USB FLASH drive repair

During the last years I repaired quite a lot of USB FLASH drives where the owners weren't able to read out the data anymore. Most of them were SanDisk Cruzer types. You can find a lot of complaints about failures online.

All of them had one thing in common: A hardware failure which was easy to repair.

First let's take a look at a common USB 2.0 thumb drive (or USB stick) design. There's not much components to see when they are naked.

The main part is the USB controller. In this case it is a USBest U165. Sometimes there is a hickup in the controller. There are utilities on the web which you can use to repair this. Have a look at this example or use Google to find software for your controller. But you will loose your data most likely. Also, that turned out not to be the problem on all the USB drives I repaired.

A closer look at the other side reveals this:

You can see the FLASH IC on the right side. That's where the data is stored. This could also fail and your data is lost forever. But you may check if all pins are soldered correctly and that there is no crack at one ore more pins.

But the part which was broken on ALL the sticks I got hand on during the past years was the crystal.

For those of you who are not familiar with crystals (which are used for clock generation, in this case for the USB controller): Usually they have a thin "glass" inside which oscillates. Here is a picture by Chribble76 taken from Wikipedia (Public Domain).

As you can see, this structure can easily break if you throw around your thumb drive. If it cracks or a small piece breaks off, it will not have its specified frequency anymore and thus the USB controller wil not work (properly). After frequency measurements with a plugged in USB stick, I noticed that the XTAL frequency was not 12MHz, but close to 11 MHz. This caused the error that the stick was constantly dis- and then reappearing in the operating system within seconds. With this behaviour you do not even have the slightest chance of using data recovery tools or oftware to repair your controller.

So what I did to repair all the USB FLASH drives was simply to desolder the broken XTAL and replacing it with a good one. If your stick breaks at a weekend, you can use a crystal taken from a good USB drive.

Often there are more than one solder pads to accomodate different XTAL packages.

But it should be easy to find the right pads.


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  1. Lupin says:

    Did you find out which crystal types would break most often?

    I can imagine that can-type crystals are most fragile and prone to failure due to mechanical stress.

    Did you ever have a broken surface mounted crystal?

    I actually saw a TV show where they also said the crystal was the most susceptible part of an USB stick. But there they said it has to resonate at 12 Hz :-)

  2. t0bY! says:

    Hi Lupin,

    all of the USB drives I repaired with the above error had the tiny can type crystals. So I cannot speak for other XTAL types in conjunction with USB-Sticks. But I know from my work that they should be the ones most susceptible to mechanical damage. If the glue comes lose, also their thin leads easily break.
    12 Hz is funny :) Do you remember which TV show they talked about this?

  3. Howard Brown says:

    Your description of repairing the oscillator on a 2.0 flash drive looks very similar to what I need someone to do for one of my flash drives. It is a XDigital Tavel Warrior 8 GB. The metal cover came off and the oscillator broke off completely. It has two prong sticking out, one of which has a small pad at the end of it, which needs to be reattached to the little board. (I can send a picture if that would help.) What are the risks of a professional trying to repair this before undertaking some kind of data recovery? I am very concerned not to lose the data. I don't really care about re-using the flash drive.

  4. t0bY! says:

    Hi Howard,
    to me it sounds like a low risk operation for someone experienced.
    If you like, you can send me photos. You will find my contact information in the "About" section.

  5. EDV-Dompteur says:

    Sehr gut erklärt und mit prima Bildern versehen!

    Deckt sich mit meiner Erfahrung, wobei ich allerdings auch schon andere Fälle auf dem Tisch hatte.

    Ich war mal so frei, eines der obigen Bilder zu guttenbergen und (unter Angabe der Quelle) den Beitrag bei mir zu verlinken:
    (Obiger Link wird hier auf zwei Zeilen umgebrochen. Wie kann man das verhindern? Der URL-BBcode funzt hier nicht.)

    Falls gegen die Bildeinbindung Einwände bestehen sollten, bitte ich um Nachricht, dann entferne ich die Sachen umgehend wieder.

    Ergänzend kenne ich noch den bei manchen Sticks wirksamen Trick, einen oder beide Ziekapazitäten beim Quarz zu entfernen, bzw. zu verändern.

  6. t0bY! says:

    Hallo EDV-Dompteur,

    wer lieb fragt und die Quelle angibt darf auch gerne das Bild benutzen!
    Den BBCode musste ich leider wegen zu hohem SPAM-Aufkommen irgendwan mal abschalten. Ich kann aber mal schauen ob ich Deine URL nachträglich noch als Link abändern kann.

  7. JaWi says:

    Just revived a DoA 64GB drive by replacing its crystal, thanks for the hint t0bY!

  8. t0bY! says:

    You are welcome, glad it works again!

  9. David Peters says:

    Just revived a Teacher's Flash Drive with tons of exams and teching stuff. She is very relieved.

  10. Ofir says:

    hi , would this also work for USB 3.0 ?
    i have a faulty A DATA 32GB usb stick which i opened up but i cant find anything that looks like the crystal in the picture.

  11. t0bY! says:

    Hi Ofir,

    yes, this could also work with a USB 3.0 stick. If you cannot find a crystal, you can send me a picture of the opened stick and I can point you to it. My contact data is listed here in the Blog under "about".

  12. Ken says:


  13. t0bY! says:


    yes, the root cause of this error could be a defective crystal. Do you know anyone who is more experienced in electronics? You could show this post to them and ask for help on this.


  14. james says:

    Great article. Another USB memory stick revived. Thank you.

  15. hans swinkels says:

    i have a non-working usb stick and the crystal is becoming very hot. Is this caused by the crystal or another cause?

  16. t0bY! says:


    hard to say if the crystal is not properly working. Do you have a frequency counter or scope so that you can measure its frequency? If not you may want to replace it with a good one and see if ste stick comes to life again...

  17. Matt says:

    hello, I have a USB thumb drive I need to recover. It just quite this week for no apparent reason. However after taking it apart I do not find a crystal as shown in the pictures in the post. What to do?

  18. t0bY! says:

    Sorry to hear that, Matt.

    If you can, send a picture (preferably high resolution) of both sides of the thumb drive PCB. I then can point you to the location of the xtal. Do you have skills to solder a new one or do you know people who can assist you?

  19. Abel says:

    Wow, this really saved my a55! Thanks for the instructions, My 40 year old eyes struggled with soldering such small leads, and I have two burns on my thumb but a small price to pay for my data.

  20. Michael says:

    I have got an issue that sounds very much like what you described, however I am having difficulty identifying the crystal on both my 32GB and 64GB ADATA USB 3.0 flashdrives.

    From the size of the parts, it looks like it will need absolute precision to repair these which is pretty scary, but if it means saving 96GB of data, it's worth it.

  21. t0bY! says:

    Hi Mike,

    if you are able to send me a photograph of your flash drives with the exposed PCBs, I should be able to mark the crystals for you.
    You are right, it requires some skill, at least to de-solder the existing crystals without damaging components around. If you solder a new crystal, it is a little more relaxed.
    Contact me, if you need more help, you'll find my email address under the "About" link on the right.

  22. Flo says:


    ist hier noch jemand aktiv?

  23. Flo says:

    Hallo t0bY!,

    ich bin froh, Ihren Artikel hier gefunden zu haben, da er genau das Problem beschreibt, das ich momentam mit meinem Speichermedium habe (Verbindung und Trennung der USB-Verbindung im Sekundentakt, sodass das Icon im Computer-Arbeitsplatz quasi flackert).
    Meine Elektronik-Kenntnisse sind leider nicht die besten, aber ich habe mal drei Fotos angehängt und glaube, den Quarz identifiziert zu haben (siehe Abb. 2), weiß aber nicht, was das andere ähnlich aussehende Bauelement sein könnte, und ob dieses überhaupt eine Rolle spielt.

    Hier nun meine Fragen:
    1) - Ist das rot eingekreiste Bauelement der Kristall?
    2) - Wenn ja, löte ich ihn einfach ab und ersetze ihn durch einen neuen?
    3) - Woher bekomme ich einen neuen "guten" Quarz und wie sieht ein solcher, "guter" Quarz aus? (auf Ihrer letzten Abbildung sieht es für mich aus, als hätten Sie den defekten einfach entfernt und keinen neuen "guten" an der Stelle eingefügt, denn ich verstehe incht, was genau die beiden roten Pfeile zeigen sollen.
    4) - Ließe sich ein solcher Kristall auch in einem der unzähligen Online-Shops als Einzelteil bestellen oder sind diese kostengünstig nur in USB-Sticks verbaut? Wenn ja, ist es egal, welchen USB-Stick ich mir besorge (Speichergröße, Hersteller, usw.)?

  24. Flo says:

    Bitte entschuldigen Sie den langen Text, aber ich habe dieses Problem mittlerweile mit zwei Modellen des selben Herstellers und mir ist jetzt jeglicher Aufwand und jegliches etwaiges Risiko recht.

    bilderhoster. net/safeforbilder/cnf6vzpg.jpg

    bilderhoster. net/safeforbilder/2s435rb9.jpg

    bilderhoster. net/safeforbilder/k55d77tn.jpg


  25. t0bY! says:

    Hallo Flo,

    was Du auf den Bildern markiert hast sind beides Quarze. Bisher habe ich aber noch keinen Speicherstick gesehen, der zwei hatte. Ist das ein Speicherstick oder hat der Stick noch eine andere Funktion.
    Einfach einen (oder zwei) neue Quarze besorgen mit gleicher Frequenz besorgen, die alten auslöten und die neuen an die gleiche Stelle löten. Auf den Quarzen sollte die Frequenz draufstehen. Entweder auf dem blauen Schrumpfschlauch oder darunter auf dem Metall.

  26. MM says:

    I've just received confirmation from a data recovery company saying my crystal has broken. I was looking around the internet as to what can be done regarding this and stumbled upon your website. I don't know how to do this kind of work but need to recover my files (which include some childhood photos). I was wondering if you would be able to fix this (or can recommend someone to) if I were to send my 64GB Lexar flashdrive to you?

  27. t0bY! says:

    MM, you should have received an email from me...

  28. Flo says:

    Hi Guys
    are sticks without xtal? i have a Intenso32gb but nothing to see like a xtal. Got another one and the memorys and layout are different. Can You help me?

  29. t0bY! says:

    Flo #2, do you have any high-res photos of the stick you can send to me?

  30. Flo says:

    Sorry i did not see that is another Flo
    Let's name me flo_2. Again about intenso32gb

  31. Flo#2 says:

    i 'll send you by email the two pictures. You cam also post them. Flo#2

  32. t0bY! says:

    Flo, I think you have bad luck with your thumb drive. Indeed, there is no crystal soldered to the PCB. The pictures you send me are low resolution, but I could spot that the controller is a ALCOR one. Their FLASH disk controllers do have an embedded xtal in the chip:
    You would have to get hold of an Intenso stick with the same controller and exhcange it to get to your data. Hope this could work, because sometimes the controller has embedded memory for managing data of the attached memory chips (bad blocks, etc.)

  33. Flo#2 says:

    Sorry for low resolution, i wanted just save place on your emailbox . I will replace the same controller from the new one (are identical) even the architecture is completly different. On this one the mem are soldered under and the new one has normal pins. I hope it'll be able to do it and if you have any other advices for me , it will be greatfull. Thank's a lot Florin

  34. Michael R says:

    I'm looking to attempt this myself, but I can't seem to find the quartz either.

    My images are here:

    I get the feeling I'm having the same kind of luck as Flo2 :(

  35. t0bY! says:

    Hi Michael,

    seems you are unlucky as Flo2. The PCB shows no crystal, so it must be integrated into the controller (ITE1171E-480). But on the top side (where the big FLASH IC resides), there are 4 empty solder pads. Those are for a crystal. Unfortunately I cannot find a datasheet for the controller. So I do not know how external crystal operation is activated. You cold try soldering a crystal to those pads and if you are very lucky, the thumb drive will come back to life! (But I have my doubts...)


  36. Michael R says:

    haha it figures!

    Thanks for looking into it!

    And it's not really worth the effort if it's gonna be that hard. There's nothing important on the drive - I just wanted to foray into some heavier geekiness, but I'm not that concerned about it. :)

  37. andoryuu3 says:

    Hah, funny.. I bought a set of 4 dirt cheap wired Xbox 360 controllers (Mini Pro EX by Power A). Only one of them authenticates with the console, the others just blink their LEDs fast.

    Upon taking apart the three "completely broken" controllers, I saw the crystal and thought that might be the best shot at fixing them... Now after seeing this, I would be surprised if replacing the crystal won't work. After all, it seems to be the most fragile component in these things..

    I stumbled upon this via google, so I'll post an update here for the next potential google-er. Thanks for sharing!

    (As a side note: on the original xbox console, there was a common error where the system clock would never save the time and date (prompting the user on every boot to re-enter both of them). Yep... The solution was replacing the crystal on the motherboard :)... )

  38. Conundrum says:

    Hi, I've also seen this failure on "tough!" pendrives as well.
    The weak point is that the internal controller although it has no external crystal merely sits the uc on one.
    Surprise, this also breaks!

    A few TV remotes also have this feature, even car remotes have been known to do this.
    Saved £160+ by changing out the 433MHz module on one a while back, works fine now.

  39. Steve says:

    thanks to you.


  40. Aaron says:

    great! Where can I find these suckers?
    Will this do, or too big perhaps??

  41. t0bY! says:

    Aaron, for just rescuing your data off the USB drive, this crystal will do. If you want to use the flash drive afterwards, you have to find the same physical size.

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