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This material is archived primarily from Email tips distributed to my own home computer friends here in Ocala, dated 2015-2017. Updates to this material are scheduled for CY 2018.

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Flash Drives and Backups

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Flash Drives - Practical Backup Considerations

Hello, computer friends,

Flash drives are a becoming a topic of high interest to computer users, because they are really convenience but also raise some concerns over reliability, durability and sometimes security issues.

Flash drives have come into common use for doing backups of user data and transferring files between devices such as computers, tablets and smart phones.

Also known as thumb drives or memory sticks, flash drives plug into a USB port and, when connected, will show up (on Windows computers) in your Windows Explorer or File Explorer program display along with any other connected drives (like your recovery partition or your DVD drive).

Usually a device driver will install automatically when you make the first connection. If a small rectangular box appears in the lower right of your computer prompting you, click once and a larger box should appear in the upper center or upper right of your screen. If your intent is to backup files, click the option to open Windows Explorer or File Explorer.

Most flash drives will hold anywhere from about 4 to 32 Gb (gigabytes) of data. (Larger capacity devices are available also, but for much larger amounts of data it makes more sense to use an external hard drive. Most of those hold 0.5 to 2 Tb (terabytes) of data.)

If you need to determine how much space you need for the files you plan to transfer, find your Documents or Pictures folder, right click on it, select Properties, and you'll find the amount of space occupied by files in the folder. Compare that figure to the amount of storage on the flash drive.

Typically USB flash drives are rewritable. This means you can erase and reuse the space on the flash drive. However, there are practical limits to how many times you can do this. Flash drives can go bad.

Flash drives also are prone to failure after being removed unsafely. After using a flash drive, you can remove it safely several ways. One way is to right click on the drive listing in your Explorer display and selecting to Eject. Another is to find the tiny icon to the lower right of your desktop screen for Safe Removal of Hardware and click appropriately. Also, if you turn your computer off using the Power options through your Start button then you can pull it from the USB port safely when the power is off.

I recommend to most people that Flash drives are good for backups when you don't have other options, but are best used for convenience, e.g.

Keeping documents handy for medical appointments if asked to bring them in electronic form.

Sharing pictures with friends or family who you visit, to copy to their devices

Moving files between devices in your own home or work space, especially if email quotas or slow internet impedes rapid network transfer.

Flash drives vary in quality and durability. You'll get better performance if you pay a fair price. Currently a 32 Gb flash drive at $25 is a fair deal that should get you a quality product. Paying significantly less than that probably will buy you a drive that's more likely to fail after a few rewrites. This guideline will change, however; prices on such items tend to come down fast from one year to the next.

If you're looking for a backup solution requiring more than about 16 Gb of storage (figure on filling a flash drive to about 50 percent capacity), then it's worth considering an external hard drive instead. Currently you can expect to find a good quality EHD of about 2 Tb for $70-75. Again, prices keep coming down on these too.

If you're looking for a backup solution involving valuable files, handling large sets of folders and files, or needing to access files from more than one device or location, then it's smart to backup your files to the cloud as well as using an EDD to backup select files or create a mirror image of your c:\ drive. You can get free cloud space with your Gmail or Microsoft account, and can get an enormously larger amount of cloud space very economically from legit internet service companies if you need it.

One last important consideration, I recommend to most computer users - do NOT use a flash drive that you did not purchase yourself from a store, and do NOT use a flash drive that come with an unsolicited offer of services to take care of your computer maintenance or cleanup. There are numerous scams and frauds going on that use flash drives with malware, or devices that look like ordinary flash drives but actually operate as virtual input devices which override many of your computer's safety features.