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Help! USB flash drive suddenly became write-protected

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / May 10, 2013 8:45 AM PDT

Help! USB flash drive suddenly became write-protected

I have a 64GB USB flash drive that suddenly went "write-protected" (read only). It has no tiny little switch to unprotect it, but seeing as there really wasn't anything critical to be lost, I decided that a simple reformat would fix it up. Unfortunately, W7 can't format it because it's write-protected. The error message says to undo the write protection before formatting (starting to look like an old "Catch-22" scenario). I bought it on eBay from China and can't identify the manufacturer, so there is no help there.

I scoured the Internet to find what I was sure would be a simple solution. I've tried virtually every suggestion and freeware tool that numerous Google searches have proffered. My drive is still unusable and to my surprise, it turns out that there are quite a lot of us out there getting increasingly frustrated with the same problem. Short of smashing the drive with a hammer, I don't see how else to end this dilemma.

Frankly, you are my last resort. Unless some genius out there has a solution that actually works, I'll definitely resort to using a hammer. If it comes to that, I bet I will even smash it with relish. That's how frustrating this seemingly simple problem has become for me.

Anyhow, thanks in advance for any help you can hook me up with.

-- Submitted by: Norm B.
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There's an easy solution...

Buy products from reputable manufacturers who'll support them when you have problems.

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by danielostrander / May 17, 2013 11:52 AM PDT

That's not a solution!

Note: This post was edited by its original author to remove personal attack on 05/23/2013 at 1:42 PM PT

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by padyboy / May 25, 2013 12:33 PM PDT

Buy American, if you can find it.

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name any
by JohnnyMiri / May 25, 2013 3:48 PM PDT
In reply to: reply

name any usb drive that's actually manufactured in the USA

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Maybe ...
by tumbleweed_biff / May 26, 2013 12:39 PM PDT
In reply to: name any

... Kingston?

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by bluesky12102 / May 26, 2013 2:27 PM PDT
In reply to: Maybe ...

Headquartered in Fountain Valley, California, USA, Kingston Technology employs more than 4,200 people worldwide as of Q1 2013. The company has manufacturing and logistics facilities in the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Taiwan, and China.

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Hmm, I have a 128Gb USB flash drive from Kingston
by anthony f wood / May 27, 2013 6:37 AM PDT
In reply to: Maybe ...

that I can't even access, formatting won't work in Win7 or XPpro. Been thinking of mailing it to the manufacturer, I may never see it again but it's no use like this.

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Not a very helpful comment
by allisonr / May 30, 2013 2:46 PM PDT

Doesn't help NormB after the event, I am sure that he is only too aware that reptable manufacturers are better but this wasn't on his mind when the budget is under pressure

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If it's old the flash memory probably wore out and can't be
by AnthonyNYC / May 10, 2013 10:16 AM PDT

If it's old the flash memory probably wore out and can't be re-written anymore. That is what I read is suppose to happen to SSD drives also when the amount of write cycles is used up, they lock up and can't be written to anymore but you can continue to read from them forever (or until it breaks).
It's actually comforting to know when the flash chips finally wear out that you just don't lose your data, right?
You just can't change it any more, that's all.

So you really got your monies worth to wear out the chip write cycles. It's something I suspect people will hear more of as the drives all start to age. You are one of the first I guess, lol.

I could be wrong of course, but that would be my guess as to why you can't format or write to the chips anymore.
They all have a limited amount of writes before they wear out and become permanently locked in the last position.
I hope that makes sense and helped.

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Wore out ? You are joking?

Now I've heard everything. A worn out drive! Ridiculous - mine was less than 2 weeks old.

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I did say, "If it's old memory..."
by AnthonyNYC / May 18, 2013 3:18 AM PDT

How am I suppose to know the age of it?
All I suggested, and was giving one of several possibilities, was that when flash cells expire, they still can be read but not changed any longer, so no more re-writing. Which sure acts a heck of a lot like being write protected in my opinion.
I have no clue of your flashes age nor anyone else's, so my helpful info was just a suggestion to those in the future reading this same post in clues as to why possibly their flash drives are also acting this way.
Don't take it personal, take it as a helpful suggestion (and one of several real possibilities) to something to consider in diagnosing your problem which you are seeking help with.

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Old Memory?
by tumbleweed_biff / May 25, 2013 4:23 AM PDT

Uh, its a 64 gig drive. They haven't been around long enough to be worn out even with constant use. Remember, the wear factor is only to do with the number of times a particular segment of memory can be written to - it isn't affected by reads access. You could set up a 64 gig flash drive on your machine and perform constant write/over-writes for probably more than a year at 24 hours a day and not be anywhere near reaching the write limit for the memory.

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64GB memory sticks do have support issues.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 25, 2013 4:32 AM PDT
In reply to: Old Memory?

Long story about a friend with one but the 16GB sticks were fine.

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PS. Sorry about the lack of details.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 25, 2013 5:49 AM PDT

It was XP SP3 and all updated but it failed to recognize the newer sticks. Since it was an older PC they decided to use sticks that worked rather than lose more time.

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Old Memory?
by bluesky12102 / May 26, 2013 4:29 AM PDT
In reply to: Old Memory?

And this is supposed to help me solve the problem how?????????

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It will help you solve your problem by saving you time
by AnthonyNYC / May 26, 2013 9:06 AM PDT
In reply to: Old Memory?

bluesky12102 wrote:
And this is supposed to help me solve the problem how?????????

and my reply is, it will help you solve your problem by saving you wasted time trying to get it working again where if the problem really is worn-out flash then there is NO solution! Throw it out (copy over the data first) and buy a new one! Is that help enough?
Again, only you should know how long you been using the flash drive to get an idea whether it's come to the end of its life of write cycles or not.
Why waste time trying to fix something that can't be fixed? If it's worn out, that is.

And someone wrote that if it would wear out, it would slowly show less and less usable space, that is incorrect! Once the flash drive has come to a predetermined amount of cycles, it freezes itself on purpose in "read-only" mode to prevent damage to any existing data.

Just realize it IS one of many possibilities, that's all.
And knowing it might never be repairable, is it really worth days of trying other stuff when new ones are so cheap?

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It will help you solve your problem by saving you time
by bluesky12102 / May 26, 2013 1:27 PM PDT

I've only had the drive for about 2 months so I really doubt that it's worn out. So, I was hoping that just maybe there was a solution. Over the years I've come up against various (and usually mysterious) pc problems. Mysterious in the sense that I have or had no idea as to what caused it. Virtually every time, a solution (and often a simple one) was found just by Googling the problem a little.

In fact many times, simply copy/pasting the error message in the Google searchbar would first confirm that I wasn't the first person in the world to experience whatever the problem was and second, the solution to fix it was not all that complicated.

So far I don't feel that my time has been wasted. I enjoyed this CNET Community experience and have reaffirmed to myself how good Googling actually is. With a few exceptions, I had already tried virtually every proposed solution before even posting my problem here. In fact, if you look at my initial post you will see that I refer to it as being my last resort before smashing the drive with a hammer. I realize that it just might be impossible to repair this drive however I just had to give it a good try before giving up. Cheers.

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For those interested
by tumbleweed_biff / June 4, 2013 3:09 AM PDT
In reply to: Old Memory?

... in real world testing, following is a DOS cmd file I created to see just how many times I could write to a generic flash drive (promo 1gb drive from I created a 7z file that is within a couple of megs of the full size of the drive and then simply copy it to the drive repeatedly (the '/y' switch is needed to tell it to overwrite the file without prompting each time). At some 3.8 min or so iteration, it will take about 2.5 days to copy the file 1000 times, or the expected limit of a TLC drive, approx 12.5 days for a MLC drive and 250 days for an SLC drive. I don't know which this drive is - I will post an update for those interested in knowing how long it takes to fail. I would be interested in finding out what others experience, especially if someone has a USB 3.0 drive they are willing to sacrifice as that will go much faster than my USB 2.0 drive ...

REM save file as anyname.cmd
REM where c:\test.7z is the name and location of the file to be copied
REM in my case a 1gb file
REM and f:\ is the drive letter of the target USB drive
for /l %%x in (1, 1, 10000) do (
xcopy c:\test.7z f:\ /y
REM displays which iteration you are on
echo %%x
REM displays current time stamp of completed iteration.
echo %time%

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Test Results
by tumbleweed_biff / June 14, 2013 6:58 AM PDT
In reply to: For those interested

For those who are still getting updates on this thread ...

After 10 days of constant writing (24hrs/day), I have written a 1 gig file to a 1 gig drive just a bit over 4000 times and it is still going. I am going to halt the test at this time. This is at least 33% more than the projected writes for MLC memory and 400% of the TLC projected writes. As a generic drive used as a give-away promotion, I seriously doubt that this drive is SLC memory.. This is as cheap a drive as you will find anywhere. This means that this drive has been written to for over 14,400 minutes continuously without failure. I doubt there are more than a very small number who have spent that much time total in all their years of writing to a USB flash drive added together.

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Thanks for the update
by bluesky12102 / June 14, 2013 11:48 PM PDT
In reply to: Test Results

Very interesting.

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not worn out in that time
by billyBust8 / May 18, 2013 3:18 AM PDT

But as ppsm advised, try contacting the vendor. Flash memory chips, like all electronics, sometimes die abruptly. The highest rates of failure are at the very beginning and then at the extreme end of life. Your unit might be part of the infant failures. Often the vendor will offer a replacement as a matter of public relations; doesn't hurt to ask.

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That is so true!
by AnthonyNYC / May 18, 2013 3:24 AM PDT

You are right, so the chips can prematurely wear out also, so yes, it can happen early on or later on, I hadn't considered it in that way. Very helpful!

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Solid State storage write cycle life
by Aseriesguy / May 19, 2013 4:40 AM PDT

Solid State storage devices have a definite write cycle life. That's why they use complex algorithms to distribute the write cycles evenly among the storage locations. SSDs burn the information onto a semiconductor substrate unlike DRAM that actually stores the information on tiny capacitors that must be regularly refreshed. WARSTORY warning: Back in the 80's one of my sites had a bunch of laser printers and we were having to replace way too many control boards. The factory told us the Electrically Erasable ROM chips used for setup configuration were burned out from exceeding the 10,000 or so write cycle limit. The configuration should never have to be changed more than a few dozen times, usually when the printer has been repaired or moved. We found out the users were re-writing the setup options with ESC codes to change page formatting. This was easier than learning the complex printer control language. They might change page formatting a hundred times a day, possibly with each print job.

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flash memory on old motherboards, too
by ben_myers / May 24, 2013 11:06 AM PDT

Back in the day, Windows 95 insisted on writing Windows hardware configuration data to motherboard flash memory each and every time the system booted up, whether or not the hardware configuration had changed between boots. Yep, after a while, motherboards failed to work properly.

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Wore out ? You are joking?
by Mickavellian / May 25, 2013 1:19 AM PDT

Flash Drive drive worn out ? LOL ... I wonder where these flights of expertise come from.

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They can wear out.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / May 25, 2013 1:21 AM PDT

It's documented so before folk discount wear out, please do a little research. It's long enough to not be common but it does happen.

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The Do Wear Out
by wpenrose / May 26, 2013 2:56 AM PDT

Read up on the technology of flash memory. Each write cycle requires a slightly higher internally generated voltage. When the limit is reached, you can't write to the chip anymore. Look it up.

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Wore out ? You are joking?
by bluesky12102 / May 26, 2013 3:23 AM PDT

Ok, so if it's not wore out then how can I fix it?

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Have you ever ...

... reached the write limit on a thumb dirve? As an IT professional using them routinely for about as long as they have been around, i have yet to have one wear out. The only ones which have failed me or that I have seen fail are ones which were physically damagedl.

If there is someone here who has actually worn a drive out, I would be interested in knowing what the error was displayed by the machine when it tried to write and couldn't. I expect that it would be an "out of space" error or some such, not a "write-protected" message. As the flash memory "wears out" in individual blocks, I would expect a progressive reduction in write capacity as blocks were marked off as not being writeable.

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Yep. Happens all the time.
by ClivenL / May 27, 2013 6:26 AM PDT
In reply to: Have you ever ...

@ Tumbleweed_biff

I've seen them fail inside a week.

I also work in IT, and you have just been lucky if you've nvr seen it happen w/o physical trauma to the drive. Viruses, write cycles, failed mount points (very common in Windows Vista, the indexing feature of which seems to have difficulties parsing removable storage, even DVD players, at times), sudden system shutdowns (such as from pwr loss), badly made chips, and just plain bad luck; all these can lead to lost data via a corrupted file table on the drive.

I've seen that going back and forth 'twixt attaching to Mac and PC tends to kill them pretty quickly. N
ot accusing either platform of anything, just that drives which go back and forth between being used by Mac/PC tend to get "confused" somehow (likely mount point failure) at a far higher rate than those which are used in only one platform.

The usual error I see is indeed "write protected". This, and the data suddenly has ASCII-character gibberish for names, and is unopenable, obviously.

@ the OP. .

As for fixes, they are numerous, but usually cost $ and are never guaranteed.

Some Linux "GRUB Loader" level fix disks apply to any filesystem, but oft still return to wiping the file table and starting anew (at least from what I've seen). This route also has a bit of a learning curve to it.

The one time I used Gibson Research's "Spin Rite", it did the trick, in spades (note that this was to a regular, *platter-based* drive, and *not* a solid state drive). It is a fairly large investment $-wise, tho, so not right unless you *really* want the data back.

I have had very mixed success w/"Ontrack EasyRecovery Professional". We use it at work (v6? Not sure), but I say "VERY mixed results", with strong emphasis! Maybe a 40% success rate. Maybe.

Also, try just reformatting the disk in Safe Mode (if it is recognized there; W7 *should* see it), or loading an older-than-Vista version of Windows and see if it will let you uncheck "Write Protected". The more bells and whistles the newer OSs use, the more finicky and restrictive they get in some common-sense areas.

Most folks whose flash drives have this happen do end up having to just reformat it, unfortunately.

Good luck!

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