Do I really need to safely remove my USB drive?

I’m going to say something that may disquiet you but it needs to be said:

If you’re yanking your USB drive without waiting for the Safe to remove dialog box then you’re putting your data at risk.

It may not happen immediately but this a habit that you definitely need to kick.

Hear this edict from Vonnie:

Always safely remove your USB drive.

This is the thing: the Windows ecosystem is fragile.  Sometimes I feel like Windows has a mind of its own and you don’t want to do anything to piss it off.

For example, sometimes Internet Explorer randomly stops working or categorically refuses to sleep.  Stuff like this is annoying and attests to the mercurial nature of the operating system.

Sometimes it simply feels volatile – you know what I mean?

But I’ve never lost my data

And I say good for you and thank God for your serendipity but one day you’ll inexorably remove the jump drive while it’s copying content and then —  poof all your stuff will disappear.

Much to my chagrin this actually happened to me a year ago.

It was one of those mornings were I was feeling impetuous and didn’t have the patience to wait.  So I indiscriminately pulled the drive.

In my defense: I did wait a few seconds for the USB light to stop blinking; however, this wasn’t enough to avert disaster.

Yanking the drive embroiled my day with gratuitous frustration.

It was a 32GB drive too which was almost filled to capacity.

:: Face palm ::

Now, sure I could have tried to undelete all the files stored on the drive but that entails time – and… well – I didn’t feel like waiting for that.

Ultimately my point is that it’s not worth it.

Let me show you something… go ahead and pop in your USB drive. (Don’t worry I’m not going to zap your files)

Click the Start button in the lower left corner of the screen and type in:

dev man

Now expand the Disk drives icon.

Right click your USB drive and choose Properties.

Device Manager Disk Drives

Now head over to the Policy tab and check out the options.

Windows 8.1 USB Device Properties

According to Windows, you can actually disconnect your device without using the Safely Remove Hardware icon; however, is this really true?

In an act of bravado you can evince courage by completely trusting this setting and removing the drive; however, this would be a major blunder.

By default, Quick removal is enabled which means Microsoft optimizes the drive for quick removal but this is the thing: if you’re in the middle of a file transfer you’ll invariably corrupt something.

Sometimes the drive may seem inert because there’s no blinking lights or Windows progress bars but the OS is actually furtively writing bits of data to non-volatile memory.

The judicious thing to do is to always properly eject the drive.

Ejecting the drive

Safely removing devices from your computer is pretty straightforward.

When you attach the USB device a tiny USB icon appears near the clock in the bottom right corner of your screen.  Simply click this to display a list of devices to remove.

Safely remove devices from your computer

But sometimes it’s not so easy.

For example, have you ever seen this message?

This device is currently in use.  Close any programs or windows that might be using the device, and then try again.

Problem ejecting USB mass storage device Windows 8.1

You frenetically search for open files but can’t find any.  Nothing relevant appears in the Task Manager and you feel like this elusive file is going to force you to pull the USB drive without ejecting it.

No one is exempt from this problem so let’s get down to brass tacks.

If the USB notification icon doesn’t appear in the system tray like it used to try this:

Click the Start button and type

notification area icons

Scroll down the notification list and make sure the Windows Explorer with the USB icon is set to Show icon and notifications.

Windows 8.1 Notification Area Icons

If that doesn’t work for some reason try this trick:

Press the Windows Key + r and paste in this command

rundll32.exe shell32.dll,Control_RunDLL hotplug.dll

This forces the Safely Remove Hardware dialog box to open so you can safely stop the USB drive.

Safely Remove Hardware USB Device

Lastly, if none of the above solutions work for you check out the USB Disk Ejector by a developer known as BennyBoy.

I know it sounds silly that you have to download an app to eject a USB drive but little tool is a mighty good replacement to the default Windows drive ejector.

USB Disk Ejector

The file is super small (about 1 MB), super fast and super easy to use.

I literally just double click my USB drive and it’s safely ejected from the careening cockpit known as the Windows 8.1 shell.

I won’t spoil the fun but there are also also loads of options which let you do things like change the dock location, configure HotKeys and configure what happens after the drive is ejected.

For example, you can have Disk Ejector minimize or close any open programs after ejection.

I exhort you to check this tool out because it may be the panacea for your computer’s fickle personality.

The Bottom Line

Fledgling computer users pull drives before ejection.

Conversely, you’re no fledgling and now recognize that safely removing your USB drive is smart move.

Even if you’ve never lost data in the past from yanking a USB drive, you can never be 100% certain that all your files are in top shape.

If the Safely Remove icon never appears make sure:

  • It’s enabled in Notification Area Icons or
  • Try the command line trick I mentioned above
  • or better yet, just download the USB Disk Ejector and eject your disk with a simple double-click

I hope this helped some of you guys! As always, let me know in the comments!

I haven’t read them in about two weeks but I promise to make an attempt this weekend.  Thanks, you guys keep me motivated.

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Posted in Desktops, Hardware, Laptops, Windows, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1
  • Aroshi

    Phew! You saved me from getting really mad at my computer’s system! Very simple detailed explanation, with a big dash of humour, mmmm, my favorite dish. Thanks for the helpful post!

  • jackmeat

    I can attest to losing data, I pulled my 1.5tb drive out of my dock (which is supposed to be hot swap) and windows thought it was doing something, poof, 1.2 tb of movies gone. i was only able to recover about 40% after that little miscue. you want to listen to this advice, trust me.

  • Thorsten Schöning

    You shouldn’t compare things like FAT32 formatted USB drives with NTFS formatted extern HDDs and that’S the bottom line af all: You need to check the device and the used file system and afterwards you can decide if the device needs to be romed safely or not. That’s no voodoo at all like mentioned here, it’s just how file systems work and NTFS e.g. uses a cache by default and that of course needs to be synced to the device at some time before it is ejected and such. Of course you are always safe if you remove a device, but it’s really not necessary in any case, it all depends on the file system and the device. There’s no such thing like a fragile system, it’s just that you don’t know the technical details…

  • Just don’t unplug devices until they stop blinking the activity LED. Thats all.