Like a key broken off in an ignition ...
December 16, 2008 12:04 PM   Subscribe

What happens if a USB flash drive gets hit, really hard from the side, while it's plugged in?

(Dumb question of the day.) Will it break? Will it still be usable if it breaks? What happens to the port? I just see them sticking out of computers all the time, and think, That's an Accident Waiting to Happen - whack!

I thought I'd ask before I learn the hard way.

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posted by coffeefilter to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You'll probably just knock it out of the slot. The most likely point of failure is on the drive where the male USB port is soldered to the board. You could probably solder that back on unless it's really mangled.

Will it still be usable if it breaks?

Define "breaks."
posted by Krrrlson at 12:10 PM on December 16, 2008

Depending on how firmly it's in there, I'd say it would either pop out, or if it's bent, the soldering points between the usb socket and the connector might break. I've actually repaired that kind of damage before. It wasn't hard, assuming you don't mind breaking open the plastic casing.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 12:10 PM on December 16, 2008

I'd expect it to depend on the machine it's plugged into. The USB socket could be broken off whatever board it's mounted on. For example the power socket on the Mac G4 Powerbook is not hard to damage by repeatedly pushing the power plug sideways (happened to me twice; thanks to family gorillas) which is probably why Apple went with the new magsafe power connection.

Whether it would be usable or not after breakage would also depend on the machine I think. When my Powerbook was damaged, the traces on the board were broken, which stopped it charging. A break in a USB trace possibly would be less destructive but I wouldn't want to bet on it.
posted by anadem at 12:13 PM on December 16, 2008

I hit mine while it was plugged it with my chair. It bent and cracked the plastic casing but it still works. Really fuzzy picture here.
posted by lilkeith07 at 12:14 PM on December 16, 2008

In the case that the connector should break off, be forewarned that it is very hard to resolder USB connectors. Most connectors I'm used to just need to have an electrical connection, USB depends on precisely balanced impedance of the conductors, so home made solder joints don't work too well, if at all.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:45 PM on December 16, 2008

I've seen what happens when USB keys take a good whack on the side - we've enough machines in the labs, and everyone has flash drives these days. Various possibilities, from most common to least include:

1) nothing. Both pc and usb key undamaged.

2) USB key more or less intact, but forcibly popped out of the socket sideways. Twists PC USB port - the thin metal surround. Sometimes case damage too severe to plug another usb back in, sometimes fixable with a flat-blade screwdriver. Rarely, key won't function either, though no visible damage.

3) USB key case cracked, key quite possibly non-functional, and PC port damaged beyond repair, including snapping off the internal bit of plastic. In one case, it damaged the entire motherboard.

In every instance I've witnessed, and the cleanup afterwards, the PC takes more damage than the USB key - the socket isn't really designed for much sideways stress, and the key usually pops out at a bit of an angle. Plus, USB keys are designed to be kept in pockets, on keychains etc, so can take a certain amount of a kicking.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:48 PM on December 16, 2008

That happened to me - this drive (high-res picture, slow loading) got bent when I dropped my laptop, and now it only works half of the time.

Now, my best friend is a tiny extension cable - it's much less likely to snap off.
posted by koeselitz at 1:02 PM on December 16, 2008

Someone dropped my laptop, and it fell on the USB plug for the mouse. USB doesn't work on that laptop anymore. I had to get a PCMCIA USB card. The mouse was fine.
posted by theora55 at 1:39 PM on December 16, 2008

I second the USB extension cable. You can find them at the dollar store and they pretty much guarantee you wont find yourself in that situation. Plus no need to reach around or go under your desk to find a USB slot.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:47 PM on December 16, 2008

Happened to me. Believe it or not, a guy from tech support is the one who ran into my USB thumb drive while it was sticking out of the computer.

What happened? The drive bent 90 degrees, but did not break. I was able to bend it back to approximately straight and surprisingly the drive still works. The PC was undamaged. YMMV.
posted by geeky at 7:49 AM on December 17, 2008

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