USB – What and Why For?


USB storage device

This is its real name

What exactly are these devices & for what do we use them?

Gregory West

FIRST OFF – Let’s call these thingamajigs by their real name. Everyone has a cute name for the USB: “stick, thumbdrive, memory stick, etc.”, but the real name is USB Flash Drive. $%$#, I am glad to get that over with LOL.

Many people think of USB being a small device that stores data. This is true, although there is much more to this creation. Your expensive digital camera, video or voice recorder, mp3 player, and the like utilize USB technology and thus need special care. If you are not careful you just may loose all that is stored on these devices or worse…

For Geeks Only: The acronym “USB” stands for Universal Serial Bus. Ok, I know, that still means zippo. What does USB stand for? “Universal” means that it is used for almost any type of storage and transfer of data. The “Serial” part is not digestible, however it does allow you to transfer data one bit at a time in sequence keeping order to your data. The “Bus is a subsystem that transfers data between computer components inside a computer or between computers” ( Now with that out of the way we can explore the many uses, care, and maintenance of your USB device.

Some call them “memory sticks”, “thumb drives,” “memory bars,” and so on; you can name yours whatever you wish. The main thing is a USB is an extra drive, the same as drives: C, D, and others on your computer. Once you insert your USB drive into the slot on your computer you will be immediately notified that you have added a new drive (different operating systems give out different notifications). If you go to “My Computer” you will now see the new USB drive. Double click on it and you will be inside the USB drive.

Data files, photos, video, music, PowerPoint, Excel and as many other documents and file programs you can think can be stored on your USB drive as long as the USB has sufficient amount of room. This is where we can work out some storage numbers that will also be the same storage for your digital cameras.

Ok, the average USB drive or digital camera memory stick (same idea for storage) is 1 GB (gigabyte). That is the equivalent of 1024 MB (megabytes). Look at your camera. If it is a 4 megapixel size camera you simply divide the (1 GB) storage device by your single picture size which is 4 MB and you will be able to store 256 pictures at 4 megabytes in size. If you have a 2 MB memory card or USB you can then store double that amount: 512 pictures.

The same goes for data files and music (mp3) files. Find out what size (in megabytes) the file is that you want to backup to your USB drive and divide it into the size of your USB drive.
If you are using an Apple computer such as a MacBook and you pull out your USB drive without shutting it off (sending it to the “Trash”) you get a NASTY that is a tell-all warning: “The device you removed was not properly put away. Data might have been lost or damaged. Before you unplug your device, you must first select its icon in the Finder and choose Eject from the File menu.”

When you remove USB drives on most PCs you get no warning message; although you should. Why? The USB drive can be ruined over time. It is just like when you shutdown your Windows program, you have a proper method to shut it down properly. If you don’t, well, you simply get a message later telling you that “Windows was not shut down properly…”. On your tool bar, at the bottom right, near the clock icon, you should see an icon for properly shutting down a USB drive – “Use it or lose it” as they say.

The old saying: “Do not store all your eggs in one basket” goes very strong for USB drives. Some people are now using USB drives for their backups and you must remember that like any technology these drives do quit…just like other hard drives and memory “sticks” ; they all only last for a certain amount of time…The better you look after these devices the longer they last.

USB drives can be very large, my USB backup drive is 250 GBs, however it requires hydro. But with as little as 1 GB (I wouldn’t buy any less these days), you can literally host an operating system now. Many people who travel are putting Skype (Internet phone program) on their USB drives so they can make calls from a computer that does not have Skype downloaded.

Whether in the comforts of home, or on the road, my USB drives save me from carrying a ton of CDs. I don’t have to worry about the USB drive either. USB drives are fast becoming the norm for most computer uses with CDs going the way cassettes and VCR tapes have gone.

Backing up your files using USB drives simply makes good sense. While traveling, I use my 1 GB and 4 GB USB drives to backup my data, photos, videos, and text files. At home I have my 250 GB USB drive with all my personal data. That USB drive is only turned on when I need it. That way my personal files are safely tucked away while I surf the Net with my computer. Surf the Web worry free by backing up your personal data to a USB drive.  And to be honest, concerning my USBs, I don’t leave home without one…