives have a number of chips with different functions, the actual memory is Flash, and is on a different ship to the controller. (They are manufactured with different processes, and this tends to mean that it is always uneconomic to put the functionality on the same chip.) There is likely a power control chip too (although this may be on the same chip as the controller.) In my case it was probably the power control that was killed.

The upshot is that there is a reasonable chance that a dead USB drive has intact flash memory, and a dead controller. Unlike disk drives, where there are serious problems replacing a controller (because the controller contains information about things like dead blocks and other physical attributes of the specific disk platter), reworking a USB flash drive with a new controller chip isn’t a huge problem. There is a good, but by no means assured, chance that the data can be recovered. But as above. If the flash chip(s) are dead, the data is going to be very difficult to essentially impossible read. Recovery is not going to be cheap. Assume many hundreds of dollars.

This is cheap compared to disks. However disk data recovery can involve almost astounding levels of technology. Clean room rebuilding of drives, onwards. If you data is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, you will pay.

There is a small lesson here about backups too.

Hmmm, didn’t twig to that.

I’m intrigued by this question, as it isn’t the first time I have seen reference to spambots creating, or trying to create, legit looking postings. One assumes the idea is that it is automated, or at least highly machine assisted, allowing very fast creation of legitimate looking accounts for nefarious purposes. But I don’t really understand the rationale. I guess an account with a few non-spam postings is less likely to be obviously recognised as a spam fountain as quickly as one where the only postings are spam. But it hardly seems worth the effort.

We learned the hard way that hard drive recovery isn’t very practical.

A friend of mine did computer support at the university I work at. One of the deans had a computer failure. Bad hard drive. She lost her email and docs. She was pissed and raising hell. They looked into sending off the drive for recovery. No way. The cost was absurd. The university refused to pay that much.

That witch almost got my friend fired over that one. It was the email that she was the most upset about. People go apeshit when they lose email. That’ll get a support tech fired quicker than anything.

I actually did manage to repair a USB drive for a friend a few years back. The drive had been partially crushed and had a cracked PCB and some broken components. The memory chip and device controller chip were still intact and functional, and I managed to bypass the damaged and internally shorted PCB with some careful soldering. It did take all day with some specialized equipment, and wasn’t something I would have attempted if the drive hadn’t contained some important files not backed up elsewhere.

I did notice during the repair that when I connected the USB interface/device controller chip alone without having the flash memory chip completely connected, the device would be recognized by the PC as a valid drive, but containing no valid data. So if the drive isn’t responding at all, you probably have a problem with the driver chip or possibly the PCB itself. If nothing else, it should be possible to transplant the flash memory chip onto a brand new, functional, USB thumb drive of identical manufacture.

This thread raises a good question.

With literally millions of hard drives and possibly billions of thumb drives in use.

Why are there so few data recovery service companies? Why is it still so expensive?

Usually supply & demand makes things cheaper. You’d expect to find a data recovery service in every Walmart. Thirty years since the first PC and nothing has changed. The average computer user can’t afford to get data recovered.

We had a similar situation, where the Very Important Person’s secretary kept everything on her hard drive, rather than the network. Drive went south, and we had to spend $800 to recover it.

We were OK though, as our policies are quite clear that work-related data is to be stored on the network.

We recovered everything, but from that point on, she followed the policy.

Yes, I did.
I debated whether or not to report it, but decided not to.

Cheap. I once spent $8000. I still have the receipt. I should frame it and keep it next to the backup drive.

Thanks for the heads-up. I’m not sure what’s going on there. He (?) apparently signed up today specifically to make that one post, and that’s the only post he’s ever made here. There are no links (spammy or otherwise) in the message or in his profile, and if he’s trying to pimp Micro Center thumb drives, that’s not a good way to do it.

Basically, I share your puzzlement, but he hasn’t done anything wrong. We’ll keep an eye open, though.