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Don’t let your spare USB drives go to waste! Use them to prepare for disaster and turn them into toolkits that might one day save your neck.

USB jump drives are a dying breed. As the process of transferring data becomes increasingly wireless, many are left with underutilized USB drives crammed into drawers.

That is, until disaster strikes. Thumb drives — when prepared — can prevent users from losing everything if confronted with PC issues beyond their control. Anti-virus, anti-spyware, operating system (OS) installs, and file recovery: all of these options and more are available on your thumb drive. That is if you make use of it. Read on to turn your spare USB into a geek utility belt!

Before You Begin: Writable & Non-Writable USB Drives

There’s tech enthusiasts, and there’s tech professionals. While any of the following tools can be safely installed onto a regular USB, there are a few worries you should consider before creating a professional USB resource.

USB drives are fantastic memory tools for a quick data transaction, but they’re also susceptible to viruses. Since the same USB drive is often plugged directly into multiple desktops and laptops, it’s the perfect victim for pesky, insidious malware Why USB Sticks Are Dangerous & How To Protect Yourself Why USB Sticks Are Dangerous & How To Protect Yourself USB drives are so pervasive in today’s world of technology, but when they first debuted, they revolutionized data exchange. The first USB flash drives had an 8MB capacity, which isn't much by today’s standards, but... Read More .

Luckily, write-protected USB drives have been a long-time favorite for tech professionals everywhere. Write-protection prevents programs from writing or installing onto your drive. That means no pesky software can sneak its way onto your drive undetected.

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While more expensive, write-protected USB drives allow the use of USB drives without fear that an unknown malicious software will tag along. If you’re unsure of whether your USB is safe or not, head to the article previously linked to protect your USB proactively.

Create a Bootable USB

First, we have to turn our regular USB into a bootable thumb drive. There are plenty of programs that do just this, but few are as reliable as YUMI. YUMI creates a bootable drive How to Create a Bootable Multiboot USB for Windows and Linux How to Create a Bootable Multiboot USB for Windows and Linux A single USB flash drive is all you need to boot, install, and troubleshoot multiple operating systems. We'll show you how to create a multiboot USB, including Windows and Linux installers and recovery tools. Read More on your USB, allowing users to boot disc images of an installed ISO.

The process of installing whole OS distributions, and booting them from a USB drive, is surprisingly simple. They also provide users with a safe, free way of restoring an OS, recovering files, and more.

Head to the website, download the program, and proceed to install as few or as many ISO files onto your USB as you’d like. Remember to test whatever image you’ve downloaded onto your USB to ensure everything is working properly — before you need them.

Bootable USB Toolkits

Like all other facets of your PC, you can choose from a manual and automatic way of creating your USB toolbox. Some programs do the work for you, while others have to be downloaded one by one.

Linux Distributions

For most Windows users, Linux seems like a strange beast The Best Linux Operating Systems The Best Linux Operating Systems There are many Linux distributions available for a number of different purposes, which makes it difficult to choose at times. Here's a list of the very best to help you decide. Read More . It does, however, provide an excellent platform by which users can scan, diagnose, and repair PC issues.

Linux distributions come in all shapes and forms, from the lightweight Puppy Linux to the technically excellent Kali Linux. Whatever your decision, installing a backup Linux OS you can boot from your USB can be a godsend. Most Linux distributions allow users to run the image directly from your USB, allowing you to copy or move files from the hard drive (barring catastrophic damage).

Emergency Disks

There are certain emergency disk images which will allow users to recover, fix, or maintain pretty much every issue you can have with Windows. Install these emergency disks as you would a disc image using YUMI.

Hiren’s Rescue CD 5 Best Rescue Disks For A Windows System Restore 5 Best Rescue Disks For A Windows System Restore Every Windows user should be aware of at least one bacon-saving, data-recovering system restore disk. It can help you access your computer to make repairs and backups, even when it won't boot. Read More is top of the heap. A long-time trusted recovery image, Hiren’s allows users to run a mini version of Windows and provides users with disk utilities.

Ultimate Boot CD also shares the top spot for its comprehensive utility options, simple interface, and widespread approval among the tech community.

Again, remember to test your images before relying on them to fix issues and transfer data.

Portable Programs

While bootable USB drives are well and good, other tools are necessary to turn your USB drive into a fully-fledged utility belt. While these tools can include any software you desire, there are a few tried and tested portable application providers which host programs specifically designed to be implemented from a USB drive.

Portable programs do not interfere with your bootable images, so feel free to load up your USB with as few or many additional tools as you’d like.

Ninite

Any tech aficionado who has installed, or re-installed, an OS is familiar with Ninite. Ninite is a simple program repository 9 Cleanest & Safest Websites to Download Free Software for Windows 9 Cleanest & Safest Websites to Download Free Software for Windows Downloading software can be dangerous. Visit the wrong site and you might accidentally download malware. We have compiled free software download sites you can trust. Read More which allows users to download common desktop programs (Chrome, iTunes, Java, etc.) and applications in one discrete packet.

While using Ninite is essentially the same as downloading and installing files one by one, Ninite has the added benefit of working both offline and online. That means you can instantly begin downloading programs onto a new OS without the need of finding, downloading, and installing each individual program.

Select the programs you prefer and click Get Your Ninite on the main Ninite web page to download the package. It’s that simple!

PortableApps

PortableApps makes smaller, portable applications of typical installer programs. While users are also able to create their own portable application How To Create Your Own Portable App For A Flash Drive How To Create Your Own Portable App For A Flash Drive Read More , PortableApps provides users with safe and updated applications to use.

You can run them from your USB as you would any desktop program, and PortableApps has an excellent selection of Windows protection program and utilities. I would personally recommend the following assortment of programs, available on PortableApps, to cover general PC needs:

Just like that, you’re set.

SysInternals

The vast majority of Windows users have no idea SysInternals exists. Yet, the SysInternals library provides free, official tools to fix issues within the Windows environment.

While the list of programs and their functions can be dizzying, you can download a SysInternals Suite complete with SysInternals’ most vital programs. Download the suite onto your flash drive and you’re set! While SysInternal programs are somewhat more technical than your everyday programs, they’re among the most useful as well.

USB, M.D.

That USB you have collecting dust in your drawer can seriously save your neck one day, so protect it. While your individual USB may vary in terms of programs and images, those presented above will integrate plenty of functions into your freshly feature-packed USB drive!

Any other USB trickery you’d like us to explore for you? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Doc
    July 3, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    "USB jump drives are a dying breed."

    It's just a USB or flash drive - "Jumpdrive" is a trademarked name for Lexar drives.

  2. mad sad
    April 15, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    interesting article

  3. Ira
    August 3, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    A-squared FREE USB Stick version is an outstanding virus and malware scanner, designed to be run from a USB stick:

    emsisoft.com/en/software/stick/

    Since the large download contains all of the updated signature files, I download afresh version frequently.

    Freeware! Contains a-squared Free and a-squared Commandline Scanner files. Unpack the zip to a USB Stick to make an easy to use scanning and removal tool.

    This file is kept always up to date with the latest program and signature files. For Windows XP, 2003/2008 Server and Vista, limited functionality on x64, 53 MB

  4. Richard Steven Hack
    July 31, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Best way is build your own - but that does take time. I took three days to load almost 250 apps on one of my 4GB USB keys. But I've got a lot more than this list, including the full OpenOffice. I've got pretty much everything on this list, minus a few password viewers and the like, but I've got a lot more from my collection of over a thousand utilities.

    But this is a good way to go for people who don't want to take the time to manually build an "all-in-one" utility key.

    Next step for me is to put UBCD4Win on a key, plus a Linux distro, plus a Linux security distro. Those, plus my "reference" key with tons of ebooks, plus my "standard installs" key, will keep me prepared for anything I run across in doing tech support.

    • Phil
      August 9, 2009 at 3:32 pm

      Can you share your list of apps? I have actually done quite a large research but while most of the apps that are included in the list are known, there are as well surprises. Currently I´have use as sources (besides my own searches):
      portableapps.com/
      portablefreeware.com/
      pendriveapps.com/

      the suites, like liberkey, lupepensuite, winpenpack, winizio
      as well as other collection like the stated above, and finally worth mentioning the techsupportalert-gizmo selection of portable apps.
      In my stick I got 200+ apps but they are strictly selected.

      PD: can you make a list with directory lister?

      Cheers

  5. Gav
    July 29, 2009 at 10:12 am

    I'll admit I've heard similar stuff about Liberkey - but to be honest it is a brilliant app - the auto updater is second to none!

  6. Franck
    July 29, 2009 at 10:08 am

    @jgh : First time i hear about that..
    Actually, what's illegal in turning free apps into portable ?
    I like the way Liberkey apps can be updated. Much more easier than Portableapps for instance..

  7. Joe
    July 29, 2009 at 3:05 am

    I also use Cody with their apps. http://codyssey.com/products/codysafe.html

    jgh,
    Do you have any justified reason to smear this bullshit? I do not use Liberkey, but not because some morons are saying that they are bad.
    Did you ever read the source code of any open source apps? Or you trust the world “open”? Does it make you feel better?

    • Phil
      August 9, 2009 at 4:06 pm

      Liberkey have made mistakes in the past, no doubt about it. Also it can´t give you the same trust a closed source. I have read the source code of some open source apps, and more important, I trust the comunity of developers who check them and yes it gives more trust and transparency.

      Anyway, beside that I think Liberkey is a very good contribution to the portable world, and no, I don´t think neither their closed source is crapware.

  8. jgh
    July 28, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Ugh, Franck. Don't use liberkey. Most of the apps in there are included illegally and they've stolen code from portableapps.com many times in the past and then lied about it. Who knows what other nasty things lie in their closed source crapware.

  9. oz austin
    July 28, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Also check out portableapps

  10. Terminator
    July 28, 2009 at 11:45 am

    I use KSPF (Kitchen Sink Freeware Collection). http://kitchensinksoftware.blogspot.com/

    It includes every single useful application that is portable and strictly follows the rules given in http://www.portablefreeware.com/

    • webfork
      August 10, 2009 at 2:29 am

      Actually there's three programs, TightVNC Client and Server and WinSplit Revolution, which has not been accepted by the PFC community.

      So its about 98% compliant.

      Thanks for posting about it. :)

  11. Gavin
    July 28, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Thanks that looks really useful!
    I use liberkey also & like this one too - Codyssey
    http://www.codyssey.com/apps/index.php

  12. Franck
    July 28, 2009 at 7:46 am

    Nice one !

    I love USB + free apps too so i'm using Liberkey : http://www.liberkey.com/en/