The problem of recovering data from SSD drives

One frequent question I receive from users of DiskDigger is: Why does it seem to be unable to recover data from my internal SSD drive? And since SSDs have become nearly ubiquitous in laptops and desktops, this question is becoming more and more common.

The short answer: It is generally not possible to recover deleted data from internal SSD drives, because they are very likely using the TRIM function.

How do I know if TRIM is enabled?

It probably is. If you have an SSD drive that is internal to your computer (NVMe drive, SATA drive, etc), and you’re using a modern operating system (Windows 7 and newer, macOS, etc), then it’s likely that TRIM will be enabled by default, because it’s highly beneficial to the performance of your SSD drive.


SSD (flash memory) drives work fundamentally differently from older magnetic (spinning disk) hard drives.

With both types of drives, when data is deleted, the physical blocks that were occupied by the data are marked as “available”, and become ready to be overwritten by new data.

With a magnetic spinning hard drive, an available block can be overwritten regardless of what data was in that block previously; the old data gets overwritten directly. However, the same is not true for flash memory: a flash memory block must be erased explicitly before new data is written to it. And this erase operation is relatively expensive (i.e. slow). If an SSD drive was to erase memory blocks “on demand”, i.e. only when a new file is being written, it would slow down the write performance of the drive significantly.

Therefore, an SSD drive will erase unused memory blocks preemptively, so that the memory will be pre-erased when a new file needs to be written to it. Since the drive has no knowledge of what filesystem exists on it, the drive relies on the operating system to inform it about which memory blocks are no longer used. This is done using the TRIM command: When the operating system deletes a file, in addition to updating the necessary filesystem structures, it also sends a TRIM command to the drive, indicating that the memory blocks occupied by the deleted file can now be considered “stale”, and queued up for erasing.

The SSD drive erases TRIMmed blocks in the background while the drive is idle, transparently to other operations. In effect this means that for any file that’s deleted from an SSD drive, once the drive purges those stale blocks, the actual contents of the file will be wiped permanently from the drive, and will no longer be recoverable.

The above is a slight simplification, since SSD drives also perform wear-leveling which uses rather complex logic involving copying and remapping logical addresses to different physical memory pages, but the general point stands.


There are a few cases when deleted data may be recoverable from an SSD drive:

  • If TRIM happens to be disabled for some reason. As mentioned above, the TRIM feature is something that is enabled at the level of the operating system. It is usually enabled by default for performance reasons. Nevertheless, most operating systems will let you check whether or not TRIM is enabled, and optionally disable it. For example, in Windows you can run the command fsutil behavior query disabledeletenotify to see if TRIM is currently enabled.
  • If you’re using an external SSD drive connected over USB. Support for issuing the TRIM command over a USB connection is relatively new, and is not yet supported by all USB controllers and operating systems. If you deleted files from an external SSD drive that’s connected to a USB port, there’s a fair chance that the data might be recoverable.
  • If you attempt to recover the files immediately after they’re deleted, and the drive provides the contents of stale blocks (which is rare). As mentioned above, the TRIM command puts the deleted memory blocks in a queue of stale blocks, so it’s possible that the SSD drive won’t actually erase them for a short while. The timing of when exactly the TRIMmed blocks are erased is entirely up to the drive itself, and differs by manufacturer. If you search the drive for deleted data sufficiently soon after it’s deleted, and the drive doesn’t return null data for stale blocks, it may still be possible to recover it.
  • Due to the way that SSD drives perform wear-leveling, it may be possible for stale blocks to get reallocated and copied to different physical positions in the drive, leaving behind the original data in their old locations. Unfortunately this kind of data is generally not accessible using any software tools, including DiskDigger, and can be accessed only by disassembling the drive and reading the physical flash memory chip directly, which is a very expensive procedure done by enterprise-level data recovery labs.


Despite the above challenges, there’s no harm in trying to use DiskDigger to recover files from your SSD drive, and in certain cases it will be successful. However, if you’ve deleted files from an internal SSD drive, the overall prognosis for recovering them is unfortunately not good.

(This entry was re-posted from my personal blog)


Recovering data from QIC-80 tapes: another case study

In another of my recent data recovery cases, the patient was a QIC-80 (DC 2000 mini cartridge) tape that was in pretty bad shape. From the outside I could already see that it would need physical repairs, so I opened it up and found a harrowing sight:

The problem with QIC cartridges in general is that they use a tension band to drive the tape spools. If you look at a QIC cartridge, it’s completely enclosed, except for a plastic wheel that sticks out and makes contact with the capstan mechanism when it’s inserted into the tape drive.  The flexible tension band is tightened in such a way that it hugs the tape spools and drives them using physical friction.

This tension band is a major point of weakness for these types of tapes, because the lifespan of the band is very much finite.  When the tape sits unused for many years, the band can stiffen or lose its friction against the tape spools, which can result in one of two scenarios:

The tension band can break, which would make the cartridge unusable and would require opening the cartridge and replacing the band. This is actually not the worst possible outcome because replacing the band, if done properly, isn’t too disruptive of the tape medium itself, and usually doesn’t result in any data loss.

A much worse scenario is if the tension band becomes weakened over time, such that it no longer grips the spools properly, so that the next time you attempt to read the cartridge, it will spin the spools inconsistently (or cause one of the spools to stall entirely), which will cause the tape to bunch up between the spools, or bend and crease, creating a sort of “tape salad” inside the cartridge, all of which can be catastrophic for the data on the tape. In this kind of case, the cartridge would need to be disassembled and the tape manually rewound onto the spools, being extremely careful to undo any folds or creases (and of course replace the band with a new one, perhaps from a donor tape). This will almost certainly result in loss of data, but depends greatly on the degree to which the tape was unwound and deformed.

Note that the tape drive that is reading the tape is relatively “dumb” with respect to the physical state of the tape. It has no way of knowing if the tension band is broken, or if the tape isn’t wound or tensioned properly, or if what it’s doing is damaging the tape even further. Great care must be taken to examine the integrity of the tape before attempting to read it.

With this cartridge, it’s clear that the tension band has failed (but didn’t break). The tape has obviously bunched up very badly on both spools.  Less obviously, the white plastic wheels at the bottom show evidence that the tension band has degraded, with bits of residue from the black band being stuck on the wheels. The fix for this cartridge was to remove the bad tension band, clean the white plastic wheels, respool and tighten the tape, and install a new band from a donor tape. After the procedure was complete, more than 99% of the data was recovered. The tape header was readable, as were the volume tables. Only a few KB of the file contents were lost.

Therefore, when recovering data from very old QIC tapes, it’s probably a good idea to replace the tension band preemptively with a known-good band, to minimize the chance of breakage and damage to the tape. This is why I keep a small stockpile of new(er) tapes from which I can harvest the tension band when needed. At the very least, it’s a good idea to open up the cartridge and examine the band before making any attempts to read data from it.

Contact us if you have tapes (or any other old media) from which you would like to recover data.

[note: this post is re-published from my personal blog.]


Send us all your floppies! They nourish us.

Recently I had another data recovery case that involved a comically large number of floppy disks, as in… more than five hundred (split evenly between 3.5” and 5.25” disks). We’re talking several large USPS boxes packed to the brim with floppies.

Of the numerous 3.5” floppies, only about 10% had one or more bad sectors, and none of them were completely unreadable.  The same was true for the 5.25” floppies, even though some of them were physically bent or warped, to the point where I had to cut them open and transplant the disk itself into a new container.  Some of the oldest files on these disks dated all the way back to 1986!

The recovery was performed using two older PCs, each of which have both 3.5” and 5.25” internal floppy drives, allowing the reading to be done somewhat in parallel.

There are actually plenty of cheapo floppy drives that connect over USB that can be purchased even now for as little as $15, but these drives are not, I repeat not suitable for recovering data from actual old floppy disks.  They must be read by a proper original floppy drive, preferably from the same era as the disks themselves.

Anyway, when floppy disks were in widespread use in the 1980s and 1990s, they weren’t really intended or marketed as a long-term storage solution, but they’re proving to be quite resilient as time goes by.  I’m not nearly as optimistic that today’s USB flash drives or SD cards will be readable in 30 years.

To be fair, these old disks have a much lower data density than modern storage media, so it makes sense that they would be more resilient to wear and tear. But still, it’s impressive that even what seems like mediocre-quality floppy disks still hold up to this day.

Despite these excellent outcomes, this still underscores how important it is to recover this data now, rather than waiting any longer and risking these disks developing any more bad sectors. So, let this be a call to action: if you have any old floppies lying around (or old tapes, Zip disks, Jaz disks, or anything else!), contact us for details on how to send them over, and we’ll recover the data from them for a fraction of the cost of other companies.

[note: this post is re-published from my personal blog.]