Thumb drive issues

Evan Henry

May 18, 2010
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Hi, guys! I used to be a regular here from about 2002 to 2009-ish, but I seem to have forgotten my original log-in somewhere along the way. Anyway, I remember smart people here getting me out of a few tech problems during my stay, and thought I'd check in.

Apparently my incredibly improbable CPU failure last December wasn't enough bad luck for me. Since I do a lot of computer-based work for both school and work purposes and on a lot of different computers, a lot of my important data is (was!) on a flash drive and only a flash drive (and yes, I am an idiot). It's an Ativa 4GB model -- an SM3252A Memory Bar for driver purposes.

The thing has an idiotic slide design that leaves the business end of the male USB connector totally exposed. I remember thinking when I bought it that it left a conveniently USB-connector-sized hole for pocket fuzz, moisture, etc., to get into.

Go ahead and guess what happened.

I noticed the problem earlier today, when I plugged the drive in and was greeted by an "Installing device driver software" message, which shouldn't have happened anyway, since the computer I was using it on had dealt with this particular drive plenty of times before, and already had the necessary drivers.

Then, "Device driver software was not successfully installed".

I took the drive out of the port, checked the connector for pocket fuzz, and found that my initial worry had been justified. I removed a good-sized glob of fuzz from the connector with a paper clip, took canned air to it to clear out any remaining dust, and plugged it back in.

Still no luck on any of the five computers I've tried it in. The device shows up as "USB Mass Storage Device" under Device Manager, but every time I plug it in it goes through the same process of unsuccessfully installing drivers; it never gets far enough to show up in Computer with a drive letter assigned. I get different error codes in Device Manager, too -- Code 10: The device cannot start; Code 43: Windows has stopped this device because it has reported problems. And other times I get the message that "This device is working properly."

Under other circumstances, I would trash the drive and be done with it, but I have data I really need on the drive, and I'm operating under the assumption that whatever fried it hasn't made that data irretrievable. But what I'm wondering is whether that's a stupid assumption, and if I should even bother going into a repair shop and having them take a look at it. I failed to back up, mostly because in the days when I worked on only one PC I thought of a USB drive as something to back up TO, not FROM. Anyway, I'm paying the price now.

I remember buying a $20 MP3 player in the mid-2000s that went on to survive two trips through washers and dryers, plus a dunk in a toilet. Why can't everything be that damn invincible? :)
Is there no option to download the drivers from a website?
It's hard to sift through, as 90%+ of the "driver download" sites are malware, or want to install "Driver Detective" or similarly useless applications.

The thing is, I don't think the drivers are actually the problem. The drivers for the device are installed on several of the computers I've tried it on; they're just not reading it because... well, I can only assume it's because the pocket fuzz managed to internally **** it up somehow.
USB drives wear out after so many uses. They are better than they used to be but eventually they all start having errors. Or there is more stuff in there keeping the connection from properly forming. It doesn't take much dust to screw up a connection.

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