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What Is Chip-Off Data Recovery for Flash Media?

June 29, 2023
Bare internals of a 256GB USB flash drive showing 4 NAND chips

An internal view of a USB flash drive.

Chip-off data recovery (or chip-off forensics) refers to the process of removing the memory chips from a USB drive, smartphone, memory card, or another device that uses non-volatile flash memory. After removal, raw data can be extracted from the memory chips.

Because chip-off recovery is technically difficult and destructive, it’s a last-resort option intended for situations in which the device’s controller or microcontroller unit (MCU) is no longer operational. 

Data recovery technicians will usually attempt to repair damaged flash media components (for instance, the USB connector of a flash drive) or use software to restore the device to a temporary working condition. However, in some cases, chip-off data recovery is the only option. 

Common scenarios: 

  • The device has sustained heavy impact damage.
  • The device’s firmware is corrupt or unreadable.
  • The device’s connector is broken or unusable (for USB drives). 
  • The device has sustained damage from a fire or flood. 

Chip-off data recovery may not be an option if the device’s controller or MCU uses encryption. It’s also a highly specialized process: Technicians must have appropriate hardware tools to read the memory chips, and they must have an in-depth knowledge of data reconstruction techniques to restore the data to a usable state. 

If you’ve lost data from a memory card, USB drive, or smartphone, we’re here to help. provides risk-free evaluations for all flash media, and each of our laboratories are equipped to perform chip-off data recovery onsite. 

To learn more, submit a case online or call 1-800-237-4200 to speak with an expert. Below, we’ll explain the differences between chip-off data recovery and forensics, along with some tips for choosing a provider.

Chip-Off Forensics vs. Chip-Off Data Recovery

The terms chip-off forensics and chip-off data recovery are often used interchangeably. However, while computer forensics and data recovery are related fields, they have fundamentally difficult goals. 

For data recovery cases, the goal is to restore specific files to a usable state. If you’ve lost family photos on a USB drive, you’ll need professional data recovery services.

Forensic technicians look for evidence. In addition to specific files, they may look for records of when files were accessed, modified, or deleted. Additionally, forensics experts must maintain a chain of custody report to ensure that the evidence is usable in a court of law.

If you need computer forensic services, it’s important to find a provider that specializes in electronic discovery (or e-discovery). Tell the service provider upfront that you intend to use the results of the investigation as evidence; otherwise, they may not maintain an appropriate chain of custody.

Selecting a Chip-Off Data Recovery or Computer Forensics Provider

Chip-off data recovery is a highly specialized process, and because it requires the physical deconstruction of the flash memory device, any failed attempt will greatly reduce the chances of success in additional attempts.

In other words, you may only have one chance to recover data or find evidence. Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Look for a service that can provide an upfront quote. 
  • Because chip-off data recovery is a delicate and involved process, “attempt fees” are acceptable. However, ask about attempt fees upfront.
  • Avoid data recovery companies that charge a flat rate for every type of device. Different memory cards, USB drives, and smartphones have extremely different architectures, so it makes little sense to offer a flat rate for every type of media. Read about the problems with flat-rate data recovery. 
  • Look for a company with physical laboratories. operates full-service laboratories at each of our locations; we don’t operate mailing rooms that forward cases to a single laboratory. 
  • Determine whether the laboratory is outfitted for chip-off data recovery. Ask about past cases and review the company’s testimonials. 

As the world leader in professional data recovery services, each of our full-service laboratories is equipped to handle NAND media. To learn more, get a free quote online or call us at 1-800-237-4200.