The Three Flash Drives You Need to Have

As the resident PC doctor, I usually carry several flash drives with me wherever I go. I’d like to share with you the various purposes of these drives.

  1. The Mule     Data storage

This drive will always be blank, and serve as a file store for data that will inevitably need to be backed up.

Usually, I only carry two drives, omitting this one, opting to either bring an external drive if I’m expecting to back up, or to tell the user I’ll take care of it later (or that backing up is their problem) if it comes up in the troubleshooting process.

  2. The Setter Operating System Installers

This drive consists of Windows and Unix installers made bootable using YUMI.

Due to the fact that Windows often needs to be re-installed, or at least have the repair install (or some tools on it) ran, it’s prudent to keep a flash drive with a Windows installer on it. I managed to use Vlite and a standard Windows 7 installation disk to drop about 4GB of files on my flash drive that allow me to repair any Windows 7 or Vista install (though the only true repair for Vista is to remove it and install 7 instead). There are files on the internet with “all in one” Windows installers that will provide you with every version (including server) back to XP. The aforementioned program can be run on these files as well, and unneeded installations weeded out to reduce the 16GB all-in-one installer to closer to 12. I’m afraid you’ll need to find a way to get your hands on your own Windows installers, though ripping them right off the disks is a direct way of going about it, and (as far as I know) perfectly legal as long as you’re not distributing.

As I keep my installers on a 16GB drive, typically I include Ubuntu and Damn Small Linux installers as well. For a bootable USB that will handle all of these installers, I recommend downloading YUMI, which will automate most of the process, including downloading the latest Ubuntu and DSL files (though I recommend grabbing the former via torrent).

There are two other potential advantages to this method: First, installing Windows from a flash drive will speed up the installation process. All in all, Windows 7 SP1 takes about twenty minutes from POST to desktop. Second, you can dynamically add and modify an unattended Windows installation file. I never did get the Vlite menu option to generate a decent one, but tutorials for that can be found online (protip: you shouldn’t need to download the nearly 2GB kit from Microsoft).

  3. The Swede Toolkit

This is my toolkit flash. My three main recommendations for a toolkit are Hiren’s Boot, Ninite, and Portable Apps. I’ll leave a brief explanation here. For a more in-depth write-up, see my Flash Drive Toolkit Article.

You’re pretty much on your own where Hiren’s is concerned. It’s easy enough to find, if you know where to look. There’s a plethora of useful programs in there, most of which are safe to open and look at, as long as you don’t perform any actions with them without knowing what they do. The reason I can’t go into much detail is because the sprinkling of paid programs distributed illegally with the Hiren’s disk make it technically, well, illegal. If you own copies of those programs, or remove them from your copy, it’s safe to own and use. But the fact that every Hiren’s distribution I’ve run across includes them makes it illegal to distribute.

Ninite is an automatic program downloader. Here is a link to the installer I normally put on computers I work on. It outfits them with everything they’ll need to run most file types, a few editors, and TeamViewer for remote diagnostics.

Portable Apps is a collection of programs designed to be run from the flash drive. A list of the apps I use is in my Flash Drive Toolkit Article.

  Bonus 1: Chromium

Chromium is the operating system running on Google’s ChromeBooks.  It’s essentially a bootable version of Google Chrome. Just Google Chrome. You can sign in, access your bookmarks, the web, etc. Compared with a bootable Ubuntu or DSL stick, it’s pretty limited, but it has its uses. If you have an old USB lying around that’s between 1 and 2 GB, Chromium makes a pretty great thing to be able to throw at someone complaining their computer won’t work, they can’t access the internet, etc. You can just throw it at them, say “Here, use this.”, and shake your head contemptuously when they ask you what their WiFi password was again.

Here is the easiest installation link I’ve found for USB bootable Chromium.

  Bonus 2: One Drive To Rule Them All

While I very highly recommend against this, with a large enough drive, it is possible to have an ultimate toolkit on a single flash drive. You’ll need to work your way around the grub menu editor (using a text editor such as Notepad++), but a bootable drive that handles all of the above is entirely attainable. The trick is mushing the Hiren’s menu into the menu generated by YUMI, and getting the paths correct, which typically takes some guesswork.