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2 DataTraveler Exodia M USB drives, one with a green cap and one with a red cap, on a desk with a person on a laptop in the background

How to use a USB flash drive on Windows PC

What is a USB drive?

A USB drive, also referred to as a flash drive or memory stick, is a small, portable device that plugs into the USB port on your computer. USB drives are commonly used for storage, data backup, and transferring files between devices. USB drives come in multiple storage capacities and different ports, each having a unique shape. Using a USB drive can differ depending on the type of computer that you want to connect to. Keep reading to learn how to use a USB drive on Windows.

Is my USB drive compatible with my computer?

a close-up image of the Nucleum hub plugged in a laptop on a desk with USBs and cards for different ports

If you are using your USB drive for the first time, it’s important to check that your USB drive is compatible with the USB ports on your computer. Most people would recognise the USB-A, the large, square-shaped USB drive which can only be plugged in one way. However, the latest Windows computers are starting to replace the USB-A port with a smaller, slimmer alternative USB-C port.

If your Windows computer only has a USB-C port, but your USB drive is a USB-A type drive, then you can either purchase a USB-A to USB-C adapter, or for a small expense, you could buy a new USB-C drive.

How to insert the USB drive?

Once you have a USB drive that is compatible with your Windows computer, you can now insert the drive into a USB port. The ports will typically be located on the side of a laptop and either the front or back of a desktop. If you are using a USB-A, please make sure you insert the USB drive the correct way to prevent any damages to your computer.

The first time you insert the USB drive, Windows will install the necessary driver software in order to use the USB drive. Next, a dialog box should appear. Select ‘Open folder to view files.’ If a dialog box does not appear, it can be fixed by inserting the USB drive again or by opening File Explorer and selecting your USB drive.

How do you format a USB drive on Windows 10?

Most USB flash drives will be preformatted. If the drive is 32GB or less they will be in the FAT32 file system. If they are larger than 32GB (for Kingston’s USB flash drive capacity groups, this would be our 64GB capacities or higher) they will be in the exFAT file system. FAT32 is limited to a maximum of a 32GB storage volume, so it will not have the option to format it in this file system on any storage drives larger than this.

After you plug your USB flash drive into your computer you are ready to copy and move files, format, or rename the drive. You can rename the drive by opening File Explorer and clicking on ‘This PC’ from the left pane. Then right click your USB drive and select rename. NTFS is the standard format for a Windows boot drive but external Windows exFAT or FAT32 allows you to use the USB drive on both Mac and Windows computers. You might want to keep the drive in exFAT or FAT32 so they will work with a Mac, however you can also format them into the NTFS file system. To format to NTFS open File Explorer and click on ‘This PC’ from the left pane. Then right click your USB drive and select format and NTFS but note that any data on the drive will be erased, so make sure you already have another copy.

If the USB flash drive was formatted for a Mac (AFS+) but you want to use it on a PC, you must format it into the exFAT, FAT32 or NTFS file system, but note that any data on the drive will be erased.

After you have formatted the USB drive it should be ready to go. You can view the contents by opening File Explorer and selecting your USB drive from the list in the left-hand panel.

How can I use the USB drive?

Once you can access the USB drive on your Windows computer, it can now be used like any other folder on your computer.

  • You can save documents straight to the USB drive.
  • You can copy files to and from the USB drive. (Please note that when copying files, the files will be duplicated).
  • You can also remove a file from your USB drive by dragging the file to the trash can. A dialog box should appear. Click yes to confirm that you want to permanently delete this file and free up storage on the USB drive. (If the dialog box doesn’t appear automatically; right click on the recycle bin, then properties, and tick the box ‘Display delete confirmation dialogue’.)

How to remove the USB drive?

When you have finished using the USB drive, it is important to properly remove the device from the Windows computer, to avoid damaging the files. You can do this either by clicking on the small arrow on the right-hand side of the taskbar, selecting the USB icon, and clicking ‘Eject’ in the popup menu for your desired USB or by right clicking the USB drive and selecting ‘Eject’.

External storage like USB drives and SSDs are a great way to transport your files, backup important documents, and give your Windows computer some extra space to run applications and play games.


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