We never had a flash-drive fail, but a reader dropped us a note recently to say his flash drive had failed and we should alert people to the problem. Okay.

He thought it might have failed because he only paid $8 for it, but that probably wasn’t the reason, expensive flash drives fail too. There is a lot of chit-chat on Flash Drivethe web about flash drive failures and you can bore yourself to tears reading it. But the most common cause seems to be pulling the drive out of a computer before closing it.

In short, a flash drive should be handled the same way you would handle any other external storage device, like one of the old floppy drives, or an external hard drive. If the drive isn’t closed before pulling the plug, you can mess up the contents. You should click on a little green arrow or check mark that says “safely remove hardware” when you stop using the drive. The mark is in the task bar at the bottom of the desktop window.

Sometimes, pulling the drive out without shutting it down wipes out everything, but more often it just corrupts the operating software. Sometimes you can still see a list of the drive’s contents but can’t store or change anything. If you can still see the files, text or photos, you should be able to transfer the entire contents to the computer. After that, reformat the flash drive – just right-click it from “my computer” and choose “format.”

Physical failure of a flash drive is pretty rare, because the drive is what we call “solid state.” These days that usually refers to something that has no moving parts. That means it’s hard to shake something loose, since there’s nothing to shake. Still, don’t jump up and down on it.

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