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Dead flash drives? What's going on here?!

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / May 9, 2008 6:42 AM PDT

Three times--once each with three different flash drives, and
on six different PCs--I've had the experience of finding that
the computer won't recognize the drive, and the data on the
drive has become inaccessible. I see this is a common
problem. Other users ask for advice on the Web, and nobody
seems able to offer any solid information on this occurrence.
In none of my incidents has the flash drive been dropped,
heated, frozen, or dropped into a liquid or run through a
strong magnetic field. One day they work; next day they
don't. Anybody know why or what could be causing this issue?
And whether my data is permanently lost in such cases? Three
times, three different flash drives can't be a coincidence!
Please help! Thank you.

--Submitted by Paul L.

Here are some great suggestions by our members to start, but please do read through all the other great suggestion from our members below.

If you have an answer for Paul, please click the reply link below to submit it. Please be as detailed as possible in your answer. Thanks!
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Not just flash...
by redking44 / May 9, 2008 12:05 PM PDT

No explanation, but I've had 2 MP3 players do exactly the same. So now I have 2 horribly expensive personal FM radios

My preferred reason is marketing. Manufacturers can predict almost to the day how long a device will last.. so if it fails quickly, they want it to.

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Attempt to recover your MP3 players...
by ThePoke / May 9, 2008 12:40 PM PDT
In reply to: Not just flash...

Hey Redking... sorry to hear about the MP3 players.

One of my nieces has done this twice. I was able to recover them by going into disk manager (Right click "my computer", manage, then about half way down...)

Connect your device & wait for the device insertion confirmations sounds. In the lower right, gray pane, scroll down til you see the drive that SHOULD be your MP3 player. (It will say like Disk x Removable K: and the drive size).

When you are ABSOLUTELY SURE. No mistakes here... If you are 100% sure then right click and tell it to format. (Formatting removes all the data from whatever drive you tell it to... and it don't care if you're wrong!!!) Tell it yes and then when prompted, the file system should be FAT.

This will reset the drive and your MP3 player should be ready to accept data again.

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Boy, does this post ever get a gold star!
by Van-D / May 17, 2008 10:31 PM PDT

I followed this advice and, to my surprise, the missing "Remove Safely" icon restored itself during the process. It brought up a list of ALL my USB drives and allowed me to chose the specific one I wished to remove. Hooray!

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Jump Drive Empty
by thomastri / May 19, 2008 2:13 AM PDT

Make sure you are logged in as administrator when checking the drive.

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Windows task bar
by noelvm / May 16, 2008 11:35 AM PDT
In reply to: Not just flash...

Choo says the big problem with failed flash drived is improper disconneting. Just go to the "windows task bar. . . . ."

Ok I'll bite. What and or where is the windows task bar. No I'm not running vista I'm running XP and will untill I die because I have three new boxed Dell XP computers here and I'm 63. They should last until I die. Screw you Bill!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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re Windows task bar - New!
by Dan Waldo / May 16, 2008 9:51 PM PDT
In reply to: Windows task bar

noelvm, I share your concern about Vista, but XP has a task bar as well. It's in the lower right corner of your screen, just left of the time indicator. If there's a < symbol, you may need to click on that to get a full view of the incons in the tray. Mousing over them will generate a popup balloon to tell you what they represent, and one should be for removing hardware (provided that you have hardware plugged in).

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It's too common not to have the "Safely Remove" icon present
by Van-D / May 16, 2008 10:39 PM PDT

A quick Google will show many people, like me for example, who experienc e the loss of that "Safely Remove Hardware" icon and are looking for a way to replace it! I've tried everything I've read to recreate that icon and still have had no luck. As a matter of course, I disable the 'hide inactive icons' and a work-around suggested was to stop that and use the 'customize' option to set the "Safely Remove" to 'always show' but with typical Microsoft reliability it decides this isn't part of 'always.' Anybody with another suggestion would be my new best friend.

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by nzav / May 17, 2008 2:29 AM PDT

I have been using this replacement for Microsoft's version for quite a while and have not looked back...

Hope this will bail you out also.
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Slight amendment to your definitions, Dan
by RLMuller / May 17, 2008 3:10 AM PDT

IMHO, the entire bottom line of a Windows screen is the Task Bar, except when the user boosts some application to "full screen". Most of the Task Bar is populated with icons which refer principally to applications the user opened through Windows Explorer. The right side of the Task Bar is devoted to the System Tray which presents icons for those applications which specifically elect representation there.

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Safely Remove Hardware Icon
by JoMcCoy / May 17, 2008 10:36 AM PDT

OK, I am getting lost or am not reading something correctly. When I click on this icon it gives a choice for removing the hardware drive itself. I had to do a system restore to recoup my G-drive. It didn't have anything to do with allowing the SD to be removed safely. What the heck did I do wrong?

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unplug and plug back in
by Olifrench / May 17, 2008 7:23 PM PDT

If you unplug and plug back in your USB device it should be available again. System Restore is not the way to do it. Basically with 'Safely Remove Hardware' you are preparing to remove the device so, as far as Windows is concerned, it has been removed and the only way to get it back is to plug it back in, which, of course, requires to plug it out first.

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It might be an internal card reader
by dannigirl2014 / May 19, 2008 6:25 AM PDT

Don't forget that if you are using an internal card reader you probably won't be able to get to its USB connection in order to have it recognized again. You'll have to re-boot!

In this case you just have to manage without using safely remove hardware. It should be fine as long as the drive is set for "optimize for safe removal" in Device Manager. Just wait until all operations are complete as far as Windows is concerned then wait until the activity lamp on the card or card reader indicates there is no more activity, then wait a couple of seconds more and pull out the card.

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Safely remove....
by soinel / May 24, 2008 2:56 AM PDT

with the icon visible in the hot corner(task BAR)as long as there isn't something on top of it that looks like a cancel sign you don't have to click on it ....just remove the thumb(Flash) drive as it will close any open files automatically. Just to be safe, close any open windows that are displaying or using any data on the flash drive. tThe problem most folks have with flash/thumb drives is that they remove them with open files still active. That is the same as removing a CD you are writing to before it is finished writing.....kiss the data goodbye

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Finding Safely Removing Hardware in the Windows XP taskbar
by dcwco / May 19, 2008 2:21 PM PDT

I want to thank you for your information. I just couldn't find that on my windows taskbar. I am so happy to know all the stuff from this question and yours helped me know exactly where to start now.

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task bar and Idiots
by soinel / May 24, 2008 2:50 AM PDT
In reply to: Windows task bar

to the 63 yr old newbie.....don't worry KID, I'm 68, the TASK BAR has been there at least since WIN 95. get your tri-focals and look down in the lower right cornermove the indicator(thingy that looks like a pointed arrow)over the little pictures(Icons) the one with the little green arrow is the one, stop the indicator over it and a little box will open and in is printed "Safely Remove Hardware" now go back and read the rest of the nice person's suggestion....he/she knows what they are talking about. Hang on to those can trade them in on a can of gas later this year....Soinel

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IMHO to "noelvm"
by Pepsizpop / May 24, 2008 8:42 AM PDT
In reply to: Windows task bar

Many of us have shared your frustrations w/wxp. Consider, however, that the GREAT BILL IN THE SKY will cause the release of a new software OS to replace Vista in two or three years. That release will become the current, Vista the immediately previous and wxp will join w98, w95, ... in "the graveyard of the feedbags of the milked to death." Unsupported operating systems and the hardware for which they were designed will perhaps best be shipped to Linux users.

The bottom line is you are still a young man by some standards (I'm 74), and many old timers remember the impatience of youth even in the process of forgetting the important stuff.

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Corrupt flash drives
by ThePoke / May 9, 2008 12:28 PM PDT

Hi Paul... Are you using "safely remove hardware" (system tray icon) before removing your flash drive from the computer?

Operating systems speed up access to memory devices (such as disk drives and flash memory) by using a cache. Simply put, the computer copies the device into it's faster memory and then reading and writing to the faster memory instead of accessing the device each time. The computer synchronizes the two at intervals or when you use "safely remove".

So if you pull the flash drive out and it hasn't synchronized, then files may have still been open causing them to become corrupt.

If you are removing the device correctly, ensure you are keeping the connectors covered between uses. Static electricity can damage not only the data, but it can totally destroy the device.

You can recover the data using shareware tools... but, this is an intermediate to advanced topic and something worth inviting a techie friend over for pizza to ask for his help & for him/her to teach you (as it's a good skill to learn)

Hope this helps!

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Write cache, not read cache
by Olifrench / May 17, 2008 7:44 PM PDT
In reply to: Corrupt flash drives

In your definition of cache you said "the computer copies the device into its faster memory and then reading and writing to the faster memory instead of accessing the device each time."

You imply that the entire contents of the device are copied into memory. As far as I know this is not done. Indeed most USB memory devices nowadays are bigger than the available memory. USB memory devices are treated like disks and as such are organised in 'sectors'. This means that reads and writes are done one sector at a time. This can be more data that what was required to be read.

If the device is deemed by Windows to be 'Optimised for performance' then a write cache is used. This is when it is important to remove the device safely. But there can be other writes in the background or files opened so it's always better safely to remove the device.

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is my flash disk dead or corrupted??
by gershom13 / May 19, 2008 3:42 PM PDT
In reply to: Corrupt flash drives

one day I'm trying to back up my files from my flash disk to my PC, then suddenly a warning pop up appear and said your "UNKNOWN DEVICE"
what could be the problem of my flash disk and how can I solve it??

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re bad flash drives
by barrymiller / May 20, 2008 1:03 AM PDT
In reply to: Corrupt flash drives

I have had several drop dead. The most recent one causes the computer to reboot on insertion. I tried on a different computer and it caused the operating system to lose files and crash instantly..Requiting re-installation of windows.. I am sure this is a hardware issue and not a matter of bad or corrupt files on the flash disk..

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flashdrive property showed 0byte
by pcchew / March 8, 2010 6:41 PM PST
In reply to: Corrupt flash drives

this has happened to 2 of my thumbdrives. I plug it into a multiusb device which is connected to my computer (vista ). But when I want to save any data onto it, it cannot be found. Subsequently I safely removed it, and when I plug it into a usb port on the computer, it showed under my computer, the presence of a disk drive, say F. when I click on it, it says insert a disc into drive F, and no matter which usb port I insert into, the same message appears. I tried it on an XP computer, same error. both my non working flashdrives have important data on them, how can I retrieve? and how to reactivate the flashdrives again to be functional? When I check on it's properties, it showed fully used(blue disc), but 0 byte. Can anyone help? Tks

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Operating System or Drivers
by XSYLUS / May 9, 2008 12:29 PM PDT

I think the problem has more to do with the operating system and/or drivers than it does with the flash drives themselves. I have a lenovo thinkpad with a built-in multi-card reader. I've hot-swapped the SD cards from my PDA to my laptop on several occasions. However, one time the card reader on the laptop said that none of the cards were formatted, yet when I put the card in the PDA it read all the data fine. One thing to check (if you're using windows) is the device manager. With device manager open plug a flash drive in and see if it shows it under there. If you don't see it try refreshing the device manager window or choosing the option to search for new hardware. In most cases the operating system (Windows) uses generic device drivers for hot-swappable flash drives. If you know the manufacturer of the drives you might try looking for more specific drivers however this may not make all the much difference.

*If I think of anything else I'll post it.

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by mrobinsonjr / May 9, 2008 12:36 PM PDT

it seems based on the info that you gave me that your flash drives are on the Virge of crashing due to a memory malfunction inside the drive. There is a possible chance you could lose your data so the next time it works i URGENTLY RECOMMEND you back it up to your computers hard drive.
Flash drives cannot be put near a magnetic field. doing so could result in memory misinstuction which results in corrupted data or not being to recover the flash drive itself. there are a bunch of options you can go to circuit city, best buy, of even walmart. they also sell them online (which is where i got mine from). mine is a SanDisk 4 GB Titanium Cruzer U3 Edition flash drive. it a pretty good flash drive for every day use, i dropped the thing a whole lot and it still works good still. if you use your flash drive everyday i recommend this drive. the website i got mine from is:

good luck!!

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Dead flash drive
by furlong64 / May 9, 2008 12:50 PM PDT

Have you tried booting your PC with the flash drive already inserted into the USBB port? I have to do this because my work PC never recognizes my flash drive (or any other) unless it's in the USB port when Windows loads.

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Yes, it's recoverable
by fredzy47 / May 9, 2008 12:58 PM PDT

The good news is your data is recoverable, just like any damaged drive. I was working on a project and shuttling files betwee two computers when I plugged in the flash drive one day and it was totally blank. Nada. Nothing. So I took it to my friendly tech wiz pal and, using a data recovery program, he retrieved it all. It was still on the drive, just not readable. As to what happened,it has to be about where and how the drive is stored when not in use. There are no moving parts to crash. Some way, the drives are being damaged.

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Flash Drive Failures
by Zouch / May 9, 2008 1:18 PM PDT

Hi Paul,
this isn't, or shouldn't be a "common problem" - I have a bunch of these drives, some bought, some freebie handouts from trade shows, etc., and in 3 years, I haven't had a failure. So three different drives all failing suggests a problem somewhere in your environment.

At risk of "teaching grandma to suck eggs", you are handling these things correctly, I assume. Like not just pulling the things out. On a Windows system ALWAYS use the green icon in the task bar to stop the drive and wait for the confirmation that it is safe to remove the drive. This will ensure all files are closed and buffers flushed. If you don't get the confirmation message, leave the drive in place until you shut the computer down. Any other method risks corrupting the data or worse, the FAT.

Don't defrag these drives. The drives do have a finite number of write cycles and by default, the drives will scatter the writes across the whole drive. By defragging, you move the date back to the starting sectors and you will wear them out faster. Fragmented flash drives do not have the performance problems associated with spinning disks.

Looking though your list of potential damages that you know haven't happened, the only omission I can see is a static discharge. Most flash drives, at least the metal cased ones, are reasonably well protected but a static discharge could affect the drive if it hit the connector. Try not to touch the actual connector.

I've assumed that the cables from the motherboard on your PCs to the external ports are correctly wired - it is possible on some boards to plug the connector in the wrong way round - most plugs have pin 1 marked in some way. Maybe worth a check.

Is the data lost forever? Maybe or maybe not. If it was data corruption on write, you might expect only the file you were writing to be affected but not necessarily so. To write a block, these drives read the whole of the sector in which the block is to be written, erase the whole sector and write the sector back with the new data added to the existing data, so some older files may be affected.

There are specialist data recovery companies that may be able to retrieve your data but these can be expensive. One of the better ones here in the UK is Kroll Ontrack. Their web site has trial downloads that you can use to look at the drive and see whether anything can be recovered. If so, you can buy the package to do it yourself. If the trial doesn't show up anything, they do have a free call and quote service. During normal business hours, one of their techies gets back to you within a couple of hours to discuss your problem. If they think the data can be recovered, they will give you a no obligation quote for their services. They may operate in other countries too or there will be equivalents.

Good luck!

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Easier way
by pjmarkert / May 17, 2008 1:45 PM PDT
In reply to: Flash Drive Failures

Here is an easier way than the safely disconnect icon:

Open My Computer
Right click on flash drive and click on "Eject"
Wait until the flash drive name goes away then pull it out.

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by Olifrench / May 17, 2008 8:01 PM PDT
In reply to: Easier way

It does the same thing but I fail to see how it's easier.

If all your tray icons are displayed 'Safely remove' takes 2 clicks. 3 clicks if you need to unhide the icon first.

If your 'My Computer' icon is visible on your desktop that's one click to open it, a right click on the device and, after finding the 'eject' from a typically longer list than the list of devices in 'safely remove, another click to eject. 3 clicks. Of course if the My Computer icon is not visible you need to make it visible first...

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Flash Drive Problem
by jj9f / June 7, 2008 10:32 AM PDT
In reply to: Flash Drive Failures

I have a Gateway desktop using Windows XP through SB3. I don't think that I have a problem of lost data as I have not been able to use the drive which is a 4.0GB SanDisk Cruzer. Everything appears to check out. I get a sound when I plug it in. If I run diskmgmt.msc, I see a Drive (M) 3.81 GB Healthy 97% Free and if I go to Hardware, Drive (C), I see San Disk U3 Cruzer USB Device and This device is working properly. "Optimize for quick removal" is also checked. The problem is, I can't find a icon representing the availability of the drive. The "Safely remove hardware" icon is in the tray as well as other icons, but none representing the Flash Drive. If I look in at My Computer, I do not see the drive listed under "Devices with Removable Storage". A friend of mine tried to use his flash drive in my computer with the same results. Am I missing something simple??? Appreciate any thoughts. Thanks.

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by santoshmadigela / May 9, 2008 1:42 PM PDT

maybe you wont use "safely remove mass storage device" option while removing your flash drive. this is the only case. try to reinstall usb drivers on your PC. if again problem occurs, there might be problem in flash drive port. it is not that you are connecting three drives or many.. usb use parallel communication.. so can connect as many as you can... if you think i can help.. contact me.

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