We keep a lot of data on memory cards and USB drives. Often, you might even use a high-capacity USB drive as your primary way of creating backups.
When something goes wrong with them, it’s hard not to feel a sense of dread. Is that photo of your dog falling in the swimming pool gone forever?
But alas, you shouldn’t panic. There’s a high chance you can recover your data – you just need to methodically work through few troubleshooting steps.
Follow along with this article, and you’ll be laughing at your dog again in no time.
1. Check the Basics
Okay, I know this sounds simple, but have you performed some elementary troubleshooting steps?
For example, have you tried your memory device in a different port or on a different computer? Have you given it a little wiggle to make sure all the connections are touching each other?
Sorry, but I had to ask… Now, let’s take a more technical look at the problem.
2. Change the Drive Letter
If you plug your USB stick into your computer and can see the drive in File Explorer but can’t access the data, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the data is corrupted.
But hold up. That might not be the case. Windows simply might not be able to assign a drive letter to the stick.
Thankfully, it’s easy to change the drive letter. Open the Start Menu and type Disk Management. On the results page, select Create and format hard disk partitions.
Locate your USB stick in the list of drives and right-click on it. Choose Change Drive Letter and Paths.
Finally, click Change and select a new letter from the drop-down menu. Every time you connect your drive, it will use the new letter.
If you still can’t access your files, keep reading.
3. Reinstall the Drivers
Your USB stick and your data might still not be at fault. Instead, it’s possible that the drivers on Windows have become corrupted.
To be certain your drivers are working and there aren’t any underlying issues, it makes sense to reinstall them.
Leave your USB stick or memory card plugged into your machine and open Device Manager. You can find it by right-clicking on the Start Menu.
Once Device Manager has fired up, click on Disk Drives to expand the menu. You’ll see a list of all the drives connected to your machine.
Right-click on the name of the memory device you’re trying to fix and select Uninstall device.
Next, you need to remove your external drive from your machine and restart the operating system. When the start-up process is complete, plug the drive back in. Windows should automatically detect it and reinstall fresh drivers.
Can you access your data now? No? Let’s keep trying.
4. Check the Disk
At this stage, it’s starting to look like the files themselves are corrupted. But don’t lose hope, you still have options open to you.
There are two ways to check and repair the disk. You can use Windows Explorer, or you can use Command Prompt.
Using Windows Explorer
Firstly, let’s look at the process using Windows Explorer. It’s the more user-friendly of the two approaches.
Plug your memory device into your PC and open the Windows Explorer app. Head to This PC and right-click on the name of the drive you’re trying to fix. You need to select Properties from the context menu.
On the new window, select the Tools tab. In the Error Checking section, click on Check. Windows will scan the drive and report back with the results.
If it finds any problems, another window will pop up to alert you. Select Repair drive to start the fixing process. It could take some time, depending on the size of the drive and the complexity of the corruption.
You will see an on-screen confirmation when the scan is complete. If you click Show Details, Event Viewer will provide you with a complete log of all the repairs undertaken.
Using Command Prompt
The other way to scan your disk and fix errors is to use Command Prompt.
To get started, open the Start Menu and type cmd. You do not need to open the app as an administrator.
Type chkdsk e: /r and press Enter. If your memory device is not using the E:\ drive, replace e: with the appropriate letter.
Windows will give you basic information about the drive and start the scan. You can see the progress of the scan in the window.
Once finished, it will show you its findings and list any repairs it undertook. As you can see from the image below, in my case, the drive was error-free.
5. Third-Party Apps
If you still can’t retrieve your files, you could try using a third-party app. If you do a Google search, you’ll come across lots of fancy-sounding expensive apps. You don’t need them. Try one of these three free versions instead:
- TestDisk and PhotoRec: Technically, these are two separate programs. However, they’re bundled together because they heavily rely on each other. PhotoRec can recover files (including more than 200 file formats), TestDisk can recover partitions on disks.
- EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard: This app works with hard drives, SSDs, USBs, memory cards, and digital cameras. It can recover data in a number of scenarios, including corrupted drives, partition loss, accidental deletion, and drive failure.
- Recuva: Recuva works with USB drives and other external media, as well as your primary hard-drive. It specializes in deleted files, but can also help recover corrupted files.
6. Take It to a Specialist
If all else fails, take your drive to a specialist shop. They might be able to use more powerful equipment than you have access to at home and salvage some data, if not all of it.
Check on Google for a shop in your local area.
What Approaches Do You Take?
I’ve taken you on a step-by-step journey through the most common ways of recovering data off a corrupt memory card or USB stick.
- check the basics
- change the drive letter
- reinstall the drivers
- use Windows’ Check Disk tool
- try third-party apps
- take it to a specialist
Now I want to know how you recover data from a memory device? What tips can you pass on to someone in the same situation?
As always, you can leave your comments in the space below. And make sure you share this article on social media – you might save someone’s day!