6. Have Your USB Cry For Help If Lost
Daily Cup of Tech's flash-drive recovery files allow a "please return me" message like this to pop up when it's mounted.
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I haven't lost a USB drive yet -- knock wood -- but it makes sense to have countermeasures in place if that happens. Aside from encryption to keep the data itself from being swiped, it helps to have some way to get the drive back into your hands.
To that end, the folks over at Daily Cup of Tech created a quick-and-dirty set of files that can be extracted into the root directory of a flash drive to automatically allow a message to pop up when the drive is mounted. The files in the archive are just examples; they need to be edited by the user to be relevant. They've also created a sequel of sorts -- a graphical splash screen that provides even more feedback. If AutoPlay is disabled on the computer in question, there's also a plain-Jane text file that can tip off a user.
If you're leery of putting any obvious personal information on the drive -- address, phone number, etc. -- consider tagging it with a label from StuffBak. StuffBak labels are made from the same hard-to-tamper-with material as corporate IT asset tags, and feature a serial ID that allows a Good Samaritan to return the item to you without ever knowing you personally. The ID can also be used in conjunction with the above technique, too.
7. Completely Erase A Computer
Before refurbishing a computer and sending it out to a friend, one of the first things I do is wipe it down completely. Maybe it's paranoia, but the last thing I want is to discover that something personal ended up floating around on the far fringes of a hard drive I gave away. To accomplish that, I keep Darik's Boot and Nuke on a small USB key -- it's slightly more convenient than keeping it on a CD, especially if the system in question no longer has a CD drive. For professional-level wiping, there's EBAN, which also wipes RAID arrays and multiple drives at once.
8. Turn Any USB Drive Into A ReadyBoost Drive
Vista users ought to be familiar with ReadyBoost, where the user can plug in a USB drive and have Windows use it as a read-ahead cache for commonly accessed files. Not all USB drives work with ReadyBoost, though; there's a minimum speed requirement, both reading and writing, that a USB drive has to meet before it can be considered suitable for ReadyBoost.
If you plug in a drive and look in its "Properties | ReadyBoost" menu and it reports "This device does not have the required performance characteristics for speeding up your system," then the drive has failed the speed test. The drive's details are then stored in the Registry for future reference, so each drive doesn't have to be retested every time it's plugged in.
As you might have guessed by now, the trick here is to edit the performance information for the relevant drive and fool Vista into thinking the drive is, in fact, up to snuff. Over at the GetUSB.Info site, there’s a tutorial for how to do this, which assumes knowledge of Registry editing and some understanding of how to interpret the data stored there.
Keep in mind that this trick may actually make performance worse if you're using it in conjunction with a drive that has a mixture of fast and slow flash memory, or which is just plain slow, period.