Be honest—you’ve probably removed a USB drive many times without safely ejecting it and nothing has happened. Most experts will tell you to avoid these “unsafe” ejections. But is it really necessary? The answer is a little complicated.
The Importance of Ejecting
Although you may not notice any consequences most of the time, an unsafe ejection can put your saved files at risk. These files can become corrupted or lost if the device is pulled out of your USB port during data transfer. An unsafe ejection can even damage your flash drive, making it inaccessible or unable to be recognized by your device. Safely ejecting the drive can ensure this never happens.
What Does It Mean To Safely Eject?
When you plug your thumb drive into your computer, an icon that looks like a USB drive will show up in the lower righthand side of your screen. This icon represents the “Safely Remove Hardware” function. The Safely Remove Hardware function is designed to safeguard against anything that could go wrong with a USB drive.
When activated, this function will stop any processes that are actively writing to the drive. It will also alert open programs about the driver’s accessibility, its contents, and will warn you if a file failed to save properly. The Safely Remove Hardware function is especially useful if caching is enabled on your computer.
What is a ‘Write Cache’?
Most operating systems have something called a “write cache.” This is a feature that stores data in a cache (local memory) before transferring the data over to the USB. This is helpful for the computer, as data can be written quickly on local memory, making the process more efficient.
However, it also means that some data may not be immediately written onto the USB. Some of the data will be waiting to be copied over. If a USB is removed before this data can be copied, the information can be lost or corrupted. Unlike the Mac operating system, Windows gives users the option to disable this feature.
Your Windows PC has two settings for storage management devices: Better performance and Quick removal. Better performance mode—formerly the default option—is a function that improves system performance, but also allows Windows to cache write to the USB drive. Quick removal, on the other hand, keeps the external hardware ready for removal at all times by restricting Windows from cache writing.
In 2018, Microsoft released an update that changed the default setting from Better performance to Quick removal. The result is a much lower chance of losing files, corrupting data, or damaging the flash drive. If you have Windows version 1809 or newer installed, Quick removal will be your default option. To change the setting manually here is what you’ll need to do:
- Connect the drive to your computer
- Right-click on the Start Icon
- Find and select File Explorer
- Find your device, right-click Start
- Select Disk Management
- Right-click on the label of the device and click on Properties
- Then select Policies
What If Ejecting Fails?
There are times when your computer may refuse to eject the flash drive. It can be tempting to pull it out of the USB port, but you’ll want to think twice. Yanking out the drive could potentially cause unwanted damage to the entire USB. If you find yourself in this situation, you can follow these steps:
- In your Windows taskbar, look for the Safely Remove Hardware icon. Click on the icon and wait for a pop-up message that says, “Safely Remove Hardware.” Another pop-up should give you the OK to remove the drive.
- Look in the drive and make sure no files are running. This can be done by installing Process Explorer. This program can be downloaded from the Microsoft website. If you do see a file running, close it and try safely removing again.
- If you log off and then log back on, this will stop any programs that are running in the background. You can then try safely removing the drive once more.
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