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Top Uses For a USB Flash Drive

usb_flash_drive.gifUSB flash drives are convenient little gadgets. I remember the days when we were using 1.44 MB floppy drives to move things around. What a pain those were! The capacity was pitiful, giving rise to utilities designed to split up a single file among multiple floppies. Then CDs became the norm. CDs offer much higher capacity, but they do not operate like a hard drive. They are also pretty slow. DVDs offer even higher capacity, but you are still dealing with all the restrictions (and annoyances) of optical media.

USB flash drives are so much better. Today, they offer respectable capacities. USB 2.0 makes them pretty fast. The BIOS of many motherboards even has the capability of booting from a USB drive. They are more dependable then optical media because they cannot be scratched. They are more dependable than even hard drives because they have no moving parts. So, there are a lot of possibilities for these little sticks.

Below, I will go over the most useful uses for your USB flash drive.

(1) Moving Files Around

This one is really obvious and goes without saying….so let me explain. ;-) Unless two computers are on the same network and sharing files, it can be a pain in the butt to move a file between them. If the files are small, email is usually a good way to go. For really large files, email may not work. CDs and DVDs are one way to go, but unless it is rewritable, you’re essentially sacrificing a whole disc just to move a file. USB flash drives are much more convenient. Move files between your PCs. Even carry some of your important files around with you. Since almost any computer running Windows today can recognize and use your USB drive without any further setup, you have ultimate portability.

(2) Having a Portable Computing Environment

Some software is designed such that it can be run exclusively from a USB flash drive without needing to use the hard drive of a host computer. PortableApps is one such way of doing this. PortableApps is a free suite of programs that are designed to run totally from your USB drive. It includes programs such as Firefox, GIMP, Filezilla, OpenOffice, Thunderbird, Audacity, and more. All open source, and all hacked slightly so that they can operate in a self-contained environment. This means that you can use your own computing environment, with all your data, on any computer anywhere. Just plug in your USB drive and up comes your computer.

PortableApps is also updated quite often.

(3) PC Troubleshooting

Another useful way of using a USB drive is by loading on a bunch of diagnostic utilities for PC troubleshooting. Then, you can troubleshoot any PC you come across by sticking in the USB drive and running the diagnostic of your choice. This is commonly done by PC technicians. Need to do a virus scan on a computer without antivirus installed? Just move your personal favorite antivirus utility from the USB drive and run it (perhaps AVG). You can also store the rescue/recovery data for a PC on a USB drive and use it whenever you need to fix an ailing PC that won’t boot properly.

(4) Booting Your Computer

Many motherboards in use today are equipped with BIOS that can boot from a USB drive. To take advantage of this, you will need to enter your BIOS and change the boot order so as to put your USB drive in front of your hard drive in the sequence. Then, you can install an operating system to your USB drive. This is sometimes referred to as Live USB. Now, obviously, you will not be able to install a copy of Windows in this fashion. Windows is too big and is not designed to run from a USB drive anyway. However, there are some smaller, portable versions of Linux that can fit on a USB drive, such as Puppy Linux or Damn Small Linux.

(5) Using Windows Vista ReadyBoost

ReadyBoost is a technology only available in Windows Vista which allows a USB drive to be used for caching in order to boost performance of the PC. It basically takes some of the active system files that are randomly called upon and caches them on the flash drive. ReadyBoost employs a logical system on the drive to make access very quick and the end result is that requests for data from the USB drive are said to be 80-100 times faster than a hard drive. To use this, you just plug a compatible USB drive into a Vista-powered machine. The AutoPlay dialog will provide an additional option for speeding up the system. Select that option and you will get a Properties dialog window for the drive with an extra tab for ReadyBoost. Windows will test the drive to see if it is up to specs for ReadyBoost. For a USB drive to be ReadyBoost ready, it needs to be over 256MB, have an access time faster than 1 ms, be capable of 2.5 MB.s reads and 1.75 MB/s writes. It is also recommended that the USB drive be 1-3 times larger than the amount of system memory. So, for example, I have 2 gigs in my desktop. I should have a USB drive that is at least 2 gigs in capacity.

(6) Sew a Pattern Hi-Tech Style

OK, I wanted to throw one in here that is just off the wall. Let’s enter the world of sewing. Yes, many modern sewing machines today have USB ports on them. You can use the USB drive to put software updates onto the machine. You can also transfer patterns to the machine for automatic creation on your fabrics. Yes, it is the old time world of sewing merged with the world of technology.

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10 thoughts on “Top Uses For a USB Flash Drive”

Raymond says:
So someone tell me how to use a flash drive to move files from my old computer to my new one by using a flash drive. I plug it in the USB port, but nothing happens.
Cheap USB Flash Drives says:
Some of the things that mentioned in this article is something new to me. Thanks for sharing this.
Dave Jones says:
You also need to make sure that you copy the .pst file to the new computer (this file contains all of the emails received by that person). Perform a search on that PC for any files ending .pst and copy them to a safe location. Then copy that file back to the ame location on the new PC.

Dave Jones – DVD Authoring Services

ding42 says:
Go to the file menu of Outlook and use the export feature. Just export everything to the default outlook file type (can’t remember what it’s called, starts with a p). Then just import that file into the new install with that same export/import feature.
Dale says:
I work on the computers at my elementary school. Periodically, I switch out computers that the teachers use. How do I move what is in their Outlook on the old machine to their new machine without losing anything?


Vino says:
Readyboost only really helps computers with small amoutns of memory, like 512mb. But 1GB and higher workstations don’t require the facility of Readyboost. It seems like it has been made redundant by cheap memory if you ask me.
CP says:
This is very true. I ordered my “readyboost” drive, and while I can still use it as a high capacity flash drive, I was half expecting to see amazing things. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice any visible difference at all! If you do a search for “readyboost stats” etc then the figures really are damming!
Blue says:
(correction) 16MB/sec USB 2.0
Blue says:
How is it possible “Ready Boost” hasn’t been recognized by the tech media as the biggest farce since crop circles?

Given the fact that today’s system memory can run as fast as 2-8GB/s ( and hard drives are good for 150MB/sec on up to 6GB/sec (, how is it possible that a 16MB USB 2.0 thumb drive is anything but horribly misleading?!

How much was MS paid by flash memory manufacturers to push this fake technology?

Alec says:
Ok First of all wikipedia. Not exaclty the most reliable source of information since anyone can change it. But even if its reliable the thumb drives aren’t ment to replace RAM they are ment to supliment it. Its easier for a computer to draw information of a flash stick then a hard drive or RAM because they are designed for quick access of information Ram and Rom memory are ment to store more and take longer to search
Rick says:
I don’t think I am ready to go to a stick drive for my backup. I can’t begin to tell you how many of those I have misplaced around the house. I guess if I ever move, we will find most of them.

What I like are the Western Digital Elements drive with the 1.5 or 2 TB backup. That will let me back up all three of my computers onto one drive with plenty of space left. When I buy or build a new computer, then it will be a simple matter to restore my data files as well as my apps.

Another drive I like is the Seagate FreeAgent Extreme I have long been a fan of the Seagate drive though some of them tend to be a bit noisy which is not a problem unless I am dealing with video.

There are many USB portable drives from which to choose and the price has literally fallen through the floor.

Mark says:
Not a chance it is quicker to access a USB stick than RAM. The architecture of the computer precludes it – data would have to be loaded from the USB stick TO RAM before it can be used. RAM is designed to be the fastest storage to access short of cache or the CPU registers. You'd be better off to supplement your RAM with MORE RAM. I'm sure in some (very specific) situations it makes a difference but Readyboost still sounds like a scam to me.
JasonT says:
Next to moving files between non-networked computers, my favorite use of USB flash drives is to load them up with .mp3 or .m4a files and stick them into the USB port of my car stereo (Sony CDX-GT410U). I can add an insane amount of music onto a 4GB USB drive. I’ve stopped carrying CDs in my car altogether. One of my favorite gadgets.

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Aug 24, 2007

643 Articles Published