1. Make a key to unlock your computer
Have you ever seen such a thing? This is a USB key, or dongle, as it is sometimes called. Used to protect sensitive data. Why enter passwords and PINs when you can just stick the key on your key fob and unlock the system?
You can buy a ready-made device, but if you have an unnecessary flash drive lying around, you might as well make the key yourself. This will help special programs. For example, the professional PREDATOR and its free alternatives, which are in no way inferior to it, are Rohos Logon Key and USB Raptor.
2. Store portable programs on it
There are variants of conventional computer programs that run not from a hard drive or SSD, but from a flash drive. They usually have the Portable prefix in their name.
These are indispensable pieces for those who often work on other people’s computers – for example, in a university library or in an Internet cafe. It is very convenient to keep your browser with pre-installed extensions, bookmarks and sites, or your own office suite with customized panels, buttons and tools.
You can find a portable version of almost any program on the popular PortableApps service. Install Chrome, OpenOffice and other utilities that you often use on your flash drive, and you can comfortably work on any other computer.
3. Install portable Linux
If it’s not enough for you to just keep portable programs on your flash drive, you can install an entire operating system there. It will work even if there is no OS installed on the computer at all. Your best bet is to install a Linux distribution on the drive.
There are many ways to use such a flash drive: you can use it to copy files to your portable hard drive or cloud from a computer that does not start Windows. Or use your own Linux on a device in an Internet cafe without fear that passwords and personal data will remain on it.
How to install Linux on a USB flash drive not as a boot image, but as a complete system, is described in detail using the popular Ubuntu as an example in its manual. If you want to send more than one OS to a USB flash drive at once, the YUMI Multiboot USB Creator utility will come in handy.
4. Surf the internet privately with Tails OS
Separately, it is worth mentioning another way to use a USB flash drive with Linux. If you care about privacy – say, you often have to work in an Internet cafe with important documents and accounts – install a special Tails OS Linux distribution on your USB drive.
It is designed for the most private use: the system does not store cookies on the Internet, makes it as difficult as possible for web services to track you, and encrypts all data. As soon as you finish your business and remove the flash drive from someone else’s computer, all traces of your activities will disappear.
5. Make a system recovery disc
If your computer does not start – for example, the Windows bootloader is damaged – the system recovery disk will help to save it. It is enough to stick a USB flash drive into the device, restart, and it will be possible to fix the unfortunate OS.
Creating such a disk is very simple: type “Recovery Disk” in the “Start” menu, open the utility that appears and follow the instructions.
It’s best to do this ahead of time and keep a rescue flash drive just in case. Otherwise, if one day the PC stops turning on, you will not have the tools to restore the OS.
6. Turn a flash drive into a swap file for old PCs
Windows systems have a built-in ReadyBoost tool that allows you to use flash drives connected to your computer as additional RAM.
For modern computers, this feature does not matter, because there is enough RAM anyway. But if you have an old PC with, say, 4 GB of RAM, you can do the following.
Insert a USB flash drive into the computer (the larger the better), right-click on it in the “This PC” window and select “Properties” → “ReadyBoost” → “Use this device”. And the system on your old man will start to turn a little faster. Just keep in mind that the flash drive must be fast enough.
7. Add extra memory for set-top box or TV
A flash drive can be used not only as a memory for a computer, but also as storage for other devices. For example, for set-top boxes with Android TV or smart TVs.
Often they are equipped with ridiculous amounts of memory of 8 or 16 GB, which is not enough for all applications and files. But if you have a fast enough flash drive, Android TV programs will run from it no worse than from the set-top box itself.
Plug the drive into a USB port and tap Settings → Device → Storage. Select the drive you want and list it as part of your device’s internal storage. Keep in mind that the flash drive will be formatted.
8. Download Pocket Antivirus
The computer is infected with viruses and ransomware, and you can’t start it properly? A pocket antivirus on a flash drive will come to the rescue. Such utilities are offered by many vendors, such as Avira Rescue System, Kaspersky Free Rescue Disk, Dr.Web LiveDisk, and others.
Googling the name of your favorite antivirus, adding the words Rescue Disk or Live USB to it, and you will almost certainly find a portable version of it. It can be written to a USB flash drive and kept with you in case your computer is infected with malware. We remind you: you need to download applications only from the official websites of manufacturers.
9. Create a repository of confidential information
Where is it safer to keep your secret data – in the cloud, on a server that is God knows where, or on your own flash drive? It seems the answer is obvious. If the cloud service is hacked, your documents will fall into the wrong hands, but it will be much more difficult for a remote hacker to access the drive: it is not connected to the Network.
Install a free utility like Disk Cryptor or VeraCrypt on a flash drive, and you will get a securely encrypted vault that cannot be opened without a password. So even if you lose the USB stick, it will be useless to whoever finds it.
It will be possible to securely save there, for example, a photo of your passport and identity card, booking confirmations, contacts and other data that you want to always have at hand.
10. Create a database for passwords
Another good option is to store your passwords for various services, bank accounts and other accounts on a flash drive. But they must be securely encrypted so as not to fall into the wrong hands, even if the drive is lost.
To do this, install a portable version of some password manager, such as Bitwarden or KeePass, on a USB flash drive, and place your password database on it.
Now, in order to open some particularly confidential account, you will need to plug the drive into the computer, launch the password manager from it, enter the master password, and only then the account will open. Safety first.
Just remember to make a backup copy of the flash drive in a safe place.
11. Turn a flash drive into a password reset tool
Imagine: you started your computer and suddenly realized that you forgot your password and cannot log in. To be prepared for such an unpleasant situation, you must do the following.
Take a flash drive and plug it into a USB port, and then type “Create a password reset disk” in the Start menu. Don’t let the word “floppy disk” fool you – this tool works with flash drives too. Run it and follow the instructions.
The next time you forget your password, plug in a USB drive and the system will allow you to change it.
Another option is to install a set of utilities from NirSoft on a removable drive, which will allow, for example, reset passwords from Windows or from applications like CuteFTP, Filezilla, VNC, as well as email programs like Outlook and Thunderbird. And they also allow you to pull combinations from the Chrome browser if you forgot what is hidden behind the asterisks.
12. Install a set of retro games
An interesting idea for retrogamers. Install one of the emulators of old games on your flash drive, throw in a few ROM files with hits of the past, and you can play popular arcade games on any computer. Fortunately, old games require very little memory and run successfully on devices with a performance slightly higher than that of a potato.
The most popular retro game emulators suitable for installation on USB are Lakka OS and Batocera.linux.