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Originally published Friday, April 2, 2010 at 12:00 PM

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BitLocker, USB drives not at fault — it's BIOS

Q: I recently installed BitLocker on my laptop in an effort to provide security for the data in the event the computer is lost or stolen...

Special to The Seattle Times

Q: I recently installed BitLocker on my laptop in an effort to provide security for the data in the event the computer is lost or stolen. I used the option to create a Startup Key with a USB drive and it works fine. The only problem is that whenever I try to create a copy of the Startup Key using the BitLocker Manager everything seems to work, but when I try to use the copy the computer refuses to boot. I've tried several different USB drives to no avail. The only way to get things going again is to use the original Startup Key.

— Brad Austin

A: For those who don't know, BitLocker is a drive encryption application that is provided with the Ultimate version of Microsoft Windows 7.

As it happens, the problem isn't with either BitLocker or with your USB drives. It's with your laptop's BIOS. Specifically, in some cases the BIOS software — the software that controls your computer until the operating system loads — doesn't recognize USB drives over a specified capacity. Once the computer's operating system kicks in, you won't have any problem using that larger capacity USB drive. But if you're trying to boot from it, the BIOS simply won't see it.

The quick solution? Try a USB drive with a capacity of 512 megabytes or less.

A couple of other things to keep in mind: First, if you're using USB Startup Keys, make sure you don't carry it around in your computer case. That would defeat the whole security purpose.

Second, you can avoid the need for keeping track of USB Startup Keys by making sure that the next laptop you buy supports the Trusted Platform Module, a chip included in enterprise-level computers that supports device encryption and user authentication.

So far, hardware manufacturers haven't seen fit to spend the extra couple of bucks to include the technology in consumer-level computers.

Q: When I brought my computer back from computer repair, I had a mysterious icon labeled, Thumbs.db, which appears everywhere in all files. When I delete them, they just reappear again and it seems impossible to get rid of them. The repair technician said there is no way to rid the computer of them. How do I permanently delete them?

— Ron R.

A: I'm not sure you want to delete them. Thumbs.db files are system files generated by Windows. They are used to allow the operating system to quickly generate thumbnail images when you open a folder.

If you still want to get rid of these files, the way to do so depends upon the version of Windows you're using. With Windows XP, you should go to the Control Panel and select Folder Options. Next, click on the View tab and check the box next to "Do not cache thumbnails." Best I can tell, this option was eliminated in later versions of Windows.


Q: Regarding a question from a reader, I also have recently switched to Norton anti-virus software via Comcast. It ran fine for a few days and then started having some issues. After contacting Symantec, it was determined that a program called PC Doctor (which I never used, but was on my computer) can be incompatible with Norton 360. So after uninstalling Norton, deleting PC Doctor, and reinstalling Norton, my computer is working fine.

— Brian McCarty

A: It's true that anti-virus programs — since they go probing about into the inner workings of computers — are often incompatible with each other. PC Doctor is not, strictly speaking, an anti-virus program but it does perform system-analysis tasks similar to anti-virus program operations.

Users should, at the very least, make sure not to have two anti-virus programs installed on the same computer. The same goes for firewall programs and anti-spyware programs.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to or, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at


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