How to Avoid Data Loss on an External USB Storage Device

External USB storage devices are a handy tool for backing up and storing data.  At the same token, you must remember that USB storage devices such as an external hard drive, USB flash drive, etc. are technology, and technology is always prone to failure.  Even if you store your data using more than one device, sooner or later one of the devices is bound to cause data loss.

Like your PC’s hard drive, external storage devices are manufactured with a delicate design and must be treated with care.  Any slight bump, drop, human error, or activity resulting from impatience can cause damage or file corruption.  External USB storage devices can also be manufactured with defects or they can develop mechanical failures after a period of use.

So how can you reduce your chances of data loss on an external USB storage device?
Always Properly Disconnect the USB Storage Device
Impatience and human error is the number one cause of data loss on USB storage devices.  If your device is a USB flash drive, some models of flash drives have a specific set of procedures you must follow before disconnecting the device from your PC.

For example, if you are using a USB device which requires a specific shut down process prior to disconnecting it, make sure you understand and follow the process.  This type of USB storage device contains a technology known as write caching which is designed to increase data write speeds.  Instead of processing each write request as it is received, the operating system stores the requests in a cache and then writes them simultaneously in one step.

Disconnecting the USB storage device without using the proper shut down process may damage data which is waiting in the cache to be written to the drive.  The end result is a file corruption and data loss.
Use One Operating System
If you use your external USB storage device with one operating system, you should make a habit of using the same file system each time you access data on the USB storage device.  For example, if you are using Windows, you should use NFTS (New Technology File System) each time you access files and data on a USB storage device.

On the other hand, if you use Mac OS X with your USB storage device, you should always access the data on the device with HFS+ (High Frequency Trading).  Additionally, users of the Linux operating system should access USB storage data on FAT32 (File Allocation Table) each time which is a compatible file system that works with other operating systems.

Switching your external USB storage device in between multiple types of operating systems not only is a hassle but can also cause file corruption and data loss.
Deploy Power Surge Protectors
Only connect your external USB storage device to a PC which is equipped with a power surge protector.  Similar to the internal hard drive in your PC, external storage devices can experience failure as the result of a sudden power surge.  This is especially true if you reside in an area which is prone to fierce electrical storms.

Although a data recovery specialist can retrieve most or all of the data from an external USB storage device, the chances of recovery are less if the drive has suffered from an excessive power supply connection.
Avoid DIY Recovery
If you are suddenly unable to access your data from an external USB storage device, avoid disassembling the device to see if you can determine the problem.  Similar to an internal hard drive on your PC, any slight dust particle or exposure to static electricity from carpeting can cause further data loss and make recovery efforts difficult.  Instead, trust your external USB storage device to a data recovery professional that has the resources required for safely recovering data.
Plan an Alternative Method
Although this appears to be obvious, you would be surprised at how many people rely on only one method of data storage.  It is important to remember, especially with a USB flash storage device, that the memory in these tiny devices does not last forever.  Instead, this type of memory has a restricted amount of read and write cycles.  This can cause data loss after an extended period of time.  This is why you should mitigate storage risks by developing alternative storage strategies.

by David Molnar

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