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Tech tips

5 clever ways to use those old USB drives you have lying around

Over the years, USB drives (or flash drives) can accumulate and take up space in random corners of your home. What you might not know is that there are many more uses for these drives than merely transferring files between computers.

While USB drives regularly come in different capacities, some are also less secure than others and can even come bundled with malware. Tap or click here to see how malicious code can make it onto a USB drive.

At one time, USB drives were marvels of engineering, tiny devices capable of storing massive amounts of data. Today, hard drives are actually massive, limiting the need for USB drives. However, we’ve put together the ultimate list of ways to use your old USB drives that can actually save you time, keep you more secure and even make your life easier.

1. Lock and unlock your Windows computer

Using a piece of software like PREDATOR allows you to lock your Windows machine when you’re away. You can use a USB drive as a key to unlock your session when you return.

This is useful for working in communal areas. But you can also use a tool like this to limit your kids’ time on the computer. Simply start your computer with your USB drive connected, open PREDATOR, and whenever you remove the drive, your computer will be locked until further notice.

2. Test your computer memory

An app like memtest86 may sound awfully technical, but it’s really not. It’s a lightweight utility you can install on a flash drive, boot your Windows computer from and use to run tests on your computer’s memory or RAM.

This isn’t just a useful tool to help you diagnose issues with your computer. If you overload your system’s components, like RAM, a utility you boot from is the best way to stress test hardware unencumbered by Windows processes.

3. Browse the internet more privately

By downloading a specialized, portable version of Google Chrome you can install the browser directly on your flash drive. Once on your drive, it only takes a click to open the program, so you can take the drive with you and run your own version of Chrome on other people’s computers, avoiding the pesky annoyance of accidentally leaving yourself signed in or saving some of your personal information.

Ultimately, though, if you really want to stay private online you’ll need a VPN. A VPN can protect your devices anywhere you go online. Tap or click here to see how to best protect your privacy with the ultimate VPN.

4. Windows recovery drive

These days, more and more Windows computers are being built and sold entirely without disc drives of any kind. This was the traditional way of installing your operating system or repairing your computer if you managed to break it.

Today you can have that functionality on a USB drive. Microsoft has a tool that allows you to create recovery USB drives in the event of a major issue, like a hardware failure, to reinstall Windows 10.

5. Portable, completely private OS

You read that right. All you’ll need is an 8GB or larger USB drive and you can install Tails, a privacy-focused, portable operating system you can boot on a Windows, macOS, or Linux computer.

With Tails installed on your flash drive, you can temporarily turn your computer into a secure machine or stay safe using someone else’s computer. Tails runs completely independently from other operating systems and does not use a hard disk at all, keeping you safe and secure.

Even now, when USB drives have largely outlived their intended purpose, they can be useful tools. Unfortunately, not every USB device is helpful. Tap or click here to see why you should be avoiding public USB charging stations.

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