This is what a CFast 2.0 card looks like on the inside
CFast 2.0 might be on the way out, thanks to CFexpress, but it’s a popular format still in use by a lot of cameras. The Pocket 4K and 6K, for example, pretty much require one for their highest resolution and highest data rate raw recording. But what happens if a card goes bad? Yes, it can happen. Well, that’s when you send it off to somebody to crack it open and have at it with a soldering iron.
Recently we got to take a look inside an XQD card and thanks to HDD Recovery Services, we can have a look at a CFast 2.0 card as well. It’s amazing just how much technology is contained in memory cards so tiny. When you get to see what they’re made up from, you can understand why they’re so heavy next to a comparatively ultra-lightweight SD card.
I mentioned in the XQD post that I’ve been following this channel for a while. It’s interesting to see the inner workings of different types of storage devices. Most of these aren’t dismantled just for the sake of showing off how they work, as a rule, so channels like this, when something dies and opening it up is just a matter of course, they provide some very cool insight.
As usual, the first task in the video is to check all of the solder joints on the components on the board. This might mean removing huge chips and reballing them in order to be able to resolder them, just in case there’s something going on underneath a chip that isn’t readily visible.
Most chips conform to some kind of standard, that let you use what’s known as a solder mask (essentially a laser-cut stencil) to accurately and easily add fresh solder onto each of the connection points. In this case, though, the grid on the underside of the chip wasn’t standard, so each individual ball of solder had to be placed by hand – a boring and tedious job.
Eventually, they manage to repair this card well enough to be able to access it and recover the data for the client. As with just about any storage device that requires complete disassembly, though, you likely won’t be able to use the card for its intended usage ever again.
When you see videos like this, not only do you learn a bit about how the storage devices we use on a daily basis work, but we also start to understand why data recovery costs so much. It’s not as simple as just putting the card in a reader and running SanDisk’s recovery software on it. The amount of actual labour and electronics knowledge required (especially with solid-state) is considerable. And the kinds of software they use come with licenses that start at $1,000.
You also really learn the importance of having a reliable backup workflow in place, too.
Again, this one I probably wouldn’t suggest you try to follow along with at home, but if you’ve got a dead card lying around anyway, and you’re not concerned about what might be on it, it can be fun to take some of these things apart and at least try to fix them yourself.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.