USB Flash Drives: Use, Care, and Tips

Yes, we all know now the "floppy disks for life plan" was a bad idea. Burning CDs to make documents portable isn't always convenient, and accessing a network server isn't always possible.  But there is an easy way to put a gigabyte or two in your pocket.

Flash drives, also known as a thumb drives, pen drives, USB keys, pocket drives, etc. are small USB drives that use the same flash memory as some cameras and PDAs. The benefit of these units is that they are USB and plug-and-play; that is, they require no software.

Some things to think of when purchasing a flash drive:

  • Do not purchase a drive that requires software to be installed on your computer. The software is unneeded and can create problems down the road.
  • Think thin: choose a device that fits the clearance available around the USB ports on your computer.  The ports are often in pairs with limited space. Some USB flash drives are more bulky than others.
  • Choose a capacity that best fits your needs. Most people don't need a 4 gigabyte drive if they are just working with Office documents.


Flash drives are very easy to use. Nearly every new computer sold in recent years has several USB ports and the flash drive simply plugs into one of these ports. No cables, power supplies, batteries, or computer shutdown is required. The device automatically becomes visible as a new drive and is ready to use in just a few seconds.


On a Mac the drive icon appears on your desktop when you insert the device, just like a CD or DVD. You may drag and drop files to the USB drive icon or open it up just like a folder on your computer.

You can save an open document directly to the drive by selecting 'File' then 'Save As' and select the USB device from the 'Where' drop down menu. If you have files open on your thumb drive, you must close them prior to ejecting and then removing the drive.

To remove the drive, you must first 'Eject' it by dragging the flash drive icon to the Trash. Another method is to press and hold 'ctrl' and then click on the flash drive icon to bring up a menu which includes an "Eject" option. To prevent data loss it's important to eject and remove the USB device correctly.


On a PC the flash drive usually takes the next available drive letter when you plug it in. You can access the drive by going to 'My Computer' and looking for and clicking on the 'Removable Disk' icon. It's also available in Windows Explorer and as an option in the initial 'Save' dialog box and always in the 'Save As' dialog box in most software programs.

After finishing working with your flash drive, you will need to close any files you have opened from the drive. Then you can stop and remove the device easily, as described below.

  • Locate and click on the green arrow icon (near the clock) on the taskbar . If you are not sure which icon you are looking for, hover over each icon until you find the one that says 'Safely Remove Hardware'.
  • After you've clicked on the icon, a menu listing removable hardware pops up. You may have more than one device listed. Click on the device you want to remove (most likely called USB Mass Storage Device).
  • After a few seconds you will see a pop up saying it is safe to remove hardware. You can now safely remove the drive from the USB port.
  • Remember that it is very important to follow these steps every time; otherwise you may lose data.


You can name your drive so if it's left behind it can be traced back and returned to you.

  • On a PC from My Computer, right click on the drive and normal click on rename and then you can edit the name.
  • On a Mac, click on the title of drive icon once, wait 5 seconds and click on the title again. You should then be able to edit the drive name.

Labels can also be attached or the drive engraved. Always use the protective cover or any protective mechanism that comes with a drive to prevent the end from being damaged. Avoid laundering: while many USB drives have survived trips through the laundry, USB drives are meant to make your documents portable, not as a sole backup.

Additional Tips

If you encounter problems with your computer recognizing your USB storage device or have any other issues, please contact the helpdesk at x5418 or email