Too TRIM? When SSD Data Recovery is Impossible

by Rob Williams on March 5, 2010 in Security, Storage

It goes without saying that solid-state drives are well-worth the investment in order to give your PC some responsiveness, but with all the benefits they can offer, there’s one lesser-known issue that we’ll talk about here. That issue is simple. As soon as you delete a file on a TRIM-enabled SSD, the data is gone, for good.

The Quest to Recover Our Data

Over the years, I’ve experimented with quite a bit of data recovery using various tools I’ve stumbled on. Sometimes, I’ve found, you don’t need a commercial tool to get the job done, because depending on the type of deletion, the very robust and cross-platform testdisk is all that’s needed to get the job done. I should also mention that if you ever need to recover multimedia, like pictures and videos, you should check out the Photorec tool from the same developer.

When testdisk fails to get your data back, your best choice is to go to the experts. Over the years, I’ve found three different commercial tools that I enjoyed testing with, so I used the same three here. Of these, R-Studio might be my favorite, primarily due to its ease-of-use, and also because it has the nicest aesthetics. It’s also quite affordable at $80 and holds no real limitations like other similarly-priced offerings. The two others I tested with (mainly to use as a backup) were Ontrack’s EasyRecovery and O&O’s DiskRecovery.

I should note that while I personally prefer R-Studio the most, if you ever want to consider purchasing any of the three above-mentioned tools, or any other not mentioned, make sure to give the available trials/demos a try. If you are looking to recover data right at that point in time, you can try multiple tools to see if one is more effective at recovering data than another.

That said, let’s get into testing. The first program I used for testing was R-Studio, and the results are seen below:

SSD's - TRIM and Data Recovery SSD's - TRIM and Data Recovery
Left: Non-TRIM – Right: TRIM-Enabled

I admit that I was a bit struck by the fact that the TRIM-enabled drive still had so much pink (meaning there were “documents” found), but upon closer inspection, the facts became clear. On the left is the non-TRIM drive, and it shows that 288,407 files were found (ultra-inflated numbers are common with data recovery), while for the TRIM-enabled drive, that number plummeted to 488. So, does that mean that some files could be recovered? Not quite.

While there are some traces of files found, everything is broken, so nothing changes with regards to recovery. Some of the pink could be due to the file system stepping in as well. I’m not sure of the full story here, but the fact that data could be found does nothing but instill false hope to those who think there’s a chance of getting their data back.

To help prove it, I took a look through each drive’s recovery report and found files that both drives still had linked. I should note that the non-TRIM drive essentially had everything available, because nothing else was written over the data since. I recommend ignoring all of the X’s, because they pretty much tell you recovery isn’t possible (or so common-sense would tell you), but that’s not really the case. Most data is usually recoverable as long as you don’t overwrite it. So if you delete or format a drive, virtually all of the data should be immediately available through recovery.

I should also note that while it isn’t obvious, the TRIM-enabled drive found only two of the actual root folders (Games and Pictures) out of the original seven.

SSD's - TRIM and Data Recovery SSD's - TRIM and Data Recovery
Left: Non-TRIM – Right: TRIM-Enabled

The file I found to recover is one I had for my favorite MMORPG (Asheron’s Call). It’s one of the screenshots from pre-beta, and at this point, it’s over 11 years old. If this was an important file, and lost, it would be upsetting to lose, but on the non-TRIM drive, it wasn’t any issue. On the TRIM drive, even though it was listed, and was “recovered”, you can see that the result wasn’t so good.

SSD's - TRIM and Data Recovery SSD's - TRIM and Data Recovery
Left: Non-TRIM – Right: TRIM-Enabled

I of course tried to recover other files, and again, no cigar. I even tried to recover ultra-small text documents that were mere kilobytes, and again, recovered fine on the non-TRIM, and not whatsoever on the TRIM. One oddity of file recovery is that usually, the file size you recover is exactly the same as the original, but the data is completely corrupt, or is simply zeros. In the case of text documents I recovered (I didn’t show any due to the fact that those I found were of a personal nature), they were just empty when opened up in Notepad, despite having the exact same file-size as the original file.

For some reinforcement, I ran scans on both drives once again with both Ontrack and O&O’s respective tools.

SSD's - TRIM and Data Recovery SSD's - TRIM and Data Recovery
Left: Non-TRIM – Right: TRIM-Enabled

SSD's - TRIM and Data Recovery SSD's - TRIM and Data Recovery
Left: Non-TRIM – Right: TRIM-Enabled

As seen in the above screenshots, the TRIM-enabled drive just had no luck when it came to delivering a full real index of files. All it had left were scraps, and even then, no data was recoverable. It’s official. Recovering data from a TRIM-erased drive is just not going to happen.

Page List

1. Introduction
2. Setting Ourselves Up for the Test
3. The Quest to Recover Our Data
4. Final Thoughts

  • James Hatton

    Hey, Thanks for your great write up. I got plenty from that.
    Can you tell me, if TRIM is enabled on the SSD within the OS and you have data on a conventional HDD and you delete a file from the HDD does it bypass the Trash can? Does it get permanently deleted?
    As in…if I have TRIM enabled and delete the file on the conventional HDD within the same OS will I need specific recovery tools to simply undelete it….unlike if the whole system was non-Trim and using conventional HDD where you could just restore from the Trash?

    Is there a way of using TRIM and still have Trash can working for all other drives and in particular User data drives. I use my SSD Intell 180GB drive for my OS only and I have several other storage drives in use for other data. I am trying to figure out how to use Windows Shadow copy but only on “some drives” and it seems as though this feature is either enabled r it isn’t no inbetweens in this case? I maybe doing something wrong here but I have not found any info in my searches? Regular backups of these drives means a huge amount of backup storage needs to be free which really sucks. Windows backup cannot backup anything until Shadow Copy service running and a restore point it created. So I am forced to enable the system restore. Run the backup and then disable the system restore. I want to do this for only the SSD but the system restore wipes all restore points when it is disabled which also sucks. It would be great to enable it. Take a snapshot and disabled it and/or disable it for one drive only and keep it running for the rest of the PC.

    I switched back to Windows backup also because Acronis completely hosed one of my backups and there has been absolutely no help from any of their tech support. They pretty much shit blame around and basically tell the users that it is their fault that they are doing something wrong bla bla bla I didn’t even waste my time posting on their forums or asking for support after what I had read. My clean 100% untouched backup to them is corrupt. Something I have never had an issue with using the standard Windows backup? So for what it’s worth I went back to using it and said good bye to Acronis backup forever. I will never use their software again. I diverse.

    Have you looked at the performance that people are claiming out of the new RAID 0 as well as TRIM? They set up using multiple smaller SSDs, the outcome has tech people throthing at the mouth for this but support from intel is….well…..questionable. Forget older technology being supported. Speeds though are meant to be incredible!

    For reference ^^^^

    • Rob Williams

      “Can you tell me, if TRIM is enabled on the SSD within the OS and you have data on a conventional HDD and you delete a file from the HDD does it bypass the Trash can? Does it get permanently deleted?”

      When something is deleted and placed in the Recycle Bin, the data gets moved to a hidden folder on the same drive and remains there until it’s permanently deleted (eg: when the Recycle Bin is emptied). TRIM doesn’t affect anything except data actually located on the SSD itself.

      By your wording, it sounds like you think that when a file is deleted off a hard drive, it gets copied over to the SSD’s Recycle Bin – but no, it doesn’t work like that. Whatever’s in the Recycle Bin is linked to its original location; it’s not all routed through the SSD.

      “My clean 100% untouched backup to them is corrupt.”

      This is why I keep multiple backups of the same Acronis .tib file. I’ve only ever encountered this particular issue once, and it was a number of years ago. But I never want to take a chance. I’d also recommend always using the validate option to make sure backups are captured successfully. You can also setup Acronis in Windows to automatically re-validate backups every so often to make sure no corruption occurs. I am not sure where you see a connection to TRIM here, but TRIM definitely has nothing to do with it. TRIM -only- affects deleted data, and on the SSD that said data was on.

  • angelina410329
  • angelina410329

    with the widely use of SSD drive, SSD drive data loss issues will also be paid attention to. Even when you take every precaution to avoid it, the day may still come when you have to face it. SSD drive recovery software is usually the first place people turn to solve their SSD drive data recovery issues. Usually, a free data recovery software will be the best choice.

  • Alva J. Starks

    All I know is that my SSD died and I had no idea what to do. I thought my data was gone forever. I was looking for articles on who would be able to tell me how to get my data back. I finally found a company SERT who actually did recover my data and wasnt as expenisve as some of the others like OnTrack and DriveSavers. So it is actually possible.

    • Rob Williams

      When an SSD “dies”, its data isn’t lost – it’s just inaccessible, until an expert gets ahold of it and is able to work their magic. That’s different than trying to get the data back after it’s been outright deleted, which is what this article’s focusing on.