Transferring data between a PC’s internal storage and an external drive is one of the most common tasks a user performs. Photos, videos, important files, data backups; they all need to be transferred to and fro, sometimes multiple times.
That’s why slow transfer speeds can be so frustrating. No one wants to wait ten minutes for a few gigabytes of data to transfer, and it can be particularly troublesome if you’re late for a meeting or appointment and need the data now. Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to improve transfer speeds.
Set Your USB Drive to Better Performance
Windows defaults USB drives to use a “Quick removal” data transfer policy. This disables write caching, which slows down transfer speeds, but lets you disconnect a device safely without using the “Safely Remove Hardware” prompt.
To disable this feature, do a Windows Search for Device Manager, and open it. Expand the Disk Drives tree and locate the USB drive you’d like to improve (it must be plugged in to the PC). Double-click the drive’s icon and, in the window that appears, find the Policies tab. Click the “Better performance” radio button and then, underneath, check the “Enable write caching on the device” checkbox (some devices don’t support this, however). Then click OK.
Remember, if you enable this feature, you will have to remove the device from within Windows before unplugging it. Failure to do so can result in data loss. To make this easier for you, right-click on your desktop and create a new shortcut, then enter the following as its path:
This creates a shortcut that takes you directly to the Safely Remove Hardware menu.
Change the File System
The file system you use to format your drive can have an impact on performance. Many come from the factory with conservative formatting that allocates data in small chunks, which in turn maximizes the drive’s storage capacity. Increasing the size of these chunks, however, can improve performance.
If you use Windows, you’ll want to use the NTFS file format with an allocation size of 64 kilobytes. This is the quickest configuration for a modern Windows PC. If you also need to use the drive with DOS, Mac OS X, Linux or your a device like your TV, FAT32 is the right choice, and it too can be set to an allocation size of 64 kilobytes.
Formatting via Windows is simple. Just open My Computer, right-click the USB drive, and click format. A menu will open in which you can change the file system and allocation unit size. Set each to what you desire, then click Start to begin formatting. Remember, as with any format, this will delete all data on the drive – make sure nothing important is on it before you begin!
Disable Legacy Mode in BIOS
Extremely slow transfer speeds are sometimes caused by a BIOS feature called USB Legacy Mode. This feature is meant to provide compatibility with old USB devices that otherwise might not work, but it can restrict transfer speeds.
The exact steps for disabling Legacy Mode will depend on your motherboard, but here are some guidelines. First you’ll need to enter the BIOS, which in most cases is performed by pressing F12 or Del when your computer boots (if you get to the Windows loading screen, it’s too late; restart and try again).
Once in BIOS, look for an “Advanced” or “Drives” section, and then look for the Legacy USB Support setting. It’ll be either disabled or enabled; if enabled, disable it. Then save your settings and restart your PC. For more specific instructions, consult the support website of the company that made your motherboard or, if you own a name brand PC, consult the brand’s support page.
Note that disabling Legacy Mode could make some aging devices, particularly keyboards and mice, non-functional.
Upgrade to USB 3.0
The newest USB standard, USB 3.0, appeared several years ago, but many people still use 2.0 devices. This is because the newer 3.0 drives tend to be more expensive, and they’re still not that common; a lot of stores stock a larger selection of 2.0 drives because they’re more affordable and, as a result, more popular.
Why upgrade? Speed! We put 3.0 to the test by pitting a popular 2.0 drive, the Kingston DataTraveler G3, against two new 3.0 drives. The new drives demolished the older model by transferring a 2.11GB folder five times more quickly (10 minutes, 23 seconds for the 2.0 drive vs. 1 minute, 16 seconds for the 3.0 drive).
Leaping to USB 3.0 requires more than just a 3.0 drive, however. Your computer also must have USB 3.0 ports. Desktop users can upgrade by buying a new motherboard or, if your current mobo still serves your needs, buying and installing a USB 3.0 PCIe card. Laptop users can upgrade using ExpressCard; however, many laptops do not support this feature, so you may have no choice but to buy an entirely new system.
Replace an Old Drive With a New One
Solid state drives become slower as they age because repeated read/write cycles wear down the available cells of memory, rendering some inoperable. The drive’s controller can compensate for this, but doing so takes more thought on its part, thus decreasing speed. Eventually, after heavy wear, the drive will stop working altogether.
This is not really an issue for consumer SSDs, but flash drives are built to a low price point and often not rated for as many read/write cycles as an internal drive. Most users still won’t manage to eat through a significant portion of a flash drive’s life before it’s lost, broken or succumbs to some other death, but heavy use can wear the drive down.
If your drive is slow, and the typical solutions do not work, replacing it may be the only option.
These tips should help you increase your transfer speeds, and in some cases the improvement will be dramatic. Switching from a poorly optimized, old USB 2.0 drive to a new, optimized 3.0 drive can shave huge chunks off the times required for transfers. Let us know how much time you saved in the comments!
Image Credit: Flash Drive by Vincent Wei via Flickr