What You Said: What’s In Your Flash Drive Toolkit

By Jason Fitzpatrick on April 15th, 2011

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Earlier this week we asked you to share the contents of your flash drive toolkit. You shared your software lists and tricks; now we’re back to highlight the trends in reader toolkits.

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Flash drives are such handy devices when you’re trouble shooting computers. You can run operating systems off them, stash portable apps on them, transfer data between machines, backup old data before system instability wipes it, and more. The simple flash drive has opened up a world of trouble shooting tips and tricks that simply weren’t imaginable to geeks of generations past. Read on to see what your fellow readers have stashed in their flash drive toolkits.

Portable Applications and Installers

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The most popular use for portable toolkits was simply stashing useful applications that could be accessed from within the host OS.

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Almost every read carried a portable web browser, usually Firefox or Chrome. Beyond that there was a spread of portable applications and installation files. Most of you kept two sets of apps: one set to be run from the drive and one set to install and run on the host OS (allowing you to leave behind a copy of the helpful application after you finished fixing the computer you were repairing).

Among the portable applications: SUPERAntiSpyware Portable Scanner, Trend Micro’s HijackThis, CCleaner, Revo Uninstaller, Recuva, and SIW. Some portable applications have no official portable version, such Malwarebyte’s Anti-Malware, and in that case readers just carried the installation file and updated the application once installed on the host machine.

The listings between flash drives varied quite a bit based on the size of the flash drive the reader had available and the level of trouble they routinely had to deal with. Check out the full list of comments for the full run down.

Operating Systems

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Nearly a third of you (29%) carry a full out portable operating system with you. The most popular portable operating system by far was Ubuntu, but readers also carried other versions of Linux (such as Mint and Puppy) as well as other operating systems (such as Windows PE).

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Around 10% of you also kept installation files for Windows 7, XP, and Linux on your drives for those times you needed to do a full wipe.

Many of you, and there is a large overlap with the previous groups that have regular operating systems and installation files, also keep an array of specialized tools. Reader si1lence is a good example of this kind of Swiss-Army-Knife approach to stashing specialized Live OSes:

I have a custom boot USB flashdrive. I use Xboot, on it is AVG, Blackbuntu, BackTrack, Clonezilla, Dariks Boot & Nuke, DiskCopy, ERD, F-Secure, Ghost, GnackTrack, GParted, HDClone, Knoppix, MemTest 86+ SpinRite, SystemrescueCD, UBCD 4 Win, Ubuntu, Hirens and XBMC Live CD. I know a little over kill.

Sounds about right to us, after all it’s not like you have to carry 22 flash drives to accommodate all that—you’ll have a flash drive in your pocket whether it’s loaded with goodies or not.

Clever Tricks

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Along with listing the types of operating systems and software you had stashed on your flash drive, many of you offered additional tips.

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George shared his simple way to ensure he can download and ferry data between PCs when there is no network:

I have several USB flash drives. The 2 i use most:

16GB flash with Linux Mint 10 with a 4GB persistence file. The drive has 2 partitions and the second partition is used to store files for transfer to another PC if there is no network available.

The second drive is a Multiboot I made from Pendrivelinux. It has Ubuntu 10.10 for x32 and x64, several ISO files with Symantec Ghost (network card specific) Partition Wizard 5, and AVG.

Trent echoed this idea and expanded on why it’s important when doing recovery work:

Bootable with multibootiso and loaded with ubuntu, memtest, clonezilla, kaspersky recovery disk, and partition magic. Also when booted in Windows, Portable Apps, Malwarebytes, HiJackThis, CCleaner, Recuva, Regmon, and Filemon.

Also I have it formatted with two partitions because on some PC’s when you run Ubuntu from the Thumb drive, it won’t let you save to the same thumb drive but it will let you save to the second partition on that thumb drive for data recovery.

A large secondary partition on a suitably sized flash drive is a great idea. If you need to boot into the portable OS to get files to repair the machine’s native operating system you’ve got a handy place to stash them.


Have some extra tools or tips to add? Let’s hear about it in the comments. Have a question you want to put before the How-To Geek audience? Shoot us an email at tips@howtogeek.com with “Ask the Readers” in the subject line and we’ll see what we can do.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 04/15/11
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