How to Make a Slow USB Flash Drive Faster

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Posted on July 17, 2008 11:13 PM in Computers
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

Because I've currently got Lando hooked up to my home network via a wireless USB dongle, it can be very time-consuming to transfer files larger than a gigabyte over from my main computer. To work around the problem, I ordered an 8GB Kingston DataTraveler 100 USB flash drive from Newegg.com.

The drive arrived in the mail today, so when I got home I started copying a 2GB file over. I immediately noticed that when it came to copying files over, the thing was slow as goats. I had read something to that effect when reading some of the reviews on Newegg.com, but over 20 minutes to copy over 2GB of data? Really?

Since I also remembered reading about the drive's default FAT32 file system, I started looking up how to convert the drive to NTFS, which just so happens to be the same file system in use on my main computer and Lando, since they are running Windows XP and Vista, respectively. What I found was a semi-legible video about how to convert a flash drive from FAT32 to NTFS. Rather than making you learn a new hybrid of English in order to figure it out, here are the steps I followed to accomplish the task:

  1. Delete all files from the drive.
  2. Go to My Computer and right-click on the flash drive, choosing Properties from the context menu.
  3. In the window that appears, click on the Hardware tab.
  4. Find the flash drive in the list of devices, click on it once and then hit the Properties button.
  5. In the new dialog, click on the Policies tab.
  6. Select the "Optimize for performance" option if it isn't selected already and hit OK.
  7. Hit OK again to get out of the original Properties dialog.
  8. Go to My Computer and right-click on the flash drive again, this time choosing the Format option from the context menu.
  9. In the subsequent dialog, choose the NTFS file system from the dropdown.
  10. Select the Quick Format option.
  11. Hit OK and wait as your flash drive is formatted with the new file system.
  12. When the final dialog appears, letting you know that the drive has been formatted, you're good to go.

After following the steps above, it was readily apparent when trying to transfer files to and from the drive that it was much faster. Note that the steps above are written from the perspective of a Windows XP machine, but they likely aren't too different on a Vista machine. Either way, I've noticed the speed increase on both machines, so I'm much happier with my new USB flash drive now.

Comments

Claudio Carrazana on July 24, 2008 at 9:10 PM:

Sorry, but is not faster when you convert your Flash Drive to NTFS, I thought the same but using TERACOPY i could check speed and it was 1MB/s slower, There is a problem i still cant understand, I copied a 700 MB .avi movie to my Flash Voyager 2 GB, just after i formated my PC it lasted around 40 seconds to do it, this is around 18 MB/s transfer, some weeks later, after i used my PC and its USB ports i did it again, and now it last 1:40 seconds to copy the same file to the same Flash Drive, now it is working at 7 MB/s, i dont know whats the problem, i have been investigating all this week, im using Windows XP Professional, i readed about Windows 2000 doesnt have this problem, and readed too about VISTA has a worse problem with USB transfers, but my External 750GB USB HDD doesnt have problems at all, it is working around 35 MB/s (280 Mbits/s) so it is ok, i think this is a USB drivers problem, i cant understand, i swear my Flash Voyager 2GB was working at 18MB/s and now just 5 MB/s. I have another PC in my apartment in other state, it was working 18MB/s too, i will travel this week and i will test it again to see if it continue copying at 18MB/s.
Thanks for the Info
Claudio

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chris on August 12, 2008 at 5:33 PM:

Yeah, this doesn't help with the speed issue at all. Thanks though.

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Bernie Zimmermann on August 12, 2008 at 7:37 PM:

Sorry to hear it didn't help you out, Chris.

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Zahir on October 18, 2008 at 6:40 PM:

On the contrary, I read many times and this was based on tests that Fat32 is the fastest file system for flash drives.

NTFS is the slowest.

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Peter Smithson on November 28, 2008 at 3:57 AM:

There's a guy who's done various speed tests. He finds NTFS to be faster too -

http://www.msfn.org/board/FAT16-FAT32-NTFS-speed-t125116.html

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fadi shaya on January 26, 2009 at 4:18 AM:

Dear

still the same I just waste my time to check anyways

thanks

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Elusion on February 21, 2009 at 2:43 PM:

all i have to say is. NTFS doesn't improve shit! especially on a Jump drive. At first I thought it was me, but then I realized NTFS permissions / security would take forever on a 16GB jump drive. formatted back to FAT32 and OMG is this thing lightning fast! moral of the story dont fiddle with ntfs on your usb jump drive, especially 16GB. or else a 300meg file will take 55 minutes, VS seconds. I am very shocked FAT32 is faster but who cares I now know better not to mess with ntfs on jump drives. if NTFS was faster dont you think companies would ship usb thumb drives as ntfs.??? haha

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katzmandu on March 05, 2009 at 10:23 AM:

I think there are other tunables, too, other than just which filesystem format is used. I know when tuning large storage arrays for databases, we care about things like RAID stripe size and filesystem block size (or allocation size as it is referred to in DOS.) I changed my slow 16GB drive to FAT32 and it was faster. Also changed the allocation unit to 32bytes which is very high, but helps with the speed on transfers of LARGE files. I need to reformat and go back to 8k or something, though. The default for NTFS and FAT32 is 512 bytes.

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Patrick on March 16, 2009 at 5:56 PM:

Right click the flash drive click format then choose the settings that best fit your needs

Patrick out!!!

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Q on April 06, 2009 at 1:21 AM:

thx

This solved my problem (on vista)

1Mbyte/s ---> 30 - 50 Mbyte/sec

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Rusman on April 20, 2009 at 3:47 AM:

Some windows OS'es will, by default, set the USB device to be optimized for quick removal. This slows the transfers WAY down.

Right Click My Computer and select Manage
Under the Storage heading, select Disk Management (Note, your USB Device has to be plugged in)
Right click on the USB Device (should show up as Disk # - Removeable - ####MB - Online) and select Properties
On Properties screen select the USB Flash Drive and select Properties
On Policies Tab, change it to Optimize for Performance

Found via this site: http://thebackroomtech.com/2008/09/29/howto-fix-slow-usb-20-file-transfer-on-windows-xp/

Before this change, a 900MB file took over 4 minutes. After this change, it took about 30 seconds!!!!

I have a feeling that the blogger's system changed this setting when the format to NTFS was done.

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Rusman on April 20, 2009 at 3:51 AM:

Note to the above, one one of my systems, when I made this change, the device disappeared from the Disk Management list. After rescanning the disks, it came back.

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ZJ on July 13, 2009 at 5:44 PM:

I just tried this and it took an hour copy and cut it down to about 5 minutes. Don't know wether it was the NTFS or "optimize for performance". Thanks much!!!

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Daniel on July 21, 2009 at 3:11 PM:

I think that (by default) NTFS does delayed writes on a flash drive, FAT32 doesn't. I.e. with NTFS it looks like your files have been copied to the flash drive, but the copy continues to be done in the background for a longer time. If you pull out your flash drive during this time the data will be missing or corrupted.

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Ram on August 26, 2009 at 6:23 AM:

Thankx

This worked , for my flash drive in vista

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Dave on September 23, 2009 at 12:22 PM:

I don't understand it. Flash technology has the ability to go pretty darn fast, why do manufacturers make some so freakin slow?? And don't say the cost, because if they invest a little extra cost to make it fast I will buy again. If the drive is slow, I will never buy it again. In the end they are losing customers.

and another thing, I got this:
Before submitting your comment, you did not select the box stating that you hate spam. No comment for you!

What? I thought this was another way of asking if I didn't want a newsletter from you. I love "spam" when I get it.

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macintosh on November 04, 2009 at 10:54 AM:

FAT32 is really the best format for usb flash , u can use it in windows and osx , but this is not problem anymore when u got on osx ntfs-3g
but i still prefer to fat32

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RAUDEL on December 06, 2009 at 7:11 PM:

ALL USB LOSE SPEEDS AFTER THEY BEGIN FILLING UP

WHEN SPACE IS LOST
PERFORMANCE IS LOST
1: WINDOWS NEEDS TO FIND SPACE FOR THE FILES YOUR ADDING SINCE IT IS SORTA FULL IT NEEDS TO KEEP SEARCHING=LONGER STARTING TIME

2: USB 2.0 AND 1.0 AFFECT SPEEDS GREATLY

3: TRY THIS GET THE USB BACKUP FILES
FORMAT IT
THEN GET A HUGE FILE THAT IS NOT A SUPPORTED FILE TYPE AND TRANSFER LOOK AT THE SPEEDS COMPARE TO IT WHEN FULL

4: WHEN TRANSFERRING IF WINDOWS SUPPORTS THE FILE TYPE THERE ARE A FEW RULES IT FOLLOWS TO ENSURE THAT THE FILE IS NOT DAMGED WHILE TRANSFERING
5: THIS IS TRUE

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Elmue on December 16, 2009 at 7:39 AM:

Hello

There is no need to delete all data on the stick just to convert the filesystem to NTFS (which makes it much much faster!)

In a DOS Box enter: (tested on Windows XP)

Convert K: /FS:NTFS
if the USB stick is connected as driver K:

If it tells you that you must reboot the PC, try it again immediatley after rebooting. For me it worked the second time. ALL data will remain on the stick after conversion! And the performance was MUCH better than before with FAT32.

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Elmue on December 16, 2009 at 7:55 AM:

Ahhh.
And soem meore notes:
1.)
NTFS is definitely MUCH faster.

While for you the transmission to the memory stick seems to have already finished, the driver keeps on writing to the USB stick invisible in the background the data he has in his cache. So you don't have to hang around waiting. It happens invisible for you.

This means: don't just pull out your memorystick immedienately after writing to it ! You wil have data corruption!
Instead use the Windows functionality to eject USB devices which will flush the cache.

If you did not write anything, just have read data, it doesn't matter: you can pull it out without ejecting it.

Another advantage of NTFS is that it is fail save. It is much more secure than FAT which should not be used anymore today. See Wikipedia for more information about NTFS!

Another point:
Many Memory sticks that say Kingston are not Kingston! They are chinese copies of bad quality with less memory and less performance than the real ones from Kingston!
So dont blame it on Kingston if you bought a fake!

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JG on February 05, 2010 at 7:20 PM:

See post above: Rusman on April 20, 2009 at 3:47 AM

That's the fix! Not NTFS. I tried both, NTFS made no difference (note, Windows 7 displays the actual transfer speed).

Before the change suggested by Rusman, I was getting 3MB/sec or less; now it's consistent 30-40MB/sec!

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Hs on February 12, 2010 at 10:24 AM:

speed is indeed increased..............thanks
using:
4gb usb, OS-xp

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NoGuts-NoGold on February 15, 2010 at 8:53 AM:

I 2nd; Russman's post worked for me-using Win7.

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DanielHurry on February 28, 2010 at 9:14 AM:

This worked wonders.
Went from transferring a 260mb folder from 415kb/s to 2.5mb/s

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Volodymyr on May 29, 2010 at 11:27 AM:

I use FastCopy free programm by H.Shirouzu from my 16Gb flash drive TakeMS. This solved all my problems and solve yours also.

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Jingsun on August 26, 2010 at 2:46 AM:

I was tried all these ways, but cannot solve my problem with my Trenscan 8GB USB, very very slow copy and transfer just Ms Office 2007 take 56 minutes to completed. It may damage of broken soon my USB???
i hope will get any suggestion for this problem.

Thanks.

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myers on October 10, 2010 at 1:21 PM:

NTFS really did improve my speeds...


from a FAT32 at 4mb/s max - 35mb/s with NTFS

cheers

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sujay on November 24, 2010 at 6:24 AM:

I used FastCopy free programm by H.Shirouzu from my 16Gb Transcend flash drive .

This solved all my problems.

I tried to format it to NTFS but was in vain.

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Elf on January 09, 2011 at 8:51 PM:

Hello. I have this same problem with a 16Gb flash drive I just bought. No problem at all with my 8Gb or 1TB drives,they are still way fast. It's only this 16Gb one. I tried all the above suggestions,checking that performance box in Policies,converting to NTFS,etc...none of which made any difference at all,still exactly the same,hopelessly slow copy speeds. If the 1TB external drive and the 8Gb flash drive will copy a hundred times faster,I don't understand...are there any other ideas?

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Rachel on February 26, 2011 at 6:55 AM:

Just done that, but can't see significant speed change :-(

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Priyabrata on April 24, 2011 at 9:35 PM:

This works fine.my kingston pen drive which transfer[send] data @ 1.8mbps previously now sending 4.2mbps and sometimes 3mbps

thanks dude

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Vinayak on May 31, 2011 at 9:36 AM:

See people ,NTFS is designed for large disks (300+) and it works fast only on that condition.Fat is best for small disks.

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dae on June 21, 2011 at 5:59 AM:

unfortunately, NTFS doesnt work for me. At first i thought it worked as it gain speed but after a while, it reduces the speed and MAKE ME STRESS! not only that, when it comes to "5 seconds left", it seems to not stop transferring even though it takes more than 5 sec (keep on rolling my eyes but still not done!) when it FINALLY done, i feel like giving up transferring for other movie file! feel the heat?? LOL!
I've tried both NTFS and FAT32 but non of these help.
FAT32 make 30 mins transferring for just 700MB. How sick is that??!? :D
4g pen drive*

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Mohsin on June 29, 2011 at 10:10 AM:

its work properly............!
thnx dude....................!

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nn6o on July 15, 2011 at 2:48 PM:

This thread is old, but there is a danger involved...


*** DO NOT ENABLE "OPTIMIZE FOR PERFORMANCE" ON USB CONNECTED DRIVES ***


Not unless you absolutely know how this works. There is a high risk of data corruption if you're not aware of the caveats of this option.

"Optimize for performance" enables write caching for the drive - Windows will cache the write data so control can return to programs faster. In other words, the data is temporarily stored in RAM so the "Saving/Copying/etc" message disappears quicker so you can get on to other things. However, this does *NOT* mean the Windows is finished writing the USB drive - it is still sending data to the drive at the speed supported by the drive. If the drive has a 10MB/s write rate, then Windows can only send the data at 10MB/s, no faster. So, Windows basically stores all the data that needs to be written in RAM and then slowly sends the data to the USB drive as fast as it will accept it.

You'll notice that the drive activity light on the USB drive is still active even though the copy/save says it's finished. This is because Windows is still writing the data to the drive from the cache in the background. If you disconnect the USB drive at this point, you'll corrupt whatever was being transferred at that moment and possibly the directory structure if the directory was being updated at that time. If you've done this in the past, you can check the System Event Log and you'll find disk write errors to the USB drive.

Heed the warning on the linked page on how to enable this option. You absolutely *NEED* to use the "Safely Remove Hardware" function before disconnecting any drive where this performance option is enabled. Yes, this means if you're copying a 2GB's of data, it will still take as long as it did before this option was enabled. It may seem like just 20 seconds or so, but when you hit "Safely remove hardware", you'll noticed it'll take a while before you get the OK to remove prompt as Windows finishes writing all the data. Also, don't shutdown/sleep/hibernate Windows until after you've safely removed the USB drive.

As for the original blog entry about slow writes, most inexpensive Flash drives these days are using MLC Flash components. The typical write rate is 7 - 10 MBp/s. For faster writes, there are "performance" Flash drives (such as Corsair's Voyager GT and OCZ's Rally drives) that utilize multiple read/write channels (much like RAID-0).

And, over time, Flash drive write rates will slow down. It's the same problem faced on SSD drives - writes can only be done in an empty block. If the block has data, the entire block needs to be read, erased, and re-written even if you're just updating one byte (that's 3 cycles to write a non-empty block). In the past, some SSD vendors offered an app to erase unused blocks to boost performance. Today, most SSD drives support "TRIM". Operating Systems that support TRIM (Such as Win7) will perform the erase operation in the background. Unfortunately, Flash drives don't (and can't) support TRIM. If you search around, you'll find some articles on how to improve write performance on degraded Flash drives (essentially, you reset all bits on the flash drive to 1).

Sorry for the long post - had to make sure the warning was understood.


- nn6o

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M on July 25, 2011 at 8:42 PM:

Thank you nn60 for your clarification regarding speed differences - you just made all the other posts irrelevant, and your caution, unlike so many warnings these days, is actually important.

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Sloth on October 23, 2011 at 11:52 PM:

Thanks for the tip, this sped my flash drive from 5mb/s to 35mb/s. Cheers mate

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Chris Scott on December 04, 2011 at 4:27 AM:

This worked perfectly for me. I deal with 2gb to 5gb files and my 16gb USB stick all of sudden started to send at a painfully almost suicide inducing 150Kb/s....yes thats Kb!! I did what you said and all of a sudden I am getting 45Mb/s!!! I am amazed!!!
One thing to note is when you set it to performance mode you CANNOT just remove the stick, you have to click on safely remove hardware in the notification area, but I did this anyway.

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Fr4zer on February 20, 2012 at 5:53 AM:

This definitely works. I tried both ways and the first was FAT32 with Quick Removal and it went slowly at 4mb/s and took 4 minutes to transfer a 795mb file. I then changed it to NTFS and Better Performance mode and the same file went at first at 45mb/s and then dropped to 18mb/s, 10mb/s and then finally 8mb/s. It never dropped below 8mb/s and the file transferred in 1 minute compared to 4 minutes. I'm sticking with this mode as it clearly works, for me anyway. Thanks for the tip :-)

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Faiz Saleem on March 16, 2012 at 12:19 PM:

This can't actually work. If your PC is copying files to the USB at ~10MB/s, that's probably the best you'll do, because the max speed of your USB is probably the same. Enabling write caching, as nn60 correctly said, just gives the illusion that writing is being faster by continuing copying in the background. Your USB will be as equally as fast/slow. BTW, anyone wanting a faster/better USB should check out exFAT, a better alternative to FAT32, which was introduced from Windows Vista, and works on Mac OS X 10.6.8 onwards.

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Inspire on May 22, 2012 at 7:14 AM:

I can say only that my 4 GB flash drive with FAT32 mode copied 3.33 GB file in 7 min, but with NTFS - in 3.43 min.

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BIG MARCUS on May 23, 2012 at 5:14 PM:

Just wanted to chime in on this VERY helpful and IMPORTANT issue...

My OS: Windows Ultimate 7 (Alchemy) 32

The option to "Optimize For Performance" did absolutely NOTHING for my 32g Kingston 2.0 Flash Drive! In fact I believe it got slower!!!
When I formatted it from FAT32 to NTFS it got worse!
WTF???
Example: 1.6g file initially says "45 sec to copy" then all of sudden start increasing the time to 6 min!!!
HELP!!!

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aren on July 11, 2012 at 12:48 AM:

thx

This solved my problem

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elt on August 11, 2012 at 10:57 AM:

thanks

my usb drive used to pause all the time on this one specific computer (running xp) and after I set to NFTS with 512bytes it doesnt!

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Shan on September 02, 2012 at 2:21 PM:

NTFS changed music file transfers from hours to minutes. Worth starting over with FORMAT (NTFS).

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mike on February 13, 2013 at 1:48 AM:

Absolutly brilliant cheers mate those lt have no idea NTFS is the fastest you donks thank you for that im much more cheerfull today cos its been the Bane of my existance
thank you

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zoltan on March 16, 2013 at 3:21 PM:

OK .. let me see if I get this straight from all of the posts above.
In order not to see a file copy speed go from 24MB/s to 4MB/s on 1 GB file transfer, the thumb drive performance should be set for Quick Removal instead of Performance (data loss possible) .. and formatted for NTFS instead of FAT32 .. and in order to refresh the thumb drive, when there is no data on it, I should WIPE it by writing 1's to it, then reload the data?? Is that right?

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Noh on March 21, 2014 at 6:28 AM:

PLEASE HELP..
OS:7
PENDRIVE: 8gb FAT32
PROBLEM: SLOW RATE 100-200KBPS WUT THE HECKKK!!!
ACTION: WINDOWS UNABLE TO FORMAT TO NTFS OR EXFAT32
ALREADY TRIED BY CMD TO CONVERT BUT ALSO FAILED
SOLUTION: HELPPPPP
REWARD: THANKS A ZILLIONN

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Ali on May 01, 2014 at 1:06 PM:

Damn, this is crazy, after applying this, I got 45 Mbps reading spead, I copied 2 gig from my flash to PC by 3 seconds !!

this is very useful but the problem you need to prepare the flash for safely eject each time you plug it out...

Thank you,

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