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Low-Level Format For a USB Flash Drive?

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the back-from-the-living-dead dept.

Media 252

Luyseyal writes "I unwittingly bought one of these terrible flash cards at Fry's and have managed to nuke two of them, successively. I have a USB flash card reader that will read/write the current one at USB 1.0 speed, but it locks up every Ubuntu and XP machine I've come across in high-speed access mode. I have read that if I low-level format it that it could be fixed, though my current one doesn't support it. My Google-fu must be weak because I cannot seem to find a USB flash reader that specifies that it will do low-level formatting." Can anyone offer advice for resurrecting such drives?

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252 comments

How banal... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385000)

The typical ask Slashdot articles of late:

Dear Slashdot,

Something brown just fell out of my butt and it smells really bad. What should I do?

Re:How banal... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385562)

Cue typical /. reply,

1) breading
2) deep frying
3) ???
4) !PROFIT!!

Fuckin' weed is really great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32386372)

Goddammit!! I wish I could mod that up five times. That's funny as hell... Thanks, man!

The official utility, perhaps? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385002)

Re:The official utility, perhaps? (1)

drachenstern (160456) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385068)

Could it be because he's got an A-Data card? I've never had a lot of luck with their equipment. Then again, I know people who have no luck with Western Digital, and ole WD has never let me down yet. Go figure.

Hey @luyseyal, do you have good luck with WD drives? Could be you're not gonna jive with A-Data cards!

Any brand has lemons but some just suck. (4, Insightful)

MikeFM (12491) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385472)

Any brand has the occasional lemon but overall WD is decent. People expect unrealistic things from hard drives too. You're talking about a device extremely sensitive to heat, moisture, vibration, and magnetism at the least and people want to cram 2TB of priceless family photos and their thesis paper into a $50 device without making backups. Yeah that's a recipe for disaster. I know - I've made the same mistake and paid for it. Lately I've been using WD Caviar Black 1TB w/ 64MB cache drives in a Drobo Elite and they've been doing pretty well but I expect to lose a couple of them per year under the stress of being in a server. Certain files I keep in RAID5 on Corsair Nova SSD drives and I use the same drives in my laptops and they've done pretty well. And of course everything is backed up to a NAS drive of which I use both WD My Book World Edition II - 2 TB (2 x 1 TB in RAID1) and Drobo FS. Previously I had used a couple cheaper NAS and Firewire/USB/eSATA drives for backup but all of them died. One happened to die at the same time the main drive died which was unpleasant - both were about six months old. I think hard drive manufacturers should have to include free data restoration for the life of the warranty. The main expense of data restoration is getting exact matching parts for your drive so the manufacturer could do it MUCH cheaper and easier than anyone else. Wouldn't hurt to have a drive stop working completely, unless a jumper is switched, when it senses itself dying so it won't self destruct further. Of course if I got to pick I'd like to see standard sized PC and laptop drives come w/ two physically separate drives and RAID 1 so the drive could sense death and go into a read-only recovery mode. Data is way more valuable than hardware so every possible effort should be made to make data possible to recover. 1TB for $150 is fine with me - instead of offering me 2TB for the same price give me the built-in RAID1.

Re:Any brand has lemons but some just suck. (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385628)

I used to do on site computer repair for a few big companies (Dell, IBM being the biggest two, plus others) and we replaced hard drives frequently. Every brand. I think hard drives brands are computer geeks full moons. Ask an ER doc or cop if things get crazy on a full moon and the answer is often "Yes", even though objective research shows there's no such correlation. Sure, some brands are a bit worse than others, but for the most part that only rally matters if you're dealing with a huge number of them. Some home users will see failures regardless of brand, and others will not, again, regardless of brand. It's just a crap shoot when you're dealing with just a few drives at a time.

Re:Any brand has lemons but some just suck. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385822)

If you did work for IBM and Dell, you'd know that they have a specific brand drive that they use in their systems.

So you cannot make a blanket statement like that using those two companies as your main backing. They certainly don't use a plethora of brands in their systems.

Re:Any brand has lemons but some just suck. (4, Informative)

tumnasgt (1350615) | more than 4 years ago | (#32386178)

Having owned more than 5 Dells, and worked on many ex-lease Dell boxes that were given to my school, I can say that Dell just give you the drive that is cheapest on the day, not a specific brand.

Re:Any brand has lemons but some just suck. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385682)

Geek

Re:The official utility, perhaps? (5, Informative)

imp (7585) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385592)

This formatter won't do anything to help you out. It will just put a new filesystem on the part. You can't 'reformat' FLASH. Bad is bad, and you lose.

Re:The official utility, perhaps? (1)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385648)

You missed the point. He has shatty hardware. Best advice is to buy another one. price watch? [pricewatch.com]

Re:The official utility, perhaps? (2, Funny)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 4 years ago | (#32386350)

You missed the point. He has shatty hardware. Best advice is to buy another one.

Best advice is to buy a bunch of them, plug them into a sufficiently large USB hub, put it in a waterproof box, and configure it as a RAID USB device.

Do niggers use Flash Drives? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385010)

i'm curious..

Re:Do niggers use Flash Drives? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385022)

I don't know. Do racist assholes use them? You ought to know.

Re:Do niggers use Flash Drives? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385158)

You ought to know.

Likewise, I'll have to ask you if troll-feeding idiots use flash drives.

If you are too fucking uptight to handle nigger jokes on /., why are you browsing at -1?

Re:Do niggers use Flash Drives? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385276)

You ought to know.

Likewise, I'll have to ask you if troll-feeding idiots use flash drives.

If you are too fucking uptight to handle nigger jokes on /., why are you browsing at -1?

How does an AC browse at -1? We only have access to "more" and "full|abbreviated|hidden" bars.

Re:Do niggers use Flash Drives? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385304)

Drag the bar so all the comments are full, that's basically -1 mode.

Re:Do niggers use Flash Drives? (1, Offtopic)

icannotthinkofaname (1480543) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385400)

How does an AC browse at -1?

He logs in and checks the "Post Anonymously" box.

Re:Do niggers use Flash Drives? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385954)

add &threshold=-1 to any thread in url bar

Re:Do niggers use Flash Drives? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385090)

no but atheist liberal pinko commi scum do.

Re:Do niggers use Flash Drives? (-1, Troll)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385104)

As a caucasian man who has an African-American [wordpress.com] girlfriend, Yes, they do. Just like every other race does. African americans and caucasians alike use flash drives on a regular basis when they upload their digital photos and download their media files onto portable players if not directly plugging an SD card into a PC drive.

You, sir, are bigot scum. I hope your love interest leaves you for an eight-foot Nigerian.

Re:Do niggers use Flash Drives? (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385176)

Internet trolls rarely believe their own material. They're like evil comedians. Don't get worked up about it. :)

Re:Do niggers use Flash Drives? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385402)

Now wait just a minute! I was only reassuring the man. Stop wasting your modpoints...

Re:Do niggers use Flash Drives? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385230)

hey asshole, "nigger" doesn't refer to african americans, it refers to unemployed, loud, low iq, welfare types. There's nothing racist about it. Oh, except liberal douches like yourself.

Re:Do niggers use Flash Drives? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385352)

As an porch monkey of the negroid persuasion, I must commend you on your choice of GF!

Can I bone her?

Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385014)

Hmm.

It's probably because the flash chips sit behind any number of proprietary controller chips. Who knows how they abstract the high end (filesystem access) from the low end (writing actual sectors).

Re:Hmm... (5, Informative)

marcansoft (727665) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385260)

They don't abstract the filesystem, but they abstract the hell out of the lowlevel Flash blocks and just present you with a pretty array of sectors that all work perfectly... until they don't, and then you're screwed.

Good luck, but I wouldn't hold my breath. These things are essentially disposable, and probably more trouble than it's worth reviving.

The specifics:

  • Any USB reader is going to present itself as a USB mass storage device. This is the worst possible option, because USB mass storage is horridly generic, and pretty much guaranteed to abstract away any chance of lowlevel operations on particular memory card interfaces. Some readers might have undocumented lowlevel operations, but then you'll almost certainly need a tool specific for your reader or chipset. There's no generic lowlevel format for USB mass storage card readers.
  • SD/MMC cards themselves have a high level controller. As far as I can tell from skimming the standard, all you get to do besides read and write is "erase" sectors in blocks, which may or may not help. There may or may not be proprietary commands to do other stuff. Your best bet for a reader is one embedded in a laptop that is not internally SD - that is, one that's a standard SD Host Controller attached to the PCI/PCIe bus. Or an embedded system like some hackable cellphone or a Wii.
  • SmartMedia and xD are bare Flash chips in a pretty package, with no controller. If you can get a reader that will expose the low level flash block I/O, you might be able to get somewhere.
  • CompactFlash cards are basically IDE/ATA drives with some extra modes. IDE low level format commands may apply. Your best bet here is an actual CF to IDE/ATA converter.
  • I don't know about Memory Stick and other cards, but most are along the same lines as SD

Re:Hmm... (1, Informative)

marcansoft (727665) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385272)

That should be not internally USB. D'oh.

Re:Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385546)

It's worse. The SD-card standard actually requires FAT/FAT32 as the filesystem. An SD-card controller could disregard all blocks which are not used according to its interpretation of the contents as a FAT filesystem. It might treat certain blocks as special and expect the information written to these blocks to be FAT compliant. Fantastically stupid design decision, if you ask me.

Re:Hmm... (1)

sortius_nod (1080919) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385876)

This is not strictly true. You can format an SD-card any FS you wish, providing your OS can format to that.

I've had a lot of luck using linux to write 0's to SD cards that are little "funny". But that is by no means a fix for fubar cards.

Darik's Boot & Nuke (2, Informative)

RhapsodyGuru (1250396) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385024)

Give DBAN a try. This tool never fails me for any kind of disk I throw at it.

http://www.dban.org/download [dban.org]

Re:Darik's Boot & Nuke (1, Redundant)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385322)

You don't know what low-level format means, do you?

Re:Darik's Boot & Nuke (3, Informative)

Homburg (213427) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385326)

From what I can see, DBAN deletes and overwrites all the data on the device. I don't see why that would help the OP any more than just repartitioning and reformatting would.

HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385038)

Not sure when it locks up the system.

Try

HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool

http://www.pcworld.com/downloads/file/fid,64963-order,4/description.html

Re:HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool (1)

drachenstern (160456) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385044)

That's the standard USB key high level format utility, he has an SDHC with a USB interface to his PC.

Re:HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool (1, Interesting)

RhapsodyGuru (1250396) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385072)

DBAN still does the trick. I use it on all my hard disks, thumb drives and memory cards.

Re:HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385240)

as compared to what?

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/offending-device bs=pick-your-poison

Re:HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool (2, Informative)

Reece400 (584378) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385710)

Same effect as Dban, erases all boot records partition maps, etc. It can often correct issues that a simple format can't and could help, that said it definatly isn't a low-level format.

Re:HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool (1)

d3matt (864260) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385864)

While I love me some /dev/zero, zeroing out most flash chips just forces an erase next time you want to write a block. Most flash starts out at 1 and write operations only write the zero. Smart chips don't erase unless they have to. There's also wear leveling to account for. What you really need is a utility to tell the flash to erase itself.

Re:HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool (1, Redundant)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385412)

It's also not a low-level format. Google that before you make yourself look like an idiot.

GNU Shred? (3, Interesting)

Jim Hall (2985) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385150)

"... but it locks up every Ubuntu and XP machine I've come across in high-speed access mode. I have read that if I low-level format it that it could be fixed, though my current one doesn't support it. My Google-fu must be weak because I cannot seem to find a USB flash reader that specifies that it will do low-level formatting."

I wonder if GNU Shred [gnu.org] would be something to try, at the device level? Let's say your flash drive shows up as /dev/sdc, then you'd do this:

shred -v -n 1 /dev/sdc

(You might even try -n 3.) I think this would work, but I don't know what wear leveling would do when shredding a USB flash drive.

Once you run shred, you'll have wiped the entire flash drive. That means you'll need to repartition the device and lay down a new filesystem.

Might work.

Re:GNU Shred? (0)

Fry-kun (619632) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385256)

Shred simply writes random/patterned data on OS level into the file. Which means if you have a journaling/snapshotting filesystem, shred won't even kill all copies of the data you wanted to remove.

Re:GNU Shred? (1)

ChrisMP1 (1130781) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385332)

Please, please please please, please read before you write. He's running 'shred' on the block special, not on the individual file.

Re:GNU Shred? (4, Insightful)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385424)

Also read TFS, though -- the issue isn't wiping the drive, it's attempting to completely reset it at a lower level than the disk blocks exposed as a linear block device.

To do that is always device-specific, which is why he's having issues.

Re:GNU Shred? (1)

Cylix (55374) | more than 4 years ago | (#32386212)

Sorta drive specific.

Mostly controller specific.

Praying the controller on the disks speaks the same commands.

If you know the ioctels you can twiddle the bits with debug, but it's not something you are going to get out of your generic usb storage interface.

Low Level (3, Informative)

jythie (914043) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385174)

Ahm.. has the meaning of this term changed? Last time I heard the term it referred to syncing a drive and it's controller, and thus fell out of usage with the rise of IDE disks.

Re:Low Level (1)

Barny (103770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385498)

Yeah, now it generally means to zero-wipe a drive.

I remember having to do low level formats on my first XT computer, damn MFM controller took about 3 hrs to do a 20MB seagate drive ;(

Re:Low Level (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385940)

Plus you had to hope you picked the right interleave value.

Ridiculous (2, Funny)

phantomcircuit (938963) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385194)

That's ridiculous. A-DATA sells crap. Reformatting will not change that.

mod parent funny (1)

n3r0.m4dski11z (447312) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385510)

please!

Re:Ridiculous (1)

Barny (103770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385514)

You have not heard of the phrase "chrome plated turd"? :)

Re:Ridiculous (1)

drachenstern (160456) | more than 4 years ago | (#32386336)

You are aware the Mythbusters proved one can polish a turd, right?

Re:Ridiculous (2, Interesting)

Cylix (55374) | more than 4 years ago | (#32386224)

On a positive note they try tremendously hard to save their awful reputation. At least, they troll newegg a lot and try to encourage customers to contact support.

It always seemed like a red flag to me.

Just think... one horribly cheap SD card has forced thousands of individuals to waste some previous bits of their time. The total combined value of those wasted hours would have bought hundreds of SD drives.

Re:Ridiculous (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32386328)

Try the microwave. That sometimes works.

Not the flash chip (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385206)

The controller is probably fried, maybe a voltage spike or static electricity occurred. Or it's just cheap Chinese crap. So it can't talk to the USB host controller properly.

The actual NAND memory is probably fine but unless you want to resolder a controller chip just toss the drive.

I've used the industrial paper shredder at work to destroy flash drives when they were no longer recognizible by the host yet they still had potentially sensitive personal or corporate data on them.

Take the PCB out of the housing, snap off the USB connector and feed the board into it, the flash chip gets ground to bits so no adversaries can recover your data. :D

Encryption (3, Insightful)

xororand (860319) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385244)

Encrypt your data to avoid such hassles in the future. Encryption makes theft or loss of your medium a non-problem, besides the lost material value.

Re:Not the flash chip (1, Flamebait)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385328)

Learn to fucking read already will you people?

THIS [wikipedia.org] IS NOT A USB "DRIVE"

Re:Not the flash chip (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385434)

"Take the PCB out of the housing, snap off the USB connector and feed the board into it, the flash chip gets ground to bits so no adversaries can recover your data. :D"

I just shove such drives into a soda can, crush the can under my boot, and put it out with other cans to be recycled.

My recommendation (1)

Rallias Ubernerd (1760460) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385232)

Fat 16 or Fat 32, unless you use with Vista. If you use with Vista or 7, install with ext3 and install Vista or 7 with ext3 drivers

Re:My recommendation (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385330)

Your recommendation does nothing to answer the question posed. Go back and read the actual story, not just the 'headline'.

Also note that said headline specifies LOW-LEVEL FORMAT

Non-sequitur... (1)

msauve (701917) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385568)

The OP was grasping at straws.

There is no "low level format" for USB drives. A low level format is used on floppies, and ancient hard drives to write address information to the sectors on the media, so after you seek to a track, you can tell which sector is about to spin past. There is no equivalent for solid state memory - addressing is an intrinsic property of the device.

What does apply to solid state media, is creating file system structures, sometimes called "high level formatting." "format c:" in WinDOS, "mkfs" in *nix.

Re:Non-sequitur... (1)

mlts (1038732) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385994)

Low level formatting used to be an essential part of daily life back in the days of SCSI1, MFM, floppies (8"/5.25"/3.5"), and Iomega Bernoulli drives. The reason is that it would do an erase pass, checking writability, then do a read, checking if there were bad sectors. In these days, drives had no sector relocation tables, so a bad block will show up as a bad block as opposed to a modern drive where an entry is put in a translation table, and the bad block is relocated to some good sectors [1]. So, having the bad sectors mapped out was important, and it was recommended to periodically reformat so any iffish sectors would be found and marked unusable.

The biggest use for a true low level formatting these days is to have a drive mark all the bad sectors as bad, and clear the relocation table out. This way, a drive that has a table almost full now has an empty place, the bad sectors won't be used, and data will get relocated if there are issues. However, only a few drives handle this type of low level formatting.

These days, if you issue a low level format command to a drive, most likely the drive will just read every sector, mark any marginal or unreadable sectors as bad and call it done, as opposed to a complete zero out. If you want a true zeroization, you need to do a secure erase, (HDDUtil is one product that even though it hasn't been maintained in a few years, will zero out a drive via this method.)

Flash drives, I have yet to hear of a low level format utility. Because things change in how raw memory cells are addressed, translated, etc, one utility won't fit all. However, it would be nice to have a format utility which would zap the translation tables, and start from scratch everywhere but the wear leveling data. Even better, it would zero all blocks regardless for maximum security, even those marked bad or relocated. Best of all would be a Flash drive that upon an erase would generate a new random key, and start storing data AES encrypted with that new key, so any old data would be completely useless.

[1]: This is in theory. Sometimes the relocation table does get full on drives which should tell the drive to tell SMART to go into pre-fail warning status, since bad blocks will start showing up.

dd of course (5, Informative)

v1 (525388) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385264)

sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/rdiskxxx bs=1024000

or whatever variation you need for your distro. The above is for mac os x. yes, rdisk is a character device I know I know, but for some reason os x io's a LOT faster o that than the block device. (double or better) No idea why. Block works too tho, whatever works for you. Just plug in the correct disk number for the xxx. Careful which device you're nuking, dd is both swift and unforgiving.

I'd also like to get slightly pedantic and point out that this is NOT a low level format. Low level format refers to laying down the address blocks, and also the data headers and trailers. All dd does is write zeros to the meat of the data block, and update its checksum. There's no such thing as a low level format for non magnetic media because flash drive blocks are electrically addressed, not physically.

FWIW, you can probably tack on "count=20" to make things go much faster. I assume all you need is the partition table completely zapped, and the first 20mb should do it fine. Without this it will wipe the entire device, which for a flash drive may take a little bit. But then again your distro or whatnot may try to find a backup copy of the boot block and partition table etc at the end of the device in which case just wipe the whole thing to avoid it "fixing it" for you.

Re:dd of course (1)

bugnuts (94678) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385388)

From everything I've read when researching flash drivers, thumb drives (and most removable flash drives) have auto-wear-levelling, which may map the sector to a different physical sector. You basically cannot do a low level format, so the suggestion above will probably be about as close as possible. Each sector will still have its internal tags which probably will not be overwritten with dd.

Re:dd of course (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385740)

doing a full device write will only increment the "total writes" count for every block by 1. In that respect it won't cause any wear level adjustments to take place at all.

That reminds me of something slightly off-topic here. We discussed recently the problem of block sizes other than 512 bytes causing some systems to baulk. I wonder if any flash drive manufacturer is brave enough to use their flash block size (typically what, 32k? guessing) as their device block size. That would allow the OS to work with the wear leveling by preventing multiple files from saving to the same physical blocks etc. The wear leveling itself could be handled by the OS also I suppose but that's not important. Does anyone know of a flash drive with a non standard size block?

Re:dd of course (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385496)

I think he meant something that clears all the internal state, in addition to the user data. Flash drives surely keep track of bad blocks and some state for wear-leveling. I think his terminology was correct, because as I understand it, a low-level format of a hard drive for example isn't simply writing zeroes to the user data, it's asking the mechanism to rewrite some of its housekeeping data too.

GParted won't work? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385310)

Body

same question but w/ USB sticks (1)

martyb (196687) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385316)

Somewhat offtopic, but related. I have a similar question but with respect to a USB stick. It seems that over time and with repeated use, my USB stick has gotten slower and slower. There was an article here a while ago about such a slowdown with SSDs.

So is there a utility/tool (for windows) that can test/restore USB memory stick performance?

Re:same question but w/ USB sticks (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385980)

Check out HDD wipe tool and HDD low level format tool from HDD Guru.
I've used them several times with great success and the fact that they are free as well, doesn't hurt

http://hddguru.com/software/

Re:same question but w/ USB sticks (1)

Homo Stannous (756539) | more than 4 years ago | (#32386288)

On SSDs, the tables used for wear-leveling get fragmented over time. One trick that works with almost all SSD models is to do a sequential write of every logical block, _twice_. That will result in unfragmented tables. It might work on thumb drives too, but remember to do it twice. Try this:
dd if=/dev/zero of=/path/to/usb/drive
dd if=/dev/zero of=/path/to/usb/drive

Disclaimer: I work for an SSD company.

I have used: dd (2, Informative)

jemc (738933) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385372)

First find out the device of the flash disk.

The following fixed a USB disk which was hosed:

dd if=/dev/random of=/dev/sda
or
dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sda

It's not a format, but fixes corrupt files, which can cause the disk to be unuseable.

Re:I have used: dd (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32386190)

I was thinking dd should work as well. Another thing you might try is to cfdisk and format it with a new filesystem (ext3 for instance), write a bit of stuff to it, then cfdisk and format it again with NT or whatever you want on it.

RTFM (4, Funny)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385448)

Can anyone offer advice for resurrecting such drives?

Spell: Resurrection
Level: 7
Range: Touch
Duration: Instantaneous

Re:RTFM (5, Funny)

Donniedarkness (895066) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385524)

He said "low-level", which I suppose is what's getting you confused. I know it's subjective, but to be considered "low-leveled" for me, it'd have to be under level 5.

Re:RTFM (1)

Dragoniz3r (992309) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385580)

Aren't there some material components for that spell?

Re:RTFM (1)

Larryish (1215510) | more than 4 years ago | (#32386026)

Aren't there some material components for that spell?

The spell requires one dead body.

Best format tool ever (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385494)

Best format tool for these AData cards is http://www.canadiantire.ca/AST/browse/6/Tools/HandTools/Hammers/PRD~0574014P/Stanley%252BFatMax%252BBrick%252BHammer.jsp?locale=en

The real answer (4, Interesting)

Burz (138833) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385534)

If speed is a factor, then none of the answers I read above apply to your issue.

Your el cheapo flash card has a temperature-sensitive hardware defect which probably turned into an inability to read at hi-speed when the unit heated up to a certain temp and caused some poorly-made part of the chips to act flakey or broken. At USB 1.x speeds, the flash unit remains cool so access to it remains OK. Consider returning that flash card.

Of course, there is another possible explanation: Your particular flash reader device has an incompatibility with your flash cards (possible but not likely). You could try different readers if you haven't already.

Re:The real answer (1)

hduff (570443) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385804)

If it's a heat issue, can't you put the device in a freezer for a while and then attempt to at least recover the data? Or would just a little use heat it too much?

BTW, I know this guy's drive is toast, but I'm just askin'.

Which one is the solution? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32385536)

I'm seeing a lot of geniuses telling each other what won't work. Can someone post or validate the solution instead of jumping on the folks that are trying to help?

Re:Which one is the solution? (1)

netsharc (195805) | more than 4 years ago | (#32386044)

Holy crap, slashdot used to be good, but reading this post I can see now it's full of crap and misled morons, I guess the tracer-t kid [youtube.com] is not a new phenomenon.

Can I coin the phrase "get off my e-lawn!"?

Re:Which one is the solution? (1)

Polumna (1141165) | more than 4 years ago | (#32386392)

Is he serious? I started the video thinking he was just an idiot, but the "server connection number" thing had me wondering if this isn't a modern, subtler(?), youtubed Jeff K type thing.

Return it. Seriously (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385558)

I have tried adata. Slow and prone to failures. THey are pure pieces of junk. Return it if you can, and if not, then you just got an education.

hardware defect (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385574)

"low level format" is a term relevant to old magnetic disk drives, you can't do that to a solid state logical device like flash.

you probably can't fix it at all, if it sort of works at low speed and fails athigh speed there is probably a hardware fault not a formatting issue, a formatting issue would present seemingly at random or when writing a certain amount of data, being affected by speed strongly indicates a hardware defect or failure.

Low-Level Format (4, Informative)

Lord Byron II (671689) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385594)

There's no such thing as a "low level format" on a flash drive. The term refers to specifying where the tracks are at on a magnetic disk. It was possible, although incredibly stupid, back in the day to perform a low level format on a hard drive and tell it to move the tracks closer together. As a result, you could bump your 10MB disk to 12MB.

This works only because the physical magnetic disk doesn't "know" anything about tracks and sectors. It always drives me crazy when someone who wants to wipe a drive clean, asks me about a "low level format", when what they want to do is zero out the drive (ie dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sda).

For a flash drive, each memory cell physically has a 1-to-1 correspondence to a bit (or several bits) of information, so there's no low level format.

Not possible (1)

gweihir (88907) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385604)

Flash is cell-based. There is no way to low-level format a Flash chip without advanced chip-making equipment. In addition, nobody wants to do it, because it cannot help any problems.

So your Google Fu is exactly right, no reader can do it.

However what you can try is throwing it away and getting some quality storage instead. That is about the only thing that will help.

How about... (3, Insightful)

PNutts (199112) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385634)

Like any good developer I'm ignoring what the customer asked for and trying to figure out what they need. ;)

You want to be able to write to the card at more than 1.0 speed. Here's some random thoughts:

1. Have you tried a different reader? Fry's sells them for as little as $7.99 (Sorry, couldn't resist that one.)
2. Have you tried a different class of device? How about formatting in a camera or PDA and see if that allows you to then read/write at the faster speed on a PC.
3. Can you return or exchange it as defective? If it isn't transferring at the advertised rate then that assumption can be made. See if they can get to full speed at Fry's.
4. You didn't mention what versions of Ubuntu you tried, but is it current? How about Windows 7 or a live CD of another distro? (see #1)

Of all the ba-jillion cards out there the fact that you've had problems with two of them with the symptoms you describe makes me think the problem might be on your end. Just a guess. Either way, good luck.

Ahh, Fry's ... (1)

dmckeon (1301499) | more than 4 years ago | (#32386066)

... where you always find things sort of like what you really wanted.

This worked for me one time (4, Interesting)

ChipMonk (711367) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385642)

And I do mean one time, but three years later I'm still using the thumb drive. The following assumes a Linux environment. First, pull off any data you can (and want to), then unmount it and type:

#badblocks -w -s device-path

Use the entire device, e.g. /dev/sdg, not /dev/sdg1. This guarantees that all the Flash blocks on the chip are reset. The patterns 0xAA, 0x55, 0xFF, and 0x00 are written, then checked; "shred" does no checking, and doesn't report errors. The "-s" is to show continuous progress.

If you get any errors (and you probably will, if the device is as weak as you say), simply re-run the "badblocks" command, and note if the error count goes down. The one time I did this, I got a few errors (less than 10) the first time, but zero the second time. Whatever badblocks caused on the low level of the device, it was just what the doctor ordered. I hope it can help you, too.

Haven't done a LLF in a while, but... (5, Funny)

Dahan (130247) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385708)

Here's what I used to use for a low-level format:

A>debug
g=c800:5

If you've got a fairly speedy machine, set the interleave to 1:1. Don't forget to input the list of bad blocks so the drive won't try to store data in them. There's some more info in this KB article [microsoft.com]

HTH, HAND

Re:Haven't done a LLF in a while, but... (3, Informative)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | more than 4 years ago | (#32386412)

That's the routine for later-generation 8-bit cards. The card in the original IBM PC-XT, however, was a Xebec card. There are registers you need to poke values into, again using DEBUG. It kicks off some code in the 'ROM' but it runs completely blind to the PC, i.e. the code runs entirely in the controller on the Xebec card. You only know that it's done when the LED on the hard drive eventually goes out. You can apply a stethoscope or listen closely to hear the drive stepping, to know that it's still doing real work. After you're satisfied that it's done, you use DEBUG to read the results from registers on the card to check the completion value in them.

I used to have a list of the command sequence to ll format with a Xebec card, but don't anymore. You can 'figure it out' by reading the list of commands, which are documented in the IBM Technical Reference Manual. The docs from IBM from that era are awesome, it lists all the register-based 'command formats' and you can easily figure out what you need to issue to kick off the formatting.

Bin it and call it lesson learned. (2, Insightful)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385746)

You need to learn you lesson for patronizing vendors of cheap garbage technology.

Why did you not pay a little more for your flash drives and get something more reliable? If you want to go to the trouble of resurrecting your half-dead flash drives you can spend the $10-20 on a new one from a major brand name.

The problems you describe sound like shitty controller circuitry, that's either failing, poorly designed or quite likely both.

The lower level operations of flash are abstracted away behind the controller, with the exception of some drives theres you can't do much about it.

USB Flash drives and cards can be brought back to as-new performance by performing a write-erase pass over the entire drive. This was used to revive degraded used SSDs that would drop in performance, the TRIM feature now takes care of this on the fly. About all you can do for thumb drives and cards is to perform a single erase pass. If that doesn't work you're SOL.

Re:Bin it and call it lesson learned. (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | more than 4 years ago | (#32386382)

I agree. I am a little weirded out that this whole topic is about doing intricate testing and formatting of what is apparently terrible cheap junk hardware. Putting time into it is like throwing good money after bad.

However, the discussion does have value as an "Ask Slashdot" people are giving tips that will come in handy in other circumstances, i.e. in the case where a Flash drive that is integrated into some form of more expensive hardware goes funky and needs to be cleared and reformatted.

Really cool new tool (1, Insightful)

Appl (127778) | more than 4 years ago | (#32385972)

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/flashdrive

I'm really not sure why this is a question.

Re:Really cool new tool (1)

bigredradio (631970) | more than 4 years ago | (#32386070)

I agree. I kept reading through suggestions for this format tool and that format tool and wonder if I just didn't understand the question. You should be able to dd off the partition table, remake the partition table with um...fdisk? or parted? and create a new fangled ext2 or ext3 filesystem?

It's a hardware problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32386024)

If your computer really locks up both in Windows and in Ubuntu, this is a hardware fault. Chuck the drive. But perhaps it's better not to limit yourself to the drive, since if I'm not mistaken your USB controller should be tolerant of most device faults not involving current spikes and suchlike. If it isn't, you may have discovered a security hole, although of course there's always the adage that physical access (including the ability to plug in USB-memory) throws all security out of the window.
Which is why I'm kind of sad that USB-memory has become the primary r/w data interchange medium. It used to be the case that data carriers had a separate interface from peripherals (like a diskette slot, or a cd-tray, or a tape streamer) and you could safely insert any unknown data carrier in your machine. (Executing the contents is a different matter of course.) Now, even if it looks like a USB flash drive, you can't ever really be sure what it is. It may emulate a keyboard and enter a command in the console. Or it could pretend to be a mouse. It may present itself as a read-only cd-rom (which is still autorun-enabled on Windows XP by default). Or it may contain an internal battery and discharge itself on your USB controller. Sadly, I only made the last one up.

You can't polsih a turd. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32386030)

A-Data is unambiguously crap. Buy a new card.

As far as I'm concerned... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32386218)

If you use linux you can just do:

#cat /dev/zero > /dev/sdX

Until it gets a ENOSPC (no space left on device) from the system.

I always do this when in such situation and it
always works like a charm.

Throw it away (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32386246)

And next time don't spend $40 on a crappy flash drive.

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