Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Put your thumb drive to work (updated)

I often use a specially configured USB “thumb drive” as my portable PC repair kit, and use it as an alternative to a “boot CD”. I have made it “bootable” and loaded it with useful tools and repair applications (like an antivirus scanner). It has come in handy, from time to time. With the price of these drives being as affordable as they are, there’s really no reason you cannot have a portable PC repair kit (on a stick) too.

Tip of the day: Making yourself a toolkit-on-a-stick requires a couple of steps; first you must format it to make it bootable, and then you must load it with the tools and applications you think you will need — if the thumb drive you’re planning to use is small (say, 512MB), you will want to get the “portable”, or “Lite”, versions of these programs if they’re available.

1) Make the drive bootable. The geekier (remember, I use “geek” as a compliment!) of you out there may be already familiar with the DOS utilty FDISK, and if you are and you still have a Windows 98 Install CD (or a Win 95 boot floppy) laying around, you can format the drive using the format /s command as outlined here.
If that doesn’t fit your description, or you are going to use a larger thumb drive, I suggest you download and run (it is a Wizard, so you just follow the prompts) a tool offered by HP (the HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool), which should do the work for you: get it here.

2) Now that your thumb drive can be used to boot a machine, it’s time to load it up with some useful programs and utilities. I started with the DOS tools FDISK, scandisk, and format. There is some debate amongst my fellow Tech Support-types as to which utilities are “must have’s” (but we all agree on some version of antivirus and anti-spyware) and I’m not going to trouble you with that. Instead, I’m going to point you towards today’s free link (below) and a wonderful pre-made suite of very handy portable applications, and suggest the addition of (my previously mentioned) HiJack This!

If you used the copy-the-system-files method (the “format /s”) you will already have chkdsk and fdisk and a few others.. or if not, these can be added. If you are not going to install Portable Apps, I suggest you do install Portable Firefox (or similar Web browser) so that you can access the Internet, for downloading device drivers.

To make it more of a “repair kit” you can add: a Registry cleaner/fixer, such as CCleaner and or AMUST Registry Cleaner, Process Explorer, and another anti-spyware like Spybot Search&Destroy.

Click here to read my article on the steps for installing programs on thumb drives.

Today’s free link: Portable This collection of portable application runs completely from the USB thumb drive. It has a Webbrowser, word processor, antivirus and more. Get started on the road to thumb drive power here.
[Update: Bill Mullins has brought to my attention a program for running apps on your thumbdrive that seems superior to others I have mentioned. To read his review, click here.]

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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June 28, 2007 - Posted by | advice, anti-spyware, antivirus, BIOS, computers, hardware, how to, PC, tech, thumb drives, Uncategorized, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. the hp wizard isn’t working becuase it takes forever the windows(vista) sais that it is not responding


    Comment by Dan | October 29, 2007 | Reply

  2. Dan,
    The HP tool does not, in fact, work on all models of thumb drives, you may need to try it on a different drive.

    Also, in Vista you need to ensure the app is run “As an administrator”. My article on how to do that is,

    And it is particularly important that you pay carefull attention to the choices and selections you make at each step in the wizard– an errant selection could have it trying to format your hard-drive!
    I hope this helps.


    Comment by techpaul | October 29, 2007 | Reply

  3. Thank you for the help did good


    Comment by mac | March 9, 2008 | Reply

  4. Dear Paul, I got a question from you. Have you heard of macecraft regsupreme and what’s wrong just only using CCleaner’s Registry cleaner/fixer?


    Comment by Asha | March 21, 2009 | Reply

    • Asha–
      I am familiar with Macecraft’s Jv16 suite of Windows optimization tools, PowerTools. This is not a bad option for people at all, but I don’t personally use it. (Please see,

      I am not a big fan of Registry “optimizers”, and side with those in the debate that say they accomplish nothing tangible (at best). I only use Reg tools when I have performed a manual malware removal. If and when I am asked to recommend one, I recommend Ccleaner as it has a good record for being non-aggressive and ‘safe’. I also recommend that users create a Registry backup and Restore Point before using any Registry tool.

      This topic has come up in a number of my articles, so I am kind of wondering why you posted this question on this one… My Search tool searches all my articles by keyword.


      Comment by techpaul | March 21, 2009 | Reply

  5. Paul, I am an independent computer tech myself and find the problem of removing infections from computer growing at an exponential rate. A question for you. I have a USB plug in adapter which will hold both a desktop and laptop hard drive in it. My thought was to format the drives and install Win 7 on them and then to load the programs I usually use for removing viruses, spyware, malware, etc. Because I make many housecalls for infected computer which are totally locked up (even in safe mode) my thought was to plug my external USB drive holder into the infected computer and use this device to scan the infected computer in order to remove the infections if possible. Does this idea provide an additional flexibility than your thumb drive suggestion? Your comments are truly appreciated and you are a tremendous help to all of us out here in the field who work alone! Thanks.


    Comment by Ron Vukas | February 11, 2010 | Reply

    • Ron Varkas,
      While I certainly see the merits of your idea, I would not hook up a drive to an infected machine — even if it was somehow set to Read only. The thumb drive ‘toolkit’ can be protected, and my AV-version doesn’t have an OS.. I primarily use it to confirm infection. The bootable thumb drive I use is primarily used for file system-level work (data recovery, BSOD repair, etc.).

      I use bootable AV CD’s on ‘locked up’ machines, and then do “offline” work by various methods.. usually “slaving” the drive.

      I should say that I agree with your observation, and say that we have already lost the war. Malware is military grade now. And I agree with no less a luminary than Mark Russinovich in that the days of us being able to use ‘online’ methods are running out (maybe, have already?).
      Us technicians will be left with only the nuke & pave method, and as you well know, the “average computer user” will not have a backup copy of their data…


      Comment by techpaul | February 11, 2010 | Reply

  6. Paul, on your list of recommended programs to use to remove infections from computers I do not think I saw anti-MalwareBytes. Out of all the programs I use, this one has been the most effective for me. Is there any reason you do not list it? Thanks for your help.


    Comment by Ron Vukas | February 11, 2010 | Reply

    • Ron Vukas,
      MBAM is one of my “go to” removal tools. I have recommended it in the past.. I’m fairly sure…

      The free version does not have “active” shielding, nor schedule scanning, so I recommend it as a ‘secondary’ scanner — or purchasing the Pro license.


      Comment by techpaul | February 11, 2010 | Reply

  7. techpaul, I am trying to rid my computer(not the one I am currently using, because the virus will not let me go online:-()of Win 7 2011 on Windows 7. Is there any low-budget way (like free) that I can rid myself and my computer of this nuisance?? I’m wary of downloading, because I don’t know who to TRUST anymore!!


    Comment by Donald | May 16, 2011 | Reply

    • Donald,
      While I advocate hiring a professional such as myself, (experienced at malware removal) as modern malware (viruses, trojans, rootkits, etc.) have become “military grade”, you might look at my How To Cure A Malware Infection.

      You will not be able to utilize an online scanner until you regain Internet access, obviously, so start with the boot CD.


      Comment by techpaul | May 16, 2011 | Reply

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