How to convert a U3 flash drive to a normal drive

U3 smart drives are USB flash drives which comply with the U3 mobile computing standard set down by U3 LLC (www.u3.com), a consortium of vendors lead by Sandisk.

The main idea behind U3 was to develop a platform where programs could run independently on USB drives without leaving any trace on the host PC. The U3 standard also provides for a user menu (the Launchpad) that pops up when the USB drive is inserted into a host and it also mandates password protection.

It’s a great idea, in principle, but in practice there are not a lot of programs around that are written for U3. Indeed, some software authors have avoided writing for U3 because they feel that it’s a proprietary standard. Furthermore, there have been a lot of reports that U3 drives simply won’t work with particular host PCs.

Another limitation is that U3 drives will only work with Win2K SP4, XP and Vista. Older Windows operating systems, Mac OS, Linux, and UNIX are not supported. That’s quite a limitation, particularly when using public terminals.

Don’t get me wrong; U3 applications on U3 drives can work wonderfully well. It’s just that you don’t really need U3.

I had a couple of U3 drives but have since removed U3 from both. U3 removal is not hard. In essence, what you need to do is remove the LaunchPad.

Removal may not be hard, but be aware that it is irreversible (apparently it can be reversed on SanDisk drives). That said, it is essential that you backup your flash drive data before proceeding.

The best way to remove the LaunchPad is to use the removal tool provided by the manufacturer of your flash drive. With some drives this option is available from the LaunchPad menu itself under the item "Status and Settings". More likely, though, you’ll need to download the removal utility. You can locate the utility for your drive by filling in this form at the official U3 site:

If you can’t find a utility for your drive then download the generic utility provided by U3.

Before running the utility, ensure your U3 drive is the only USB device plugged into your PC.

After running the U3 removal utility you may find your drive is formatted using the FAT system. I suggest you re-format it using FAT32. You can do this by right clicking on your flash drive in the Windows Explorer window and selecting "format." Then check the FAT32 option.

Before proceeding with the reformat, double check that you have selected your USB flash drive and not your hard disk. Remember the carpenter’s motto "measure twice, cut once" :>)

Once it’s reformatted, your drive will be just a stock standard USB flash drive with nothing on it. But hey, who wants an empty drive? Go to www.portableapps.com and load it up with a whole bunch of free non-U3 goodies.

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