Five Uses For A USB Stick You Didn’t Know About

flash drive icon   Five Uses For A USB Stick You Didnt Know AboutWe’ve all used USB sticks to transport files between computers and back up our files, but there are other cool things you can do with a USB stick. You can use one to lock and unlock your computer — just like in the movies. You can also use a USB flash drive to quickly connect to a wireless network on all your PCs, increase your computer’s performance, or even run a web server – directly from the USB stick itself.

Windows XP users can also check out Microsoft’s useful USB Flash Drive Manager application, although it’s been discontinued and does not function on newer versions of Windows.

Lock & Unlock Your Computer

Do you want to lock and unlock your computer with a physical device, like they do in the movies? Use the free PREDATOR application, which turns a USB flash drive into an access control device – a key for your computer. When you leave your PC, unplug the USB stick and your computer will be locked. When you return, plug it back in and your computer will be unlocked. It’s like using the Lock function in Windows, but you don’t have to type your password when you return.

When you unplug your USB flash drive, your open windows will minimize and your screen will go dark – plug it back in and your screen will turn back on.

usb predator splash screen   Five Uses For A USB Stick You Didnt Know About

Quickly Connect To Wireless Networks

Windows includes a feature that can save your current wireless network’s name, password, and other information to a USB stick. You can then use the USB stick to quickly connect to your Wi-Fi network on other computers without typing the password over and over again. In fact, you can even use this USB stick to quickly connect an Xbox 360 to your Wi-Fi network – just select the Windows Connect Now option while setting up a wireless network on your Xbox.

To save your Wi-Fi settings to a USB flash drive, click the wireless icon in your system tray, right-click your current wireless network, and select Properties.

windows wireless network properties   Five Uses For A USB Stick You Didnt Know About

On the Connection tab, click the Copy this network profile to a USB flash drive link.

windows wireless network properties copy to usb   Five Uses For A USB Stick You Didnt Know About

Click the Next button and Windows will copy the settings for the configured network to your USB stick. Connect the USB stick to another computer, and then double-click the setupSNK.exe file on it to install your network profile on the computer.

Increase Performance With ReadyBoost

If you have a slow hard disk drive in your computer, ReadyBoost can help speed things up. When you enable ReadyBoost for a drive, it acts as a hard drive cache, caching frequently used files. If it’s faster to read from the USB stick instead of your hard drive, Windows will read files from the cache on your flash drive instead. You won’t see much of a performance boost if you have a 7200+ RPM drive – if you have a solid-state drive, Windows won’t let you use ReadyBoost because the cache will be slower than your SSD.

To enable ReadyBoost, right-click a USB stick in Windows Explorer, select Properties, and use the options on the ReadyBoost tab. Windows will only let you enable ReadyBoost if your USB stick is fast enough, so you might see these options grayed out for some devices. ReadyBoost also requires a flash drive with at least 256 MB of free space.

enable windows readyboost   Five Uses For A USB Stick You Didnt Know About

 

Install A Portable Web Server

If you’re a web developer, you can install Server2Go on your flash drive and turn it into a portable web server. Server2Go includes a complete WAMPP server stack – that’s Windows, Apache, MySQL, PHP, and Perl. You can plug the Flash drive into any Windows computer and quickly launch your web server – no installation required. Having a complete web server package in your pocket can be ideal for demonstrations at meetings and many other purposes – you’re only limited by your imagination. Server2Go is a completely free download.

server2go success   Five Uses For A USB Stick You Didnt Know About

Use Microsoft’s USB Flash Drive Manager

If you’re still using Windows XP, check out Microsoft’s USB Flash Drive Manager application – unfortunately, it doesn’t work with Windows Vista, Windows 7, and other newer versions of Windows. (You’ll also need this version of the .NET Framework installed to run it.)

USB Flash Drive Manager focuses on managing flash drives – you can back up images of flash drives to your computer, restore them, easily copy files to and from your hard drive, and label your USB stick. It brings together many common flash drive functions located in Windows (along with some that aren’t included elsewhere in Windows, like easy backup and restore) in one window – very convenient for less-experienced users.

microsoft usb flash drive manager   Five Uses For A USB Stick You Didnt Know About

You can also install a wide variety of portable apps which you can run off your USB stick without installing them. Check out our list of the best portable apps to get started!

What are some of the cool things you’ve done with a flash drive? Leave a comment and let us know!

Image Credit: USB Flash Memory Close-Up via Shutterstock

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106 Comments -

0 votes

Joel Lee

Using a USB like a key to lock/unlock sounds really cool. I think it’d quickly lose the sense of novelty, though. I’d give it a shot if I had a spare flash drive.

0 votes

Lets Explain

Chris, your info on readyboost is a little under-researched.

I run 10,000RPM disks in a RAID 0 configuration. My read/write speeds can easily pass 200/120gb/s. To some, this would be considered ridiculous.
Readyboost is still VERY useful even with my less common setup.

Spinning disk drives are still very useful for reading data accessed in sequence.
Solid state drives excel in just about all other ways though.

You should use BOTH whenever possible. OS on SSD, cache (pagefile/swap) on the HDD. Why? Because it extends the life of your SSD, and improves performance, as long as you use readyboost.

Yes, you do lessen the flash drive’s mean-time-to-fail, but a 4gb flash drive is a whole lot cheaper than a SSD. One which may house your OS and important data.

If you’re still reading, good, you’re going to learn something.
Readyboost only swaps your small, randomly placed cached files. Which solid state (flash) memory is much faster at reading than a disk drive.
Your large sequenced data is left for the disk to handle, which it handles well.

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

Well, that doesn’t fit with the benchmarks I’ve seen. (for example: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2163/6 ) If you have a lot of RAM, Windows just stores ReadyBoost data in your RAM instead of on a Flash drive, which is even faster.

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

It probably would lose the sense of novelty, but it’s pretty cool at first glance. Just like in the movies!

0 votes

Ibrahim Nadir

excellent info man!

0 votes

Alex Downs

Love finding new uses for flashdrives

1 votes

UbuntuGuy

I carry Ubuntu Live on a 8GB USB drive which is on my keychain. I can boot just about any late model computer and boot into a full Ubuntu OS with all of my settings/programs/documents/etc already there. Who needs to carry around a laptop when I have one on my keychain. Good tool to rescuce data from a virus infected Windows pc.

0 votes

Richard Borkovec

I love having my Ubuntu live image anywhere I go. It certainly helps too when people’s computers have gone wonky.

0 votes

GrrGrrr

could you please tell how much space is required to have ubantu live?

0 votes
0 votes

Hiren Patel

Me too :)
I also Have Ubuntu Installed in My 8GB USB Drive.
Sometimes help me When Windows Boot Fail.

1 votes

Chris Hoffman

We should have included that. I love live Linux USB drives.

0 votes

Robert Laffey

Some really useful ideas…. keep them coming

0 votes

Roystan Ang

What if you lost your USB drive after your PC is locked?

0 votes

Jason Reid

According the Predator’s website one can still unlock his or her computer.

FAQ: How to unlock a session using the password ?

Follow these instructions:

Click anywhere on the screen with the left mouse button, then press 3 times the Enter key, which will bring up a dialog for entering the password, and a countdown.

You have 3 tries and 20 seconds to type the password. After this time, the alarm will be triggered.

If you have not managed to enter the correct password after 3 attempts, the session will be locked for 5 minutes and you won’t be allowed to retry during this delay.

Note: entering a password, whatever its outcome, is recorded in the log. By reading it, you’ll know if someone tried to unlock your computer.

0 votes

Nabil A Swileh

Thanks

0 votes

Rathish

Excellent article ..was,nt aware of any of the 5! Thanks for contributing!

0 votes

salvador hernandez

Great info that may come in handy.

0 votes

nikhil agarwal

One more thing, you can also install Operating System on USB drive (at least linux) and use it on any computer with your personalized settings

0 votes

Mark McKenna

What about some unknown uses for us Mac users? Can you instal MAMP on a flash drive? That would be handy.

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

You probably could somehow, but it doesn’t seem like anyone’s done the work of making it nice and easy.

(Sorry, I’m not a Mac user, myself.)

0 votes

xbalesx

Thanks for the info…going to try out one suggestion on an older laptop of mine. I will report back here how it helped with the speed. In a week I am converting it over to Linux…here we go.

0 votes

Jason Williams

very interesting, the Predator lock the pc ideal may be useful in my company.

0 votes

Michael Jan Moratalla

I really thought that you can use your flash drive as a key, something like to open your pc, now I have a proof to prove that theory of mine thx for the info!

0 votes

Ramesh

already started with preadator looks cool

0 votes

Ahmed Khalil

Very nice i like it. specially using the USB as a key for the PC but my question what will happen if the USB damaged for some reason, is their any back door to unlock the PC?

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

See Jason Reid’s post above; he answered this.

0 votes

Paul Girardin

Thanks for sharing!

Interesting ideas!

0 votes

Muhammad Hadi Nasir

Just now I know more about Flash Drive. :D

0 votes

Juan Carlos Espinosa Agudelo

Question:
Is there also software like PREDATOR that allows the usage of a password(maybe even multiple passwords), in case the USB gets damaged/lost?

0 votes

GayashanNA

One of the best articles. Thank you for all the new information!

0 votes

jake

I use mine for carrying around setup files like antivirus and anti rootkits, I use them during and after cleaning up viruses for friends and family. All my recommended apps are in there. I great use for a USB Stick that I haven’t done before is for a dead drop.

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

Portable apps are really awesome if you frequently use multiple PCs, definitely. That’s why we have a list of the best!

0 votes

Usman Mubashir

now this was awesome

0 votes

Nabil A Swileh

Thanks for the great tips.

I have question about the 1st tip: Lock & Unlock Your Computer,
what if the flash thumb got damaged or corrupted files, how to unlock the windows then?!

0 votes

Vanja Gorgiev

so much cool options, i never had an idea that the old usb stick could be so useful :D

0 votes

druv vb

Nice article. Tried Predator back in 2010, but having to keep it plugged in, while using the PC was boring for me…
My USB flash drive houses the Puppy Linux OS, together with TRK.
I also keep lots of tools and softwares to troubleshoot PCs.
My last thing would be flash drive with a physical lock for write access.
But for now am moving from flash drive to flash cards (in a card reader) that gives me physical lock for write access. This way I can protect my data from being overwritten by nasty malwares / viruses.

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

Yeah, Predator seems cooler at first glance than it really is, I bet.

0 votes

Igor Rizvi?

Iv jsut made this quick wirelless connection to my girlfriend,thanks alot! very usefull

0 votes

Vipul Jain

that lock thing is new & impressive i must add!

0 votes

Vampie C.

Nice idea to carry a webserver in your pocket. :-)

Thanks

0 votes

Humza Aamir

Predator seems a very cool thing to have :D. Though the conventional methods are more practical.

0 votes

Noman Fayez

3 new uses learn today but one of them going to be obsolute……….

0 votes

James

Well, a nearly similar issue i would like to be discussed more here …. is how can I make my mobile phone ( with a memory card) bootable throught USB mode.

Is it possible to load multi-operating system from the bootable mobile phone (through USB mode) .

Thanks for your answers.
A newsletter on “the use of mobile phone as a bootable device” would be much appreciated.

kind regards,

James

0 votes

UbuntuGuy

I’m assuming it’s an Android – You could install Ubuntu Live on it. But it might not be useable as storage afterward on the phone itself. When you plug in your phone into your computer it becomes a regular USB flash drive. Once Ubuntu Live (or your Live distro of choice) is installed just boot your pc off of your tethered phone.

I was going to try it on my Android one of these days.

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

That’s certainly an interesting idea, but I’d be scared of messing things up by making another partition on the device bootable. Seems like more trouble than it’s worth, to me.

0 votes

Kao Vang

The USB lock and unlock is ‘cool.’ Reminds me of the Bluetooth application that does the same when you have your phone on you and you get close to your PC.

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

Oh wow, that’s a great idea!

0 votes

Henry Ward

“You won’t see much of a performance boost if you have a 7200+ RPM drive”
I’m confused, does that mean you will only see a performance boost if your drive is slower than 7200 RPM?

0 votes

Del

yes

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

In my opinion, yes

0 votes

Henry Ward

Thanks. Didn’t know you could get HDDs below 7200 RPM. On older systems I presume?

0 votes

Gilmertz Gaari

Sounds very interesting.
I’ll try one of these with my spare USB drive

0 votes

Muhammad Ahmad

Hi Chris, this is really very informative post. I did not know these things before except ready boost.

0 votes

Yash Desai

Predator looks really cool, but i would probably end up losing the flash drive

0 votes

sl0j0n

Hello.
I used a 16GB PNY flash drive like a hdd.
I put Ubuntu on it, and when I rebooted, I choose the flash drive as the boot drive.
I’m trying to learn Linux,
and it runs *way* better on the flash drive than a ‘live CD’.
Unfortunately, I tried to wipe it and install another version,
and now I can’t get the drive to ‘recover’ to the point of being able to reinstall
Any suggestions?
Thanks.

0 votes

UbuntuGuy

Plug it into a Windows pc and it will ask you to reformat it.

0 votes

sl0j0n

Yeah, no, that didn’t work, either, over and over and over,
over and over and over, again.
In fact, by the time I posted about here,
I’d already tried like 8 or 10 different freeware programs to partition and format it.
I went on to try about that many more.
A *partial* list includes;
Active@ Partition Manager Free Edition.exe,
Aefdisk command-line-tool.exe,
Aomei Partition Assisstant Home Edition.exe,
EaseUS Partition Master Home Edition 9.1.1.exe,
Eassos PartitionGuru Free.exe,
Eassos Partition Recovery Free.exe,
MiniAide Magic Partition Home Edition.exe,
Paragon Partition Manager Demo.msi,
Partition-Magic-8.0.zip [an old 'standby', it wouldn't run under win7],
Partition Wizard Home Edition.exe,
Partition Wizard Home Edition.iso,
Wondershare Disk Manager Free full719.exe.
I also tried the partition and format tools in a few Linux distros,
Mint and Ubuntu spring to mind.
Finally, I solved the problem,
by downloading/burning and using the latest GParted version.
IF you have a similar problem,
do NOT hesitate to try GParted LiveCD 0.13.1.2.
Really, go ahead and dwnld now, and burn it to disk,
so you’ll have it—when you need it.

Have a GREAT day, neighbors!

0 votes

UbuntuGuy

OOPS! Sorry, I abandoned this thread. Yes, Gparted would have been my second choice if the Windows trick failed. I use it regularly when installing operating systems.

Another great tool for your arsenal is the Parted Magic CD http://partedmagic.com/doku.php
Take a look at the screenshots.

0 votes

Greg Zeng

0 votes

Greg Zeng

USB sticks and flash cards have limited lives, including complete breakdowns. Independent bench tests (url misplaced) have shown that flash sticks format.& cards give almost unpredictable bench results, regardless of brand or claimed speeds.
In you case IMO you have experienced something that happens several times each year: flash breakdown.
One manufacturer claims that only use ‘quick reformat’; not full reformat. I only buy the cheapest available on eBay, so have found that complete or fast format makes no difference.
To my biggest surprise, my flashsticks & cards survive the front-loading home washing machine (warm water).
Since I multi-boot (2xWindows, + 6 Linux operating systems) on my main PC, plus maintain other machines, I very heavily use many flash sticks & cards; plus smartphones, cameras, tablets, netbooks, etc.

0 votes

Greg Zeng

This article & the comments that follow miss out THE MAIN PURPOSE of a flash stick: DEBUGGING.
On the many ‘computers’ that I maintain, it could be hardware, software, networking, malware, incompatiblities, etc … so I MUST use a flash stick to debug.
Linux has many specialized debugging-specialized operating systems. However, I use Xubuntu (lightweight, speedy) 32 bit, loaded with antivirus & all sort of hardware drivers, to debug anything & everything with a USB port.
USB ports can also take WiFi, bluetooth, screen, audio and keyboard add-ons. These, as needed with my Xubuntu USB stick, can debug almost everything.
All operating systems and the popular multi-national apps also have much international junk on them. This I remove, plus other operating system rubbish: unreadable files & folders, pagefiles, hibernation, etc.
Often the boot drive becomes so overloaded that the computer refuses to operate.
To those who do not know Linux, the ‘buntu distributions can easily read-write all NTFS and AFAIK Apple file systems. Personally my PCs are in the W7-NTFS-compressed-encrypted file formats, & the ‘buntu brand of Linux can easily co-exist with this.

0 votes

Edward Bellair

You tell the spammer Fred! I will be trying a few if not all of these.

0 votes

ady

U can install XP from USB stick instead of a CD drive

0 votes

J. Benjamin

Stay away from the server to go site, I just got hit with malware from there that made it through both microsoft’s av and anti-malware programs. Luckily I have a home server that does daily backups so I won’t lose anything important.

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

Yikes, did you? Maybe they had a problem with their ads; I installed the software myself and didn’t have any problems or antivirus warnings.

0 votes

AP

Really cool tips, but I am looking some suggestions and reviews on on ‘antivirus and internet-security’ for USB sticks .

0 votes

Totoy Badiola

You did not mention that the pendrive allows you to boot from any computer in your Linux-based OS with your own customized settings. This would be most helpful specially when your Windows OS crashes on you.

0 votes

prince

what if the usb stick is being lost ?

0 votes

Ray Randall

cool stuff, didnt know about the web server so I will give it a go

0 votes

Alex Perkins

Thanks for the article, I knew you could add the wireless profile to a usb stick but I wasn’t sure. I now don’t have to type in the damn passcode every time someone comes over, just wasa, plug, connect.

0 votes

Ellen Odza

Thanks for this. I may dl predator to lock my laptop. If nothing else, I’ll feel like an international spy every time I use it!

0 votes

Sari Gama

This is really cool! I didn’t know about any of those ideas!

0 votes

shubham jadon

quik connect to wireless netwrk is really vry nce

0 votes

Christian Purol

never imagined that those Lock & Unlock features are possible!

0 votes

Ronald Smith

Some of this I already knew, some I didn’t. I really like the idea of using a flash drive as a lock on my PC. That alone gives me a killer idea for a small mod project. #brainstorminoverdrive

0 votes

Sumaiya

i would love to lock my computer with a usb stick

0 votes

Kelly Buchanan

The Server 2Go is a new to me. Great idea.

0 votes

Patrick Jackson

Nice article, although I knew all but one things!

It’s sad that most of the stuff can be done in Windows Vista/7, completely removing the advantage of ‘portability’ of flash drives.

Please release an article which are also applicable to Windows XP as well, if not every OS, as I am still around many ‘XP PCs’ and a loyal user of it as well!

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

Well, we did include an XP-specific tip, at least.

0 votes

SK Tan

Interesting to know that the usb can be used as a laptop lock.

0 votes

Todd Troutt

I like the idea of using a usb stick for readyboost, but I’ve read it REALLY cuts down on their life span. If this is true, how quickly will they wear out?

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

Depends on the drive and the use, I suppose. USB cells have a limited amount of write cycles, so it depends on the size of the drive and how much it’s being written to.

0 votes

alex

i m unable to play utube.videos are downloaded but only voice can heard.help!

0 votes

alex

i m unable 2 download the actual version in utube.only voice are loaded.help

0 votes

Loreson San Juan

For ReadyBoost to be effective your USB stick memory must be atleast twice your RAM.

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

Not necessarily, no — but if you have a lot of RAM ReadyBoost won’t help much.

0 votes

RH hassan

THAnkss man …….ITs reallyyy amazing tips

0 votes

Christopher Webb-Orenstein

Pretty nifty, I’m going to try out using it as a access key.

0 votes

sonnylim

Now I have uses for the many USB sticks I tend to received as gifts!!!

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

I have so many little USB sticks lying around; it is kind of silly.

0 votes

Dave Hill

In a sort of related sidenote – the last freeview lcd tv we bought has a usb , which becomes a pvr when you plug in a memory stick despite no mention of this in the manual – fully integrated with the EPG !

0 votes

Asim Ali

Waooo !!! these are the useful tips I would love to try … thanks mate …

0 votes

Asangansi

Cool!

0 votes

Carlos Martinez

Wow thanx 4 the nfo on flash drives. That is kewl.

0 votes

Naoman Saeed

Lupo pesuite even contains a portable dbms

0 votes

Rashelle Puno

i wanna try using my usb to lock & unlock my Computer… very useful article… :)

0 votes

Mani Ahmed

awsome article and it says about something which i never even thought off.

0 votes

Declan Lopez

predator works well. i installed it and used a 64mb sd card to lock and unlock my netbook.

0 votes

Dude Mesiter

I just got a usb drive, didn’t know most of this stuff, good article.

0 votes

Vincent Chavez

WOW that is pretty cool. I should try it sometime

0 votes

Declan Lopez

i carry two flash drives with me all the time; one is for storing files that i use all the time and the other one has slitaz installed on it.

0 votes

Jeremiah Iliffe

Great stuff mate, but I’d probably lose the USB

0 votes

gregzeng

“Increase Performance With ReadyBoost” – but in my case, with a Class 6 SD flash card in the SD slot.
USB 2 or 3 flash sticks allow RAID-0 in Linux operating systems. On most (all?) portable computers, this is probably the only way to bypass the slow cylinder-based hard disk drive(s). In my dual-HDD desktop-replacement notebook, I can also RAID-0 in Linux as well, but have not yet succeeded.
Retired Chief Information Officer (1984), Australian Capital Territory

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

Interesting idea, but USB 2.0 transfer speeds are nowhere near as fast as an SSD, so I’m not sure you’ll get as much performance as you’d expect!

0 votes

Praveen pandey

realy very useful tricks thanks