Speed up thumb drives and boost performance

Enable write caching to speed up thumb drives

Thumb drive

If you use a thumb drive you will have noticed that compared to a disk drive, and especially an SSD, it is slow to access. There is a way to increase the performance and get better read and write speeds on Windows.

Thumb drives, pen drives, USB flash memory sticks, or whatever you want to call them, are slow. They are especially slow when writing to them, such as when copying files using Explorer. They just don’t have the write speed of an internal disk drive, and SSDs are in a different league.

Some thumb drives are faster than others and when buying one, you should look at the performance offered and, if you are going to be using it a lot, it is best to choose a high performance one. You may see the speed quoted as 100 MB/s or more and obviously the higher the number, the faster it is. Also USB 3 thumb drives are faster than USB 2 ones because of the high speed interface.

One reason for the slow speed compared to an internal SSD or even a disk drive is because Windows plays safe with them. A thumb drive can be yanked out at any time and if files are being written to it, they could be corrupted. An internal drive has no such problems because they cannot be removed.

By using a slightly riskier setting, it is possible to increase the write speed of the device (writing is usually much slower than reading).

Windows 10 will be used in this guide, but it applies to Windows 7 and 8 too.

Manage the computer

Open an Explorer window and find This PC on the left (older versions of Windows have a slightly different name). Right click it and select Manage on the menu.

  Manage the computer in Windows

Computer Management

The Computer Management window opens. Select Disk Management on the left, underneath Storage. On the right are all the disks, partitions, and thumb drives.

Ignore the text listing in the top half of the window. The bottom half shows the disks. In this PC Disk 0 is the internal disk drive and it has several partitions. Disk 1 is the thumb drive. If you aren’t sure, just check the size. This 32GB thumb drive – Disk 1 – has 29.82GB of space (you never get the full amount).

Right click the thumb drive, Disk 1 in this case. Do not click the drive in the list at the top and do not click on the right. You have to right click where it says Disk 1 (or whatever your drive is).

Select Properties on the menu.

 Windows Computer Management

Device properties

In the Properties window that opens, select the Policies tab. In the Removal policy section at the top, Quick removal is the default and is selected. Click the option below, Better performance.

In the lower half of the window is Write-caching policy. You can try ticking Enable write caching on the device, but not all devices support it. Don’t worry if it cannot be used, the Better performance option works with everything and it provides a nice speed increase. Click OK to close the window.

 Write caching options in Windows

Safely eject thumb drives

What we have turned on is write caching. This means that when files are saved to the thumb drive, the task appears to be finished and you can immediately get on with other tasks on the computer. While you carry on and do other tasks, Windows works in the background writing those files to the thumb drive.

It means that you don’t have to wait around for all the files to be written to the thumb drive, so it appears to be faster. The risk comes with thinking all your files are saved to the thumb drive and pulling it out. You might remove it before all the files have been written.

This could corrupt files and to avoid this you must now eject the thumb drive. Go to the right side of the taskbar, click the up arrow to open the tray of icons, click the thumb drive icon and select Eject xxx (whatever the name of the device is).

In a second or two a message appears in the bottom right corner of the screen to tell you all the files have been written and it is safe to remove the thumb drive.

 Eject a thumb drive

Whether you use this performance booster is up to you. I’ve seen people pull out thumb drives without ejecting them and have no problems at all, but it is best not to risk it.

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