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How to use a USB stick

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How to use a USB stick: You have recently approached the world of information technology and are “studying” to be able to acquire some more skills. Today, for example, you have decided to devote your time to discovering USB sticks: those practical devices, extremely popular, capable of storing data of any type offering maximum portability and hardware compatibility with computers and other devices.

So if it is your intention to find out how to use a USB stick in the most common scenarios, know that this is the right place for you! In the following chapters of this tutorial, in fact, I will show you how to use these small but very useful drives in a series of common situations: on computers equipped with Windows, on Macs, on Android, on iPad and on PS4. In addition, I will show you some uncommon (but not less useful) uses that such devices can lend themselves to: as an “extension” of the computer’s RAM memory, replacing the password and, finally, as an alternative to a classic hard disk.

So, without hesitating for a moment more, make yourself comfortable and read this guide: I guarantee that, at the end of it, you will have acquired the skills necessary to be able to easily handle this category of device. Having said that, there is nothing else to do but wish you a good read and … good study!

How to use a USB stick on Windows

If you intend to make the best use of your USB drive on Windows, read the following paragraphs in which, in which I will provide you with clear indications on the file systems supported by the Microsoft operating system (which determines how the data is organized on the key), on the procedure for formatting the keys and on the steps to be taken to access the data on it.

Supported file systems

Supported file systems

The operating system Windows offers native support for the most common and used file system. At the time of writing this guide, it is possible to read and format USB sticks equipped with one of the file systems listed below.

  • FAT (or FAT16) – this is an obsolete and no longer used file system, with numerous problems related to the management and conservation of files.
  • FAT32 – the most widespread file system ever and offering the highest degree of compatibility with other devices and operating systems. It cannot handle files larger than 4 GB and does not support partitions larger than 32 GB. Furthermore, it is significantly subject to fragmentation.
  • exFAT (or extended FAT) – successor to FAT32, abolishes the limit of 4 GB per file and 32 GB per single partition. It is compatible with many devices, although less in number than FAT32, and is less subject to fragmentation.
  • NTFS – is the default Windows file system. It abolishes all the limitations of FAT and offers a large number of advantages on the organization and management of files, but the relative support is not guaranteed on all operating systems. It is subject to fragmentation, but to a lesser extent than FAT.

Format the stick

How to use a USB stick on Windows

Format a USB stick on the Windows, it’s literally a no-brainer. First, insert the unit into the computer, connecting it to one of its free ports. Then open theFile Explorerby clicking on the icon of yellow folder placed in the taskbar, and click on the icon This PC / Computer, located in the left area of ​​the window that opens.

At this point, find the icon of the USB pendrive in the section Devices and units (you may have to click on the arrow corresponding to the section title, if it is closed), right click on the name of the stick and choose the item Format … from the context menu.

Now, use the next window to set the formatting parameters: file system, allocation unit size (if you don’t know what it is, leave this field unchanged) ed volume label (the name to be assigned to the stick).

Finally, act on the box Quick format to define how to overwrite the data: if activated, the formatting will take a few seconds, but previously saved data could be restored via special programs.

By deactivating fast formatting, however, the data will be overwritten by a series of 0 and the recovery made much more complex; however, slow formatting may take a long time.

Anyway, once you have defined the most suitable options for you, click on the button Starts and, aware that this operation will delete all the data on the stick, press the button OK, to continue. Wait, then, for the message to end the formatting to appear.

For more information about the procedure just explained, you can refer to my guide on how to format a USB stick, in which I dealt with the subject in great detail.

Manage files on the stick

Manage files on the stick

If formatting a key was easy, managing the files on it is even more! Simply insert the drive into the computer, wait for the screen to appear AutoPlay and choose the most suitable operation for your case: view photos, play videos or music, start installation files or open the folder to explore the files.

If the AutoPlay window does not appear, you can easily access the data contained on the USB drive by starting theFile Explorer Windows, going to the section This PC / Computer (left) and double-clicking on the icon of the USB stick just inserted.

For the rest, there is not much more to say: you can easily move files / folders from a point from the stick to the hard disk (and vice versa) by dragging them to the folder you prefer, or access the operations available on each of them by right clicking on its icon.

How to use a USB stick on Mac

How to use a USB stick on Mac

Regarding the use of USB drives on Mac, things are not very different from what has already been seen for Windows: macOS, in fact, integrates the functions necessary to format and manage the files saved on a storage device of this type.

Below, I am going to give you an overview of the file systems supported by Mac, to then illustrate the steps you need to take to format a key and to be able to explore the data contained within it.

Keep in mind that some Macs may not have a standard USB port (USB-A), but only a Thunderbolt port (USB-C): in this case, you will need a special adapter, like the ones I show you below .

Supported file systems

Supported file systems

At the time of writing this guide, macOS offers full support for the following file systems.

  • APFS – this is the default Mac file system, with technical features aimed at obtaining the best possible performance when reading / writing data. Despite its many advantages, APFS does not find support outside of the Apple world: therefore, be sure to use it only if the USB stick is intended for Macs only.
  • MacOS extended journaled (HFS +) – is the APFS “predecessor” file system, currently supported on even older Macs. Again, compatibility outside the Apple world is very poor.
  • MS-DOS FAT (FAT32) – as already seen in the section on Windows, it is the most widespread file system ever, which has limits on the size of a single file (4 GB) and a single partition (32 GB). Use it if you intend to use the stick on multiple devices with different operating systems.
  • exFAT – is the successor to MS-DOS FAT, which bypasses the size and file size limit, but finds slightly less support than that of its predecessor.

The file system NTFSinstead, it is natively supported by macOS in read only; to add the possibility to write data on USB drives of this type, or to format them using this file system, it is necessary to appeal to some specific drivers, as I explained in my guide on how to format NTFS with Mac.

Format the stick

Format the stick

If you need to format the USB stick, you can use theDisk Utility macOS: the tool aimed at managing keys, disks, SSDs and other storage media, installed “standard” on Macs.

To use it, call it from the folder Other of the Launchpad (the icon in the shape of rocket placed on the Dock) and, after connecting the USB stick to the Mac, select its name from the left sidebar, then click on the button Initialize, placed at the top.

At this point, indicate the file system you intend to use, choosing it from the menu Format; tax GUID partition map as scheme, if you have opted to use an Apple file system (APFS / HFS +), or Master Boot Record for all the others, it indicates the first name to be assigned to the key in the appropriate field and, when you are finished, click on the buttons OK is Initialize, to start formatting the drive.

For additional clarification on the steps just illustrated, you can refer to my guide on how to format a USB stick on Mac.

Note: if you wish, you can adjust the number of overwrites to be carried out during the formatting phase, so as to make any data recovery more difficult (slowing down, however, the whole process). To do this, click on the button Security Options … and use the cursor displayed to define the option most suitable for you.

Manage files on the stick

Manage files on the stick

Open a USB stick on macOS it’s very simple: in general, all you have to do is connect the peripheral to the appropriate port on the computer and wait for the operating system to recognize it and mount it on the Desk. When this happens, you just have to double-click the drive icon to open the Finder and access its contents.

Alternatively, you can access the key files by opening the Finder directly from the Dock (by clicking on the icon in the form of smiling face located on it) and clicking on name of the USB drive, located under the box Devices (in the left sidebar).

The file management is almost identical to that provided for all other Mac folders: you can move, copy and paste files to and from the stick, create new folders, create compressed archives and so on, using the contextual menu offered by macOS ( can be called by right clicking on the icon of the file or folder of your interest).

How to use a USB stick as RAM

How to use a USB stick as RAM

You would like to know if it’s possible use a USB stick as RAM? The answer is yes.

All operating systems Windows currently supported integrate functionality ReadyBoost: it allows, in practice, to use a USB stick as if it were part of the RAM memory, in order to speed up the exchange of data between the hard disks and the processor.

This system can make a partial improvement in performance on fairly dated machines (equipped with less than 2 GB of RAM and animated by mechanical disks), however, on more modern computers, ReadyBoost – and, in general, the use of USB sticks as RAM – does not bring many improvements, especially if you are using an SSD type central memory (in this case, ReadyBoost cannot be activated).

Furthermore, in order for this system to be as useful as possible, the USB stick must have a good one access speedtherefore I advise you to use a stick USB 3.0 (the one with the internal blue connector), connected to a port of the same type. Ideally, the size of the stick to be dedicated to RAM should be the double the physical memory installed in the system.

How do you say? You are perfectly clear about the concept, but would you like to try to use your USB stick as RAM and try to speed up the computer a bit? Okay, no problem. To begin with, insert the USB stick into your computer and format it in exFAT (so as to allow the allocation of files larger than 4 GB), using the instructions I have provided previously.

Next, open theFile Explorer / Windows Explorer Windows (the icon of the yellow folder located on the taskbar), click on the icon This PC / Computer located in the left part of the window, right click on the icon of the USB stick you intend to use and click on the button Property.

At this point, go to the card ReadyBoost, put the check mark next to the item Dedicate the device to ReadyBoost / Use the device and use the cursor below to choose the amount of virtual RAM you want to add. When you are done, click on the buttons apply is OK and wait for the configuration to complete.

How to use a USB stick as a hard disk

How to use a USB stick as a hard disk

The need to use a USB stick as hard disk it could arise, for example, from the need to use the key exactly as it was a hard disk, with the possibility of creating and modifying partitions, deleting them, managing them and so on. These operations, as far as USB drives are concerned, are not immediately accessible from the operating system menus, which, on the other hand, happens with disks.

However, nowadays, using software that can “deceive” the operating system and induce it to manage a USB stick as if it were a hard disk, is a ‘risky operation which, for my part, I advise against carrying out: programs of this kind could not only damage the USB stick, making it unusable, but could cause it operating system problems, even serious.

For this reason, instead of turning to solutions of this type, dangerous and obsolete today, you could use special programs that can operate on the partitions of USB sticks and also install entire operating systems on them.

If you want more information about it, I recommend reading some of my guides related to the creation of USB sticks of various types.

In addition, I point out that the Enterprise edition of Windows 8 and the Pro and Enterprise editions of Windows 10 include Windows To Go, a feature that allows you to copy Windows to a USB stick and start a “light” version of the operating system directly from the removable drive.

How to use USB stick as password

How to use USB stick as password

It may seem strange to you, but there are really software, especially dedicated to Windows, that allow you to use a USB stick as a password to lock your computer!

One of these, for example, is Predator: it is a commercial program (with prices starting from $ 10 per license), which can be used in a free trial version for 10 days, which allows you to lock your computer with a USB stick, making it inactive where it is removed.

In order to get it, connect to program download page, click on the item Download Predator Home Edition and select the most suitable link for the version of Windows you are using (64 bit or 32 bit). When the download is complete, extract the .zip package obtained in a folder on your computer, start the file InstallPredator.exe content inside and click on the button Next to start the installation phase.

Next, put the check mark next to the item I agree, to accept the conditions of use of the program, click on the button Next three times in succession, then up Yup is Close to end the installation procedure and start the software.

Once in the main screen of the program, connect the USB stick you intend to use as a password to the computer, click on the button OK attached to the warning window that appears and, subsequently, choose the key just inserted from the drop-down menu Selected unit.

Finally, type in the password you want to use to lock or unlock your PC (and program settings) and click OK, to complete it all. Done! From now on, you can lock your computer by simply pulling out the USB stick.

If necessary, you can access the Predator settings panel by right clicking on its icon located in the Windows notification area (the one next to the clock) and choosing the item Preferences … from the menu that appears: from there, you can make Predator start with Windows, change the password of the USB stick or set the alarm to play when someone tries to access the PC without permission.

If you want to know more about Predator and other systems to be able lock your PC with a USB stick, I invite you to read the tutorial I made about it, full of interesting information on this specific topic.

How to use a USB stick on Android

How to use a USB stick

Most of the devices Android on the market, whether they are smartphones or tablets, they do not have the classic USB ports (those USB-A available on computers), but have only one input microUSB or USB-C.

This, however, does not mean that it is not possible use a USB stick on Androidon the contrary: it is possible to connect the latter devices to smartphones and tablets using a special adapter, provided that the Android device in question is compatible with the USB OTG technology.

To check it, you can use an app like USB OTG Checker, available on the Play Store: after downloading the app, start it and wait a few seconds for the app to indicate whether or not the device is compatible with this technology. If so, you can proceed with the purchase of a USB OTG adapter, which can allow the key to be connected to the phone or tablet using the USB-C or microUSB port.

Such devices can be purchased for a few euros, even online: pay close attention to the model best suited to your smartphone or tablet, considering the available input on the same (microUSB or USB-C).

If you wish, you can also buy some appropriate USB sticks equipped with USB-C or microUSB connector. Also in this case, the previous recommendation applies: make your choice based on the port you have available on the Android device.

Once you have obtained the necessary, using the USB stick on Android is very simple: insert it in the USB OTG adapter, connect the latter to the device through the appropriate connector (or, alternatively, connect the microUSB or USB-C key to the device Android) and you’re done!

At this point, you just have to open a file management app, such as Google files, to view the contents of the drive: after starting Files, tap on the card Browse located at the bottom, touch the first name USB stick, located in the area dedicated to Storage devices, press the button Allow to grant access to the USB memory, and navigate within it, exactly as you usually would.

In order to operate on the files (copy them, move them and so on), make a long tap on the preview of the content of your interest, touch the button (⋮) located at the top right and choose, using the menu that is proposed to you, the operation you intend to complete. To delete a file, make a long tap on it and touch the icon of Trash can, located at the top.

If you need an extra hand regarding the use of USB OTG technology, or to know the steps to be taken to force the use of this technology on non-compatible devices (an operation that, as you will discover, still involves risks), you can take a look at my guide on how to enable Android OTG.

How to use a USB stick on iPad

How to use a USB stick on iPad

As you will surely notice, the iPad they do not have the standard USB ports that you can find, just to give you an example, on your computer. In fact, the Apple brand tablets are equipped with only one input Lightning or, in the case of the iPad Pro models released from 2018 onwards, entry USB-C.

It goes without saying that, in both cases, it is not possible to directly connect the common USB sticks usually used for PC, table readers or other compatible devices. If you have an iPad Pro with a USB-C input, you can easily remedy the problem by obtaining a special adapter USB-C / USB-A, specially designed for the purpose. Such adapters can be purchased for a few euros, even online.

If, however, you own an iPad with a Lightning input, you can use one special key equipped with connector Lightning (therefore specially designed for Apple devices).

After having procured the most suitable device for your case, you need to install the appropriate one dedicated app in the iPad (usually available on the App Store), start it and follow the instructions that are provided to you to move the files to and from the USB memory.

Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with more precise indications on the exact procedure to be performed: generally, what you need to do is launch the file manager of thespecific app obtained previously, indicate whether to move the files from iPad to stick or vice versa and follow the procedure that is proposed to you to complete everything.

Finally, I want to clarify that iPadOS (iOS 13), the Apple operating system dedicated to iPads scheduled for launch in autumn 2019, will introduce native support for USB technology (thus enabling direct management of USB sticks from the application File).

To further deepen the discussion related to connecting USB sticks to iPad, you can refer to the tutorial that I have dedicated, specifically, for this purpose.

The indications just given, except for the USB-C ports, are obviously valid also for iPhone.

How to use a USB stick on PS4

How to use a USB stick on PS4

You noticed, on your console, the presence of “standard” USB ports, so now you are wondering if it is possible use a USB stick on PS4? Well, the answer is absolutely affirmative. The operating system on board the Sony console, in fact, provides for the use of USB memory drives in at least three different scenarios: the vision of multimedia content, the saving game data and finally the saving screenshots and in-game movies.

In this regard, it is essential that the USB stick has been formatted using a PS4 compatible file system: FAT32 or exFAT. To do this, you can use a PC equipped with Windows, a Mac by following the instructions I gave you earlier.

Once the USB stick is prepared (and after copying the multimedia files to be viewed, if necessary), connect it to one of the free USB ports of the PS4 and act in the most appropriate way, based on the operation you intend to perform.

  • View photos, videos and music – went to the home screen of the PS4, moved to the item Multimedia player and press the button X of the pad. Then select the name of the stick from the list of available devices and, after choosing the content to be displayed, press the button X to start playback.
  • Copy saves and game files – access the screen Settings PS4 (the icon of the toolbox), choose the item Management of data saved by the application, move to the section dedicated to Data saved in system storage memory and locate the file you want to copy to the stick. After that, press the button OPTIONS of the pad (the small one, placed immediately next to the touchpad), choose the option Copy to USB storage device from the menu that is shown to you, select the files to copy (with the help of the key X of the pad) and finally move on the voice Copy and press the button again X.
  • Copy screenshots and in-game movies – start the app Catch gallery recalling it from the content area of ​​the PS4, press the button OPTIONS pad and choose the voice Copy to USB storage device, select the files to copy with the help of the button X of the pad and, when you’re done, select the item Copy.