Can I use a memory stick to backup my computer?

What is a Memory Stick?

A memory stick, also known as a USB flash drive, is a small, lightweight, removable flash memory data storage device (Frenzel, 2012). Memory sticks consist of flash memory with an integrated USB interface. They are typically lightweight, portable, and rewritable. Common uses for memory sticks include storing, backing up, and transferring documents, photos, videos, and other files.

Memory sticks were first introduced by Sony in 1998 with a storage capacity of 128MB (Recoverit, 2022). Over the years, capacities have grown tremendously while physical sizes have shrunk. Today, memory stick capacities range from 4GB to 1TB. The most common sizes are 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB.

While originally a Sony proprietary format, memory sticks now use the universal USB connection. Most memory sticks connect via a standard USB-A interface and work with nearly all computers, phones, tablets, and other devices with a USB port. Some newer memory sticks use USB-C or micro USB. Adapters can allow a USB-A stick to connect to USB-C or micro USB ports.

Compared to other removable storage like SD cards, memory sticks excel in portability with their tiny physical size. Prices are low for decent capacities. Easy plug-and-play use makes memory sticks a convenient option for quickly transferring files between devices (Sandisk, 2022).

Benefits of Using a Memory Stick for Backup

There are several advantages to using a memory stick or USB flash drive for backing up files:

Portable: Memory sticks are small, lightweight, and portable. You can easily carry a backup drive with you anywhere (see This makes them convenient for accessing files from multiple devices or locations.

Reusable: Unlike CDs or DVDs, memory sticks can be erased and reused over and over. This makes them a reusable and sustainable backup solution.

Inexpensive: Memory sticks provide an affordable way to backup files that is much cheaper than external hard drives or cloud storage subscriptions (see The low cost makes them accessible to most users.

Easy to Use: Backing up files to a memory stick is straightforward for most users. Simply plug the drive into your computer USB port and drag-and-drop files to copy them.

Selective Backups: Memory sticks allow you to hand pick specific files to backup rather than system-wide backups. This gives you flexibility and control over what gets backed up.

Limitations of Memory Stick Backups

While using a memory stick or USB drive for backups can be convenient, there are some limitations to be aware of:

Small capacity compared to hard drives – The storage capacity of memory sticks is typically much smaller than external or internal hard drives. For example, a high capacity memory stick may hold 256GB, while a desktop hard drive can easily be 1TB or more. This limits how much data you can backup on a stick. According to, USB drives are best for backing up your most important personal files and folders, not necessarily entire system backups.

Easy to lose or damage – Being portable comes with the risk of losing or physically damaging your backup drive. Memory sticks are small and easy to misplace or break compared to desktop hard drives in protective enclosures. You’ll want to keep any backups in a secure location.

What to Backup on a Memory Stick

When backing up files to a memory stick, focus on personal user files like documents, photos, music, videos, and save games instead of program files.

Important files and folders to back up include:

  • Documents – Word files, PDFs, spreadsheets, presentations, text files, etc.
  • Pictures – Photos, images, artwork, screenshots, etc.
  • Music – MP3s, playlists, albums, etc.
  • Videos – Movies, home videos, gameplay recordings, etc.
  • Save Games – Saved progress for video games.

Program and system files like Windows, software applications, program settings, etc. do not need to be backed up to a memory stick. Focus on your personal files and data.

Keeping backups of your important documents, creative work, memories, and other irreplaceable files enables you to restore them in case of computer issues or data loss.

How to Backup Files to a Memory Stick

Backing up files to a memory stick is a straightforward process that involves a few key steps:

First, plug your memory stick into an open USB port on your computer. Be sure to insert it gently to avoid any damage. Once inserted, your computer should automatically recognize the device.

Next, create a folder structure on the memory stick to organize your backed up files. For example, you may want folders for documents, photos, videos, etc. To create a new folder, right-click on blank space in the memory stick window and select “New Folder”. Name the folder appropriately.

With your folder structure setup, you can now drag and drop files from their locations on your computer into the desired folders on the memory stick. Or you can copy and paste files. Be sure to eject the memory stick safely when finished to avoid corruption.

To eject, right-click on the memory stick icon and select “Eject”. Or use the “Safely Remove Hardware” icon in the system tray. Wait for confirmation that it is safe to remove the device before unplugging it.

Following these steps will allow you to swiftly back up your important files to the memory stick. Just be sure to store the device safely between uses.

Automating and Scheduling Backups

Using backup software is the easiest way to automate and schedule regular backups to a memory stick. There are many good options for Windows and Mac users:

For Windows, AOMEI Backupper is a great free tool that lets you schedule daily, weekly or monthly backups to a memory stick. You can configure it to automatically detect when the drive is connected and run the backup. EaseUS Todo Backup is another good commercial option with advanced scheduling and automation features.

On Mac, Time Machine can be configured to backup to a memory stick on a schedule. Third party apps like Super Duper! also allow automating backups to a memory stick.

Scheduling daily or weekly backup jobs is recommended to ensure your important files on the computer are regularly copied to the memory stick. The backup software will automatically run the job on the configured schedule whenever the memory stick is connected.

Securing and Encrypting Backup Files

When backing up sensitive or confidential data to a memory stick, it’s important to take steps to secure and encrypt the files to prevent unauthorized access. Here are some tips:

Use password protection – Enable password protection on the memory stick to restrict access. Some sticks come with built-in password protection features. You can also use third party software to set a password on the drive.

Encrypt the data – Encryption scrambles the data so it can only be accessed with the right encryption key. Popular encryption standards for USB drives include AES and BitLocker. Some memory sticks have hardware-based encryption built-in (1).

Use security software – Install security software like USB encryption tools, password managers, and anti-virus software to add layers of protection (2).

Store securely – Keep the drive somewhere secure when not in use, like a locked drawer or safe. Avoid losing the drive or letting it fall into the wrong hands.

Safely eject and delete data – Always safely eject the drive and delete sensitive files from it when you’re done using it. Don’t leave confidential data on the drive indefinitely.

By taking the right encryption and security precautions, you can securely store backup files and protect sensitive data on a memory stick.

Alternative Backup Options

While memory sticks provide a simple and portable way to back up files, there are some other options that have benefits worth considering:

  • External Hard Drives – External hard drives connect via USB and often have much larger capacities than memory sticks, like 1TB+. This allows you to backup far more data. External hard drives are also relatively affordable. However, they lack the portability and small size of a memory stick.

  • Cloud Storage – Services like Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive let you backup files to the cloud. This gives you access from any internet-connected device. Cloud backups happen continuously and automatically in the background. But you are limited by the free storage space offered by providers. Streaming data from the cloud can also be slower than a local drive.

  • Network Attached Storage – NAS devices connect directly to your WiFi router, enabling wireless backups from multiple computers. They provide abundant, centralized storage accessible from anywhere. But NAS can be more complex to setup than plugging in a USB drive, and unit prices are higher.

Overall, external drives and cloud storage offer expanded capacity compared to basic memory sticks. NAS provides wireless access and centralized storage. But memory sticks remain a quick, portable, and inexpensive option for small backups.

How Often to Backup Files

It’s important to backup your critical files at least daily to protect against data loss from accidental deletion, disk failures, or other issues. For critical business documents, financial data, works in progress, and other important files, a daily backup should be the minimum.

For a full system backup, most experts recommend doing a complete backup of your entire computer at least on a weekly basis. This will ensure you have a comprehensive, up-to-date backup that can restore your full system if needed.

It’s also highly recommended to store a copy of your backups offsite or in the cloud. This protects against data loss in case of theft, natural disaster, or other scenarios where you lose access to your local backups. Popular options for offsite backup storage include external drives that are rotated to another secure location, cloud backup services, or a combination of both.

The key is finding a backup frequency and offsite rotation that balances your need for recent backups with convenience. Daily and weekly backups with offsite storage provide a reasonable data protection strategy for most home and business users.

Memory Stick Backup Tips

When relying on memory sticks for backup, it’s important to follow best practices to ensure your files stay safe and accessible over time. Here are some tips:

  • Have multiple memory sticks – Don’t rely on just one stick for all your backups. If that one fails, you’ll lose everything. Rotate between multiple sticks.
  • Replace memory sticks over time – Flash storage can degrade over years of use. Every few years, retire old sticks and replace them with new ones.
  • Check backup integrity – Occasionally sample files from your memory stick backups and verify they contain the expected data. This ensures the backup process is working.
  • Store memory sticks safely – Keep backup sticks in a secure place away from potential damage. Consider a fireproof safe or safety deposit box.

Following these tips will help ensure your irreplaceable data remains safeguarded on memory sticks over the long-term.1

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