This section shows you how to Format (Erase/Blank), Defragment and Error-Check a USB Flash (Memory) Drive. It also examples the Windows 10 speed up (ReadyBoost) feature and the Windows 10 exFat file system (first seen in Windows Vista) so that you can get more out of your flash drive.
To Format (Erase/Wipe/Blank) a USB Flash Drive begin by double clicking on the THIS PC desktop icon, so that you can see any available flash drive icons within its folder (window), and then right click on the icon of the Flash Drive you want to format (Fig 1.0). Doing so will bring up its context menu (Options menu) whereby you then need to select (left click on) its FORMAT menu-item (Fig 1.0). This in turn will bring up the Format window (Fig 1.1).
In this example I will be formatting the only flash drive available, which is called STORAGE. It was assigned the letter F by Windows 10 and has a capacity of 16 GB, although the flash drive and Windows 10 will use a little of that storage space for their own indexing purposes and so on; bringing the actual usable capacity down to 14.9 GB.
Fig 1.0 - Right click on a flash drive's icon and then select (left click on) its FORMAT menu-item
If a flash drive has not been renamed before it will probably be named after its manufacturer (i.e. Kingston or DanDisk) or be named Removable Disk. Either way, when the Format window appears (below) simply click on its START button to begin the formatting process.
Fig 1.1 - Click on the START button to begin the formatting process
To actually format a flash drive as it is, with its current settings, all you have to do is click on the START button (Fig 1.1 above). In this example the flash drive is currently formatted with the NTFS File System. A quick format will be performed on it (see explanation below).
A File System is the structure used to store and organize folders and files, and any data they contain, in such a way that they are easy to index, find and access. Windows 10 supports the following file systems - FAT (File Allocation Table), FAT32 (File Allocation Table 32bit), NTFS (New Technology File System) and exFAT (EXtended File Allocation Table, which is also known as FAT64). Basically, as the years and operating systems (versions of Windows) have gone by the file systems have become better, faster and can hold (index and access) more data. FAT and FAT32 are ideal for Windows 95, 98 and ME whereas NTFS is ideal for Windows 2000 and Windows XP, but exFAT is only ideal for Windows Vista (Service Pack 1 or higher), Windows 7 and Windows 10. Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 10 can also use the NTFS file system.
If you do not want to format a flash drive with the NTFS file system but want to format it with the exFAT file system or FAT32 file system instead, click on the FILE SYSTEM drop-down menu (Fig 1.2 below) and then select the file system you want to use. In this example I have chosen to format my flash drive with the exFAT file system.
When you have changed the File System and/or Volume Name, if need be, you then need to decide whether or not to perform a QUICK FORMAT or a FULL FORMAT. File systems store data information in two parts - The Header Data (Indexing/File Size/File Location/Etc Data) and the File Data itself (the data that makes up a Photo file for example). So if you store 20 mixed files on a flash drive (i.e. document, picture and video files) the Header Data has to index those files - Their individual file names, file sizes, locations, file type and so on.
A QUICK FORMAT only erases the Header Data, so that you can no longer view the files on that flash drive. However, they will still be recoverable by a recovery program simply because a recovery program can just reconstruct the Header Data for each hidden file and therefore make those hidden files viewable again - It will count the now hidden file data bytes for example, for each hidden file, in order to calculate their individual file sizes. After that it will use other techniques to reconstruct each file's location and so on. So if you want your files to be recoverable at a later stage, if you have not overwritten the flash drive space with other files by then, make sure the QUICK FORMAT option is ticked. Otherwise untick that option to perform a complete format (erasure) of the flash drive, which is more secure. Someone could get your flash drive out of the bin for example and recover its data.
To change the name of a flash drive simply enter its new name into the VOLUME LABEL edit box (Fig 1.3). In this example my flash drive is called STORAGE but I want it formatting with the case sensitive name of Storage. It does not have to be named Storage though. I could name it John, Templates, Photos, Important or whatever instead.
When you have changed the File System and/or Volume Name and/or QUICK FORMAT option, if need be, click on the START button to begin the formatting process for your flash drive.
Fig 1.2 - Select the file system you want the flash drive formatted with.....
Fig 1.3 - .....and rename the flash drive, if need be.
After clicking on the START button a message requester will appear (Fig 1.4 below) informing you that all data (folders and files) on the flash drive will be erased (formatted). If you are 100% sure you want to format the flash drive, and that there is no valuable data on the flash drive, click on the OK button to continue. Remember: A QUICK FORMAT will not erase all data, it will just hide it from you. A FULL FORMAT (QUICK FORMAT option unticked) will erase all data.
Fig 1.4 - Click on the OK button to continue
Fig 1.5 - The flash drive is being formatted with the exFAT File System
When the formatting is complete click on the OK button (Fig 1.6 below) and then close the Format window by clicking on its CLOSE button (Fig 1.7). If you changed the file system and/or volume name they will be noticed in the Format window and when you next look at the flash drive through the THIS PC folder (window) (Fig 2.0).
Fig 1.6 - The flash drive has been formatted.....
Fig 1.7 - .....with its new case sensitive name of Storage
To see the properties of the flash drive you have just formatted, and some of the tools you can use on that flash drive, simply right click over its icon again (within the THIS PC folder) and then select (left click on) the PROPERTIES menu-item from its context menu (Options menu). Doing so will bring up the Properties window (exFAT Fig 2.1 and NTFS Fig 2.2).
Fig 2.0 - Right click on a flash drive's icon and then select its PROPERTIES menu-item to continue
Fig 2.1 - A newly exFAT formatted flash drive
Fig 2.2 - A newly NTFS formatted flash drive
The Properties window in Fig 2.1 above displays the pie chart showing that the exFAT file system only needs 192KB (19.2% of 1 MegaByte) for its own requirements on a newly exFAT formatted flash drive whereas the NTFS file system (Fig 2.2) needs a huge 46.5 MegaBytes for its own requirements. So is exFAT better than NTFS? No! exFAT is exclusive to Windows 10, Windows 7 and Windows Vista (SP1 or higher) and as such it can not work with other Windows operating systems. exFAT is good though if you want a flash drive that is exclusively used with Windows 10, Windows 7 and Windows Vista (SP1 or higher) - It would be secure in the sense that the data on it could not be viewed/used by a Windows XP user for example. Also, exFAT was created for the flash drive in particular.
When a flash drive becomes old and worn, especially when it has been plugged in/out of a USB Socket on an internet cafe's computer, it is worth running the Error-Checking tool. This tool allows you to check, and repair if possible, flash drive errors to do with its file system and its physical hardware sectors. In this next example I will keep with the exFAT file system, even though many people will still be using the NTFS file system, because the tool works the same for both NTFS and exFAT. With flash drives in general it is best, if you can, to try and keep up-to-date with the latest technology by using a flash drive that is Windows 10 Ready (preferably manufactured after July 29 2015 - the Windows 10 release date). Saying this, it is more to do with Windows 10 rather than the flash drive, so even an earlier manufactured flash drive (i.e. manufactured after 26 October 2012 - Windows 8 release date) should work with these tools and these examples.
With the Properties window still open (Fig 2.1 above - 14.9 GB exFAT formatted flash drive), click on the Tools TAB (window) and then click on the CHECK button (below) to begin the error checking process. Doing so may bring up a UAC (User Account Control) security requester, depending on your security settings, whereby you need to click on its CONTINUE button in order to bring up the Error Checking window (Fig 2.4 below).
User Account Control (UAC) is a feature of Windows 10 that helps to prevent unauthorized changes to the computer, such as deleting a system file or checking hardware. When attempting to check hardware the UAC security requester above automatically blocks you off, because it wants to know if you are the one attempting to check the hardware and not a piece of malicious software for example. In this case simply click on the CONTINUE button to continue.
Fig 2.3 - Click on the CHECK button to continue
Fig 2.4 - Errors Found - Click on the REPAIR DRIVE button to continue
At this point Windows 10 has detected possible errors with the flash drive. I say possible because in this case, for this example only, I purposely pulled out (unplugged) the flash drive from its usb socket while photo files were being copied onto it. Something you should NEVER do. This has resulted in the above message. Simply click on the REPAIR DRIVE button to continue. Windows 10 will then look for possible file system and hardware sector errors to repair.
In cases like this where a flash drive has been unplugged while writing data to it the errors are normally file related and not normally physical damage; hence the word possible, meaning hardware errors (sector errors) should not be found. If the problem was physical (i.e. a hardware problem) Windows 10 would notify you in a different way (i.e. blue screen of death).
Fig 2.5 - Windows 10 is looking for possible file system and hardware sector errors to repair
Fig 2.6 - No file system or hardware sector errors were found on the flash drive
Depending on what type of error(s) Windows 10 thinks the flash drive has, it might notify you of possible errors via its notification center. In which case click on the notification message (below) and then click on the SCAN AND FIX button. This will take you to the Error Checking window (Fig 2.4 above) whereby you just follow the process above (Figures 2.4 to 2.6).
Fig 2.7 - Click on the notification (message) to continue
Fig 2.8 - Click on the SCAN AND FIX button to continue
Over time saving, deleting and moving data (folders and files) to/from a flash drive makes the data on that flash drive naturally fragment. For example: When a 1 MB file needs to be saved onto a flash drive the file system checks to see if there is 1 MB of space available. If there is, the 1 MB file is saved into that 1 MB space. And if there isn't, the 1 MB file must be split into pieces before being saved. It may need splitting into two ½ MB pieces and then saved into two separate ½ MB spaces or it may need splitting into four ¼ MB pieces and saved into four separate ¼ MB spaces. Either way, when the file is needed by some software the file system makes sure the file is put back together as a 1 MB file before the software can use it as a whole file. Hence why some files take ages to load, because they may be being put back together.
When you then delete a 2 MB file for example the 1 MB file, now split/stored in two ½ MB spaces for example, is not then suddenly put back together as one piece (1 MB) and then stored in the 2 MB space. It does not work that way. The 1 MB file is just left where it is, in two ½ MB spaces for example. The next file to be stored on the flash drive will be the file to utilise the 2 MB space.
By using the Defragment tool you can have all your data (folders and files), if possible, stored as whole files and not as split files. This is because the Defragment tool has the job of putting all the split files back together again and to store them as whole files, by reshuffling/reorganizing the space (i.e. move files from the end towards the beginning, thus creating a space at the end. The space at the beginning then contains reshuffled/reorganized whole files).
Unfortunately, at this time, the Defragment tool does not work with the exFAT file system, for whatever reason(s), therefore I will example the Defragment tool using the NTFS file system instead. With the TOOLS Tab (window) displayed click on the OPTIMISE button to continue. Depending on your system setup you might see a UAC (User Account Control) security requester appear whereby you should click on its CONTINUE button to begin the defragmentation process.
Fig 2.9 - Click on the OPTIMISE button to continue
After clicking on the OPTIMISE button, and maybe a uac CONTINUE button, the Disk Optimise Drives window will appear (below). It lists all the relevant devices on your computer that can be defragmented. Clicking on its OPTIMISE button will begin the process of defragmenting all of the devices in the list, which I assume is not what you want to do right now. This is because of the way OPTIMISE has been programmed. To get around this problem, or default behaviour, you must first select the flash drive (in this case) you want defragmenting before clicking on the OPTIMISE button. In this example I selected the Storage (F:) flash drive and then clicked on the OPTIMISE button to continue.
Fig 2.10 - Select the flash drive you want defragmenting and then click on the OPTIMISE button to continue
Fig 2.11 - Defragmenting the Storage (F:) flash drive
Fig 2.12 - The Storage (F:) flash drive has been defragmented
When the Optimise Drives window appears (Fig 2.10 above) you can ignore the Schedular side of things as Windows 10, or perhaps your Internet Security Software, will probably of already set this feature up for you (as is the case with Norton Internet Security), plus it is not a part of this manual defragmenting process. The scheduler is a separate task. If an Internet Security software has set up the Scheduler and even the Defrag/Optimise functions you will see the word OFF to the left of the TURN ON button; as opposed to ON and a CHANGE SETTINGS button. Anyway, when the defragmenting process has finished click on the CLOSE button (Fig 2.12 above).
ReadyBoost is a feature of Windows 10 that allows you to use a USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 Flash (Memory) Drive (of at least 256 MB) for additional disk caching (storage) purposes for your hard drive, in order to boost (speed up) Windows 10. In other words, if you do not have enough memory inside your computer you can use your flash drive to help Windows 10, by allowing it to store system data on your flash drive which in turn might ease the pressure on your natural memory and/or hard drive. NOTE WELL - ReadyBoost does NOT add any more memory to your natural memory - You will not gain any more memory. Once flash drive memory (flash memory) has been allocated for ReadyBoost's usage you cannot use that allocated memory for yourself.
Fig 2.13 - This flash drive is ReadyBoost compatible
In the above example I have allocated the recommended flash drive space of 15163 MB (15 GB), almost all of the flash drive's capacity, to ReadyBoost simply because flash drives are dirt cheap right now, but if the flash drive was 64 GB or more then I may consider allocating only half of its space to ReadyBoost. If you do not want to allocate all of your flash drive's memory to ReadyBoost simply move the SPACE TO RESERVE slider button leftwards/rightwards until you get to the MB Amount you want to allocate.
Setting up ReadyBoost is fairly straight forward. Begin by formatting your flash drive with either the NTFS or exFAT file system and then open up its Properties > ReadyBoost Tab (window). From there Windows 10 will let you know if you have a ReadyBoost compatible flash drive or not. As each day passes more and more flash drives are being made with ReadyBoost support. By default (normal behaviour) ReadyBoost is disabled (DO NOT USE THIS DEVICE), so to switch it on click on the radio (circle) button next to the option USE THIS DEVICE and then either click on the APPLY button to apply the option, which is good if you still need the Properties window open, or click on the OK button to apply the option and then exit the Properties window.
There are other tools you can use with a flash drive, for example the Quota tool that allows you to set a limit (quota) for each user of the flash drive, the Sharing tool and the Backup tool, but these other tools are either never used by the absolute beginner or are too complex. Why backup the flash drive for example when it is easier just to Copy & Paste its content into the Documents folder, onto a CD or even onto another Flash Drive!