using a usb flash drive


sometimes they are called usb sticks, thumb drives, flash drives (in the store). whatever name they are given, you have to know your drive when you use it.

1. Start a windows Explorer

Either hold down the windows logo key and hit R and then type explorer and hit enter,
Start|All Programs|Accessories|Windows Explorer

You should have a window with the title "My Computer" at the top.

2. make sure the Folders button is depressed.

This ensures you can see the list of drives (and their drive labels) on the left-side window pane. It also allows you to explore folders on the left side, clicking on the + or - next to the folder to expand or collapse the folder tree, and pick folders at random to display in the right-side window pane.

folder button depressed

3. examine your drive list before inserting your flash drive

each flash drive does different things when inserted into the system. some appear as a regular disk drive with a drive label like PNY_ATTACHE, and even maybe additionally as a virtual cd drive complete with an icon (though different looking). some appear as "Removable Disk". Careful - one of those removable disks might be your Card Reader or a Magic Jack (if you own one) flash memory/drive you don't want to touch (those have special icons that look like a phone dialpad). Read your hardware manuals on the cd's for precautions. you don't want to do a "safely remove hardware" on those. But you will want to do a "safely remove hardware" later on your flash drive.

what we want to do now is find out and remember what our drive list looks like before inserting the flash drive, maybe even write it down if you have a poor memory.

4. Insert the flash drive into a USB socket.

if you don't have a windows 9x/3.1 machine, after doing this step you should have a 1 or more new drive letters listed. possibly the new one is a "Removable disk". in any case, explore the drive to make sure it is the one you are after.

a new one should be empty of course, but if it is a secure drive then it will have a directory and some files on it. those you leave alone. that is your security software.

Here are some example explorers with different flash drives inserted. here is a PNY Attache 2GB flash drive. it appears on drive e. it turns out the Removeable Drive g happens to be the card reader on the printer:
explorer drive e

here is a Sandisk U3 flash drive. it appears on drives g and n:
explorer drives gn

Remember - drive letters for a removeable device like a flash drive can change from day to day depending on how you use your system (what you plug in and unplug first/last).remember the drive letter that your system gave you today.

5. use your drive.

copy files to/from it using windows explorer and right-click-copy/paste or open/save files to it using your application, now that you know what the drive letter is.

Always keep a copy of your important data on your hard drive, especially changed versions. I found out these drives do not survive the washing machine very well, so I knew to at least let it dry out real well before plugging it in to get the data out (it came out flaky). Also, flash drives have a limited number of writes for each block.

before going to the next step, close all the programs that you were using to access that flash drive with. I think Windows Explorer is the only exception. I think you might be able to leave it open.

6. Safely Remove Hardware

At the lower right hand corner of your screen on the taskbar, in the system tray, (hiding in there somewhere, you may have to click the little less-than sign to expand the icons) is the greenish icon to safely remove hardware. left-click the icon with the green arrow as shown.

safely remove hw
next, click the drive letter you wish to remove. you have to know which one is the drive letter of your flash drive.

you should now get this balloon. you can now remove the flash drive.
it is now safe to remove hw

If you forgot what drive letter your flash drive was, you can still remove it, but at least wait a few seconds, and even longer if the system is acting really slow. you want to give the system time to write to the flash drive. if it has a blinker and is still blinking, don't remove it. removing without the "safely remove hardware" always runs a slight risk of losing data, but usually not. On a Mac, you definitely don't want to do the "unsafe" thing because it is cached.

all done.