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HowTo: Use a USB Memory Device


Many types of portable storage media are in use today. For many years, the most common portable storage media was the [magnetic storage diskette], capable of storing between 256 kilobytes to many megabytes (depending on the style). Modern advances in storage devices have resulted in a variety of newer, faster devices with much higher storage capacities. Although some people use optically-based devices such as Compact Discs (CD's) or Digital Video Disc (DVD's), these have been supplanted in recent years by the much more user-friendly "flash memory" device known by the names: "USB Memory Stick", "Jump Drive", or "Thumb Drive". The term "USB" in the name comes from the fact that these devices attach to the computer through a standard "Universal Serial Bus" port (or socket). These devices are no larger than a person's thumb, easy to use, and store much more than the earlier magnetic diskettes. The most common capacities at the time of this writing are 1 thru 16 megabytes. Some common brands are [Lexar, Memorex, and SanDisk (Cruzer)]. For the remainder of this document, the term "memory stick" will be used to refer to all brands and capacities of this device. The procedures followed to use memory sticks varies slightly from one brand to the next; but most of them function as written below. The following directions a relate to the Windows 8 operating system. But if you have other versions, they should work too. The differences will be simple things related to labels for things. For example, the program named simply Computer in Windows 7 is named My Computer in Windows XP or Windows Vista.

  1. Locate the small rectangular USB socket on the computer. It might be visible on the face of the computer case, or it might be hidden behind some protective cover or door that swings open when lifted or pressed. On some computers, you have to look behind the case to find the USB sockets. Note that some memory sticks will not fit into the slots on the face of a computer because of the thickness of the case. In this case, you will have to use the slots on the back.
  2. If your USB stick has a protective cap or cover protecting the connector on the device, remove it or slide it back.
  3. Insert the USB connector into the USB socket. You might have to rotate it along its long axis to get it to go in. It should fit only one way.
  4. Very soon after inserting the device, the operating software on your computer should beep and/or display messages in the lower righthand corner of your screen indicating that it has detected the device. What happens next will depend on two things:
  5. Regardless of the reaction listed above, the operating system will add one or more additional storage device letter(s) to its current list. For example, if your computer normally indicated the presence of a fixed Disk Drive labeled "C:", and a CD drive labeled "D:"; you might now see a new drive letter (typically "E:") added to the list. Your memory stick will now function as if it was just another disk drive on your system. You will be able to copy and move files and folders to or from this device just as you would between disks. (See specific procedures described below.) Be aware that the specific drive letter(s) added to your list of storage devices will depend on configuration of your computer and may be different on different computers.
  6. The operating system will also display a new control object in the "system tray" (notification area, typically in the lower right-hand corner of the desktop). This remove button image icon is a "Safely Remove" button that you can use to notify the computer when you intend to remove the device.
  7. After using your memory stick and before removing it, be sure that all files and folders on it are closed and that any programs using it (including the Computer program) are closed. Then left-click on the remove button image Safely Remove button. You should see a menu with at least the choice "Safely Remove USB Mass Storage Device - Drive (E:)" (or whatever drive letter was assigned). Other choices may also appear if you have other USB devices (such as a scanner, camera, or printer) attached to your computer. To indicate that you intend to remove your memory stick (and to confirm that the operating system detects no problem with this action), click on the choice related to your device. The system will typically display a message indicating that it is safe to remove the device. If you get an error message indicating that it is not safe, then you should either log off of Windows or shut down the computer before removing the device.

How to Copy a file (or folder) from a Fixed Disk Disk to a Memory Stick

The permanently installed magnetic disk in a computer is called a "fixed disk" and is typically identified by the label "C:". (The small capacity removable diskettes used in early computers were labeled A: and B:.) The other storage devices attached to or inserted into a computer are labeled as D:, E:, and so on. Each computer can have different devices and labels, but they all Windows-based systems use this approach. The following steps provide an example of one method for copying data between a fixed disk (C:) and a removable storage device (assumed in these instructions to be labeled as device "E:"). If your memory stick has a different label, substitute that label in place of "E:" in the instructions below.

  1. Before inserting your memory stick into the drive, look at it to see if it offers a "write-protect" feature (typically a tiny sliding switch labeled with an open or closed lock image). If it does, slide the switch to the unlocked position. This will allow you to write to the memory stick.
  2. Insert the memory stick to be used into the USB socket and wait for the computer to react as described above.
  3. If the operating system does not automatically open a Computer window displaying files on the memory stick, then open the File Explorer program in Windows, then choose Computer).
  4. If you are using Windows XP or Windows Vista and you do not see a panel on the left side of the window that displays a hierarchy diagram of devices and folders on your computer, then click the button labeled Folders on the button bar at the top of the window (beneath the menu bar).
  5. Now navigate through the folder hierarchy in the Folders panel on the left side of the window to locate the specific device or folder that you want to receive the copied folder or files. You may navigate to a specific folder by double clicking through the hierarchy diagram in the Folders panel until you see the desired source folder or file(s). To select more than one, click on the first one, then hold down the Ctrl key and click the others, one at a time.
  6. Right-click on one of the selected source items and then click on the menu choice Copy.
  7. In the Folder panel on left, you should see an icon labeled with the new drive letter that was assigned by Windows for your memory stick, typically something like "Brand Name MEDIA (E:)". Double-click on it to display its contents. If you have multiple folder on your memory stick and prefer to copy your data into one of them (instead of into the "root" folder on the stick), then navigate through the folder hierarchy on the stick to locate the "target" folder into which you want to paste the copied data.
  8. Right-click on the target folder and select the menu choice Paste in the drop-down menu that appears. This will copy the files or folders you selected in the earlier step into the target folder. If there is a lot of data, you should see a bar chart indicating the progress of the copy.
  9. When the copying is complete, close the Computer window by clicking on the close button image button in the upper right-hand corner of that window.
  10. Finally, use the remove button image "Safely Remove" button in the "system tray" as described in the section above to notify the computer that you intend to remove the memory stick. When it confirms the action, remove the stick (or log off if necessary and then remove the stick.)

The procedures for copying files between different source locations and targets will be similar to the steps above with the exception of the specific selections made for the source items and target location. If you use an operating system other than Windows and want help on copying files between storage devices, then search with the help program for your operating system using the phrase "copy files".

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