7 Uses for an old USB Drive

7 Uses for an old USB Drive

I remember when USB drives first hit the market: “32mb of storage on this one tiny stick! Say what?!”. Skip ahead 10 years or so and I now have a 32gb and 16gb USB drive on my keyring – and that’s considered average. If you’re insane, you can blow over $1100 to get your hands on a 1TB USB flash drive – crazy! The problem is that with the incredibly quick technology advances, we end up accumulating old, smaller capacity drives.

I was cleaning out a box in the garage the other day and found a plastic Ferrero Rocher container (those things are great storage solutions!) which was filled with old USB drives and memory cards. 32mb, 128mb, 16mb, 2gb. It’s hard to believe I ever survived using such tiny drives!

USB Drive Collection
A few devices in my USB Drive Collection

What to do with them though? Throwing them away is definitely an option but it does seem wasteful so I’ve put my nerd hat on and come up with 7 ideas:


1. Create Bootable USB drives to load other Operating Systems

One of the cool things you can do is load an alternative operating system (Linux, Ubuntu, SUSE, etc) onto the USB drive and boot off it. Your computer will boot into the new operating system completely independent of your current Windows/Mac OS installation. There are heaps of instructional websites out there that show you step by step how to do this so I won’t bother detailing it here. There are a few reasons why this is worthwhile:

  1. You can test out new operating systems without blowing away the Windows/Mac OS you’re (most likely) running on your computer now.
  2. It’s a great way to browse websites that you’re potentially afraid to try on your current OS installation. Anything run on the USB flash drive does not get installed on your computer.
  3. If your existing operating system fails for whatever reason, you can troubleshoot the issue by booting from the USB OS. From this booted OS you can then run commands that will interrogate your computer and hopefully help you identify and resolve the issue.
  4. They’re great to access emails on the go. If you’re out and don’t want to use someone else’s laptop or PC, just boot it off your USB and use your own operating system. Simply shut it down when you’re done, pull out the drive and walk away!

This is clearly not for everyone due to the technical nature and may require drives with a few gigabytes of capacity but it’s still awesome!


2. Create a USB Key Toolkit

In the land of computers, a huge pain in the bum is having to reinstall your operating system, mainly because once it’s reinstalled, you need to go through and reinstall every bit of software you had before. Just remembering what you had previously installed can be a task in itself too.

When you have a spare few minutes, pop an old USB flash drive into your computer, look at all of the programs you use the most and copy their installers over to the USB drive. Your best bet is to go to the website for each program, click the download button and then save the installation file to the USB drive.

You’ll want to pull down things such as your web browser (if you don’t use the default Internet Explorer or Safari browsers), antivirus software, antimalware, music players, zip compression, cd burning, word processors, productivity tools and so on. It can be a pretty big list so it’s handy to have them all ready to go so you’re not burned later!

You can also share the drive around with your mates to show them some of the cool stuff you use.

There are websites and web tools out there that can automate and do this for you but they require you to download their software. Ninite is a great web tool for this but if you want complete control, it’s simple enough to do it yourself.

I like to call this my USB Key Toolkit because I’m often called up to help family and friends with their computer problems. Being able to pop my USB drive into their PCs and simply installing helpful software from that has been invaluable. It comes in handy at work too!

If you’re interested in seeing the complete list (with download links) of the software I use to create my toolkit, click here.


3. Prepare for a Musical Emergency

Grab one of the thumb drives and store your favourite (and I mean FAVOURITE) tunes on it. Take the drive and keep it in your bag or your car for emergencies.

That’s right. Musical emergencies! If you’re stuck at someone’s house and their taste in music is terrible, throw down your drive and fix the problem. Easy! Yes, there’s always your iPhone but not everyone has an iPhone dock right? Emergency!


4. Backup Important Documents

This is a pretty cool one. Make digital copies of your important documents (birth certificate, marriage certificate, facebook page*…) and store them on a USB drive! Each doc should only be a few hundred kilobytes in size so the smaller 32mb or 128mb USB drives are perfect for this. Once you have everything on there, pop the drive in a safe place such as a safe, or tape it under your bed frame. Or behind a canvas painting. Pretend you’re a spy so you don’t look crazy!

*Note: Totally not serious.


5. Create a Shared USB Drive on your Network

Most routers these days have a USB port that allows you to share a drive on your network. What this means is, you can plug a USB drive of some sort into your router and you’ll be able to access it from any device in your house that’s on the network.

For example, you could plug a 500GB USB drive into the router and on Windows it will appear in the “My Computer” section as a network drive. You can then copy files to and from the drive as if it were plugged directly into your PC. Then, log into your laptop and you’ll be able to access the same drive without needing to move it from computer to computer.

It’s a great way to share media around the house if you don’t have a dedicated solution already in place. This is also an effective way to share your music at someone else’s house in that aforementioned Musical Emergency.

To make the most of a shared network device you’ll want to use a drive with a larger capacity rather than a small 1gb flash drive.


6. Create a Windows Recovery Drive

If you’ve upgraded to larger capacity USB flash drives and have a spare 8GB drive lying around, it’s a great idea to turn it into a Windows Recovery Drive.

A recovery drive is used to recover a failed installation of Windows. If Windows becomes corrupt and fails to boot in any way, you can boot your computer off the USB recovery drive to repair and recover Windows. By default Windows has a recovery partition already in place on your physical hard drive inside your PC but it is possible for that to become corrupt. Creating a secondary recovery USB drive is great for redundancy.

Instructions to do this for Windows 10 are here.


7. Give the Gift of USB

Seriously, hear me out! If you’ve been around someone your entire life (spouse, mates, family, etc) then there’s a good chance you’ve got photos and other stuff to prove it. A cool idea for a gift is to take your favourite photos, documents, music and videos collected over the awesome relationship with this person and pop them onto a USB drive. You can also grab local copies of websites, news articles and other memorabilia that’ll make them go “I remember that!!”.

Wrap the drive up in a giant box so they think you’re gifting them something huge, then give it to them for their birthday or whatever else you might celebrate (Fridays!). It’s meaningful and essentially validates you giving your junk away to mates!



Bonus: Make a Mix USB Music Drive

Since writing this post I’ve discovered a really cool program that’ll completely shake up the music listening experience in your car. One of the issues when listening to your own music in the car is that you’re limited to a fraction of the music you most likely have at home on your computer. The hard drive in the car is much smaller right?

In this blog post Bob details how you can use his python script to essentially populate your USB drive with random songs from your music library. You’re also able to filter by genre to make it a little more specific. It’s seriously one heck of a script! I’d highly recommend checking it out if you’re not afraid of using the command line!


If you have any other cool ideas, I’d love to hear them so leave a comment, send me an email or hit me up on twitter!

2 thoughts on “7 Uses for an old USB Drive

  1. Thanks for mentioning my script. Awesome advice what to do with our old USB sticks, everybody has them. The router one was new to me. The gift one, definitely gonna use that one day. Thanks

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