6 Things You Should Know About Flash Drives

English: A Sandisk-brand USB thumb drive, SanD...

English: A Sandisk-brand USB thumb drive, SanDisk Cruzer Micro, 4GB. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These little gizmos are fabulous, aren’t they? They make it so easy to carry around everything you could ever need, in some cases even a whole operating system! I have some very geeky friends who have some distribution of Linux on a flash drive, and all they have to do is plug it into some computer somewhere and they have their own computer up and running before their very eyes.  Of course that’s not how most of us use them, is it?

There are a few things you need to know about Flash drives/thumb drives.

  1. Only use flash drives if you’re aware of the origin or source. In other words, never, ever, ever pick up a flash drive from the ground and put it into your computer. Ever!
  2. They may or may not withstand your laundry cycle. Try to never wash and dry them, but if you pull a flash drive out of your freshly laundered blue jeans pocket, don’t immediately assume that all is lost.  Let it dry for a day or so and see what you have. Most of the time they’re okay. BUT–that doesn’t mean that you should take a handful of them and toss them into the washer.
  3. They fail. Sometimes they get corrupted and the whole thing is toast.  Because of that, you should absolutely never count on flash drives housing your only copy of anything.
  4. They have write cycle limitations. There are only so many times you can write to the flash drive before it will start gagging on you. You won’t see anything wrong when you go to read from it (most of the time), but when you go to save something to it (that’s a “write”) you’ll get some kind of error. The error messages vary, but a common one is that you need to format the drive before you can use it. If you can still read from it and you get that message, copy the contents to a folder on your computer, format the flash drive, then move the contents back to the folder. That format process resets the write cycle counter back to zero.
  5. If someone wants to plug their flash drive into your computer, do a virus/malware scan as soon as your computer sees it. They may not be aware of something lurking about on it. As long as there aren’t any baddies found, it’ll be okay.  Flash drives are file-system agnostic, which means it doesn’t matter if the files were done on a Mac, Windows machine, or Linux box, as long as you have a program on your computer compatible with the program that created the file, you’ll be able to navigate the drive and read the file.
  6. Computer professionals are split as to whether you need to “safely remove” (eject) the drive before pulling it out of the computer. When you know that the reading/writing has been completed, as long as you are not using it to boot the computer, you’re “probably” safe just pulling it out. I’m in the “it doesn’t hurt anything to safely remove/eject the thing, so why not do it that way” camp.

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