Thanks to modern high-capacity SD cards, there’s no reason to think twice before pressing the shutter button when recording video or taking pictures of important events and everyday moments. But what do you do when an SD card with hundreds or even thousands of pictures and other data stops working? You follow the steps described in this article to recover the dead SD card and get your data back!
Is Your Card Really Dead?
Dead SD cards can be divided into two broad categories, and you need to determine which category your dead SD card falls into to figure out the best way to fix it and get your data back. Don’t worry: you don’t need to know how SD cards work to diagnose your issue. Just look for common signs of a dead SD card.
🔨 Physically Damaged SD Cards
As the name of this category suggests, physically damaged SD cards have suffered some kinds of mechanical damage that prevents them from working properly.
Common signs of physical damage include:
- Visibly damaged plastic housing
- Worn out pins
- Crushed flash memory chip
Unfortunately, it’s typically not possible to recover a dead SD card that has been physically damaged, especially if the flash memory chip itself is no longer in one piece. That’s why it’s important to always store SD cards in a protective case and follow the SD card data loss prevention tips described at the end of this article.
💻 Logically Damaged SD Cards
Logical damage is sometimes referred to as corruption, and it always somehow relates to the file system and how it organizes the data stored on the SD card.
Common signs of logical damage include:
The good news is that logically damaged SD cards are not really dead memory cards, even if they are not detected properly. In most cases, it’s possible to recover data from a logically damaged SD card using SD card recovery software. Such software analyzes the SD card sector by sector instead of relying on the information provided by the file system, which may be incomplete or corrupted.
How to Recover Files from a Dead SD Card
To recover files from a dead SD card (SD, SDHC, SDXC) you need to use a data recovery software application with support for all commonly used file formats and file systems. Disk Drill is a good example because it’s exceptionally easy to use and makes it possible to recover up to 500 MB of data for free (Windows only).
Disk Drill runs on all computers with Windows, and there’s also a version for Mac. To increase the chance of successful recovery, don’t connect the dead memory card until Disk Drill is installed.
Fortunately, Disk Drill includes a completely free byte-to-byte backup image creation utility that can help you ensure that all your data is securely duplicated before the recovery process begins. Here’s how to use it:
- Download Disk Drill from its website and install it on your computer.
- Connect the dead memory card to your computer and launch Disk Drill. If the SD card was detected properly, you should see it listed in the main window.
- Select the Drive Backup extra tool from the left pane.
- Select the dead SD card and click the Byte-to-Byte Backup button.
- Pick where you want to store the backup image and click OK to begin the backup process.
After you’ve backed up your data, you can now safely follow these steps to recover the dead SD card:
- Return to Disk Drill’s Storage Devices tab (located at the very top of the left pane) and select your SD card.
- Click the Search for lost data button. Disk Drill will begin running all recovery methods in the optimal order, and all you need to do is give it some time to finish.
- Once the scan of your SD card is complete, you can click the Review found items button to see all recoverable files.
- Use the filters on the left to zero in on specific file formats and take advantage of the preview feature to recover only important files. Add files to the recovery queue by clicking the small checkbox next to each file you want to recover. Click the Recover button.
- Finally, specify the recovery directory. Never recover any files to the same location from which you’re recovering them because you could overwrite them. Fortunately, Disk Drill will tell you if you’ve selected a suitable location or not.
Help: My SD card was not detected!
If you can’t select your SD card because it wasn’t detected properly, try the following:
- Use a different SD card reader.
- Update the reader’s drivers.
- Perform the recovery on a different computer.
- Inspect the SD card for physical damage.
- Check if the SD card is unlocked.
Tips to Prevent SD Card Data Loss
While Disk Drill makes it easy to recover lost data from logically damaged SD cards, it can’t do anything about physically damaged SD cards—and neither can any other data recovery solution! That’s why you need to do as much as possible to prevent SD card data loss, and following the tips below is a great start:
- 2️⃣ Use multiple SD cards: It might be tempting to purchase a single large SD card or micro SD card that can store thousands of images and multiple hours of high-definition video footage, but it’s much safer to use multiple smaller SD cards. As we’ve already explained, it’s not easily possible to fix a dead micro SD card or even a regular SD card that has suffered mechanical damage, so the best thing you can do is minimize the amount of data you can potentially lose by dividing it between several different memory cards.
- 🖨️ Back up your data: If you don’t want to lose your data, back up it before it’s too late. It takes just a minute or two to connect and SD card to a computer and transfer all files from it, so don’t delay this simple task because you’ll hate yourself if something happens to your data.
- 📷 Format SD card in your camera: There’s a good reason why virtually all cameras can format SD cards as well as erase all files at once. By formatting your SD card in your camera, you ensure that it has the right file system, which is essential when it comes to preventing data loss caused by file system corruption.
- 💰 Pay extra for quality: When buying SD cards, avoid the bargain bin and instead pay extra for quality. Saving a few dollars by buying an SD card of questionable quality is a horrible deal, especially if you factor in the cost of SD card recovery software applications.
- 📥 Don’t use corrupted cards: If your SD card starts showing signs of corruption, such as input and output errors or the dreaded “this drive needs to be formatted” message, you need to stop using it as soon as possible and start using it again only when the corruption has been fixed.
By following these five simple tips, you should be able to avoid SD card data loss. If you do experience it, however, remember to use Disk Drill as soon as possible to recover your data.
Seeing an SD card full of important data suddenly stop functioning can be incredibly stressful. Nevertheless, with the right understanding of the damage (be it physical or logical), the right tools, and a methodical approach, data recovery is often possible. In the case of logical damage, using specialized software such as Disk Drill is usually the best course of action, whereas physical damaged should be addressed by experienced professionals