Western Digital make really good hard drives, but where their Elements, Passport and MyBook drives are concerned, they’ve taken a wrong turn. The 2.5″ versions all have proprietary PCB’s on the drives themselves, so there’s no standard micro SATA data and power connectors like you’d expect. The USB connector and LED, plus the interface controller, are on the single board as well! This means you can’t just take the drive out and connect it to another USB to SATA enclosure.

A lot of very modern WD Elements, MyBook and Passport enclosures are now also encrypted, meaning the data can only be accessed when the control board is functioning correctly. In this article I’ll show you how to recover data from a WD Passport (laptop sized drive) enclosure, if the USB connector gets damaged.

1. Disassemble the enclosure, remove the drive, then remove the PCB from the bottom of the drive using a Torx screwdriver.

2. Flip the drive board over, you’ll see the following capacitors. Remove them using a soldering iron or a heatgun, being careful not to overheat or damage anything:

usb-only-western-digital-drive-capacitors

3. Next you need to take a standard SATA connector from another drive, or from a parts supplier (eBay has them in droves, search for COMAX SATA connector). Once you have it, take a look at it, you’ll see long pins and short pins. All the long ones are GROUND pins:

sata-connector-ground-pins

4. From the back side of the PCB (the componentless side which faces away from the drive when fitted), you will see pins E71, E72, E73 and E74, these belong to the SATA data pins. The other four pins marked with a red square belong to ground pins:

usb-only-western-digital-drive-E-pins

5. Now solder everything together, using this pinout:

E71 – Tx+
E72 – Tx-
E73 – Rx-
E74 – Rx+

The SATA standard uses two lines, a positive and negative, for Data TX (Transmit), and two for Data RX (Recieve), each having a separate ground on the ground lines. Use my picture below as a wiring reference:

usb-only-western-digital-drive-finished-wiring

Now all you need to do is use a standard USB cable to power the drive (if your connector is broken you can try soldering the power lines of a USB cable to the port power pins), connect via SATA to your PC, and it should work. NOTE: This WILL NOT work if your drive uses encryption, as that runs through the USB data lines, because we’re bypassing it, it won’t work.

You may get some “USB device not recognized” errors. Try connecting the SATA drive to a SATA hotplug port, connecting the data cable first, then the power, once Windows has started. Hotplug ports are usually purple or orange, it depends on the board manufacturer, Gigabytes are purple.

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25 Responses to “Recovering data from WD Elements drive when the USB connector is broken”
  1. Stepan says:

    Is it correct that if connect the drive through the usual USB-SATA adapter, bypassing the controller, you can access the unencrypted data?

    • Tidosho says:

      Some people have said it works, others said not. It depends on the age of your drive, as the more recent ones are encrypted, so bypassing doesn’t work

  2. Kristen says:

    Hi,

    First of all, let me thank you for this informative article, as it has given me some hope in the midst hard drive-heartbreak. During my Peace Corps service in Morocco my computer stopped recognizing my WD Passport, so I put it away until in the hopes that it would be easily fixed in the States. As you can guess, I’m dealing with the proprietary connector issue, and can’t seem to find a place which can retrieve my data locally without paying a ridiculous amount. I do know a little bit about computers, but I don’t have the skills to what you have shown above. Basically, I have 2 years’ worth of photos that I desperately want to retrieve, and am wondering if you can recommend an affordable option, or (if you are willing) I can send it to you. I live in St. Louis, Missouri.

    I know this probably sounds a bit strange, but at this point I will try anything (except spending hundreds of dollars). WD has offered to send me a new hard drive, even after the casing has been opened, but cannot actually retrieve anything. Is it just me, or is that, like, the most ridiculous thing ever? I just don’t know why they manufacture hard drives without SATA ports if working with the proprietary is so difficult…..and they can’t even do it?

    Anyway, thank you again for your time. Any recommendations would be awesomely appreciated, even if you can’t look at the drive yourself. Have a great day.

    • Tidosho says:

      Hi Kristen,

      The whole trouble with these drives is, depending on the age of it, it may be encrypted, the newer ones were. The full size Elements drives are standard SATA, but have encryption, stopping you connecting it to a computer on its own, without the USB interface board the drive is recognized, but unreadable without formatting, even if you did a quick format then tried recovering any data it would be gibberish data that would appear corrupt.

      It’s hit and miss, even on the non-encrypted ones as this trick bypasses the USB bridge controller, some motherboards fail to recognise it on any SATA bus. The best you can do is try it, or get someone you know who has soldering skills to do it with you. Postage would likely be high to the UK and then back again, as you’d have to make sure it’s well packaged and secure, which adds weight.

  3. Kristen says:

    Thanks so much for your response. I guess things are even more complicated than I imagined. My hard drive is newer, too, so I guess it would be encrypted. Going back to Africa with a new SATA drive this time around, haha. Best wishes.

  4. Helen says:

    I have a problem with the connector which links the hard drive to the power cable on my Elements 320GB hard drive. It has my life on it. Any ideas? One of the pins has broken off 🙁
    Helen

    • Tidosho says:

      I take it this is one of the desktop size external Elements, or is it a smaller one with just one connector? If so there’s three things you can try:

      a) Some earlier Elements drives didn’t have encryption, yours is a 320GB so you might be able to just take the drive out of the enclosure and connect it straight inside your computer to a spare IDE/SATA socket and power plug. Turn your PC off first though!

      b) You can have an electronics shop solder a standard USB cable to where the socket solders on, this has worked for me and some customers a few times, but the solder often breaks if the thing is handled too much, get them to epoxy it for you.

      c) If it is a full size external that has both power and USB sockets, you can buy replacement power adapters off eBay for less than £10 🙂

  5. It’s good article but it is not very clear. So I suggest readers not to try it if they have no experience. I would request the author to improve it a little bit.
    Thanks.

    • Tidosho says:

      I can’t think if you’re a spammer or not. Is that site link you’ve left a stolen one? Don’t comment on things you know nothing about. I have 22 years experience in this kind of thing, probably longer than you’ve been alive, as you can see from most of the electronics stuff here on my blog. So I request you research authors before slagging them off. Thanks.

  6. Additional says:

    Thanks for the info, been checking into this lately. I have a WD15EADS 1.5TB from an desktop elements enclosure. It spins but doesn’t show up, testdisk sees nothing. Unfortunately I don’t have the original enclosure or the USB interface. I have one “just like it”, but it’s going to have a different encryption key, right? I’ve tried it, but it doesn’t work. There are two problems, the probable encryption and the fact the data on the drive is probably scrambled. In this case, do you think your technique is worth a shot? I’m pretty handy with a soldering iron.

    • Tidosho says:

      No, it won’t work. The data is encrypted so without the board any data will be scrambled. The encryption keys are generated from serial numbers and hashes, so swapping boards won’t work. I learnt that lesson a long time ago with a 2TB Elements drive. Swapping boards didn’t work. Your best bet is buying a standard drive and enclosure, then you know there’s no encryption 🙂

  7. Bernie says:

    Hi ….this is the closest thing I’ve found that may help with my problem. The brass coloured data pins on the SATA drive are damaged. Someone with a heavy hand tried straightening them. Your pic above shows the kind in question. Initially I tried to solder them to the SATA cable was a bust. The plastic and brass coloured pins have been removed exposing just the silver pins. #’s 1 & 2 from the left are shorter. #1 pin s/b a ground pin. I want to be able to attach a data cable in order to clone the hard drive for my client. I was thinking of trimming away more of the plastic on the unit and on the data cable and solder it in place just long enough to get the data from it. Should I trim down pins 3,5 & 6 to be same length as #2? Should I worry about #1 not being longer as the ground pin? Any suggestions on how to keep each pin separated when soldering? I would appreciate any help or suggestions. Thanks

  8. […] Recovering data from WD Elements drive when the USB connector is broken | TideLog I found this while browsing. I wonder if this will work. I hate to trash the drive because it took me 3 months to rip all my DVD movies and concerts and put them on here. Thanks, Jim   My System Specs You need to have JavaScript enabled so that you can use this … Computer Type Laptop System Manufacturer/Model Number HP ENVY TouchSmart m7-j120dx Notebook OS Windows 8.1 CPU Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU @2.40GHz Memory 8 GB Hard Drives 1TB Toshiba Quote […]

  9. bouncing says:

    Hi there, I check your blog on a regular basis.
    Your writing style is awesome, keep up the good work!

  10. Charlotte says:

    Tidosho, I have just taken apart the Western Digital 1.0TB External HD model # WD10EADS(belongs to my daughter). Apparently, between her and my granddaughter when plugging in and pulling out they have “mushed” the pins to the point of no return. I can’t figure out how many pins were actually there to begin with. I have found a video on youtube on how to temporarily fix it so I can get all the info off of it but I can’t figure out what to purchase. http://youtu.be/QhHnswJZM4E In researching this I have noticed many asking the question of how to get the WD casing off, there is also a video for that as well. Pretty easy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5t6FUvNIVM

    I’m hoping you can help me out with where I can purchase this little connector..I’m thinking it is the one with the five pins but no sure.
    Thank you in advance. Charlotte

    • Tidosho says:

      Hi Charlotte,

      It does indeed have 5 pins. 2 for USB data, 2 for power, and a ground. It’s a standard Mini B type, I found a product page from Farnell, click HERE. Soldering is required, so you’ll need to take it to someone that can do it for you. I hope this is useful!

  11. Charlotte says:

    Tidosho, your amazing! Thank you so much! I thought I would just temporarily fix it with a plastic clamp, get all the info off of it and then see about getting it repaired. I’m sure it shouldn’t cost too much. I really appreciate your help. After surfing for hours and days I’m so glad to have found you. Your an asset to those who know pretty much..nothing! LOL

    Have a great week! Charlotte

  12. Brian says:

    Where can I get the adapter in the US? I have most of my pics & music backed up on several locations. I took pics at a concert 2.5 years ago. I thought I had them backed up on DVDs but I can’t find them. I want to get those off my external without paying $700+.

  13. Miroslav says:

    Hi Tidosho,

    I have a problem with a USB WD Elements Black 1TB # WD10EADS – 11TK7S1. Due to restart while it was copying it’s not being recognized under windows anymore. I’ve tried few cloning programs but they can’t seem to complete the process. I guess bad sectors are also involved. I’ve tried disk chk under command prompt and few other strategies without any luck to clone it or fix it.
    Is there a way to connect it via SATA to a PC? I have an E75 pin instead of E74.

    Thanks
    Best Regards
    Miro

    • Tidosho says:

      Hi Miroslav,

      Can you try the trial version of HD Sentinel for me? As long as the drive is detected you’ll be able to probe it via USB. Install the trial, connect your drive, and run HDS, it’ll tell you the SMART status of the drive, and if there’s any bad sectors or weak ones. If your computer restarted while copying to it, the partition has likely gone RAW. Your files should still be accessible. Have you tried using TestDisk to restore the partition structure? It will also help restore files, as it can see past damaged partition tables.

      • Miroslav says:

        Hi Tidosho,

        Thanks for the fast response. I did check the SMART status with WD Data Lifeguard Diagnostics and it came out as bad. It has five bad sectors. That was about a week ago. I’ve tried TestDisk few times. I couldn’t restore the partition table. It says it’s done but still the hard drive is visible, but not accessible under windows. I’ve tried copying/cloning the drive but unsuccessfully. Finally I’ve left it at a repair shop and today they reported they are checking it as we spoke and the problem seems to be in the heads and they are checking if it’s gonna work with the hard drive ones or a donor is necessary. I thought it was a software problem. I hope they are not making up stuff though. Well…

        Best Regards
        Miro

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