Do you really need to “Safely Remove” USB Drives from your computer?

by Mayank
remove-you-usb-device-safely

So, this is one of those questions that has mixed answers from different people around the world. Some experienced IT professional would reveal some horrifying stories of small cells on their flash drives being permanently destroyed as a result of not ejecting their drives properly. On the contrary, ask any random person (I mean, you can take a survey if you want) if they really care about navigating to the Windows system tray and safely ejecting their drive. I bet most of them would say that they just yank their drives directly from their PCs.

So, is it really necessary to take this extra step before removing your external drives? The answer is ‘no’ and ‘yes.’ You saw it coming, didn’t you? You’re obviously not supposed to pop out a drive while data is being transferred between the drive and your computer, that’s going to be crazy. Doing this could lead to data corruption that you don’t want. Other things aside, let’s first know why operating systems like MacOS , Linux or Windows even have this feature in the first place?

Why the “Safely Remove” Feature exists?

The reason different operating systems have the eject option is “Write Caching”. What this generally means is that, if you write some data to a USB device or external storage device, the operating system does not immediately complete the write process. Instead, it stores some portion of the data on the higher speed memory ( RAM) or “caches it”. This cached data is then later transferred to the USB device where the write process is underway.

Write caching results in other applications performing smoothly as they don’t have to wait for the OS to complete the writing process. This results in an overall improvement in the performance of the entire system.

As a result, when you safely eject a USB device from your computer, the operating system flushes the stored cache and ensures that the write operation is complete and that no part of the data is stored in your RAM. That’s why it takes a second or two for “You can safely remove your device from your computer” message to appear on Windows.

Image Credits: How to Geek

When you shouldn’t bother ejecting your external media

Remember how I said at the beginning of this article that the answer to this question was yes and no? This is the “No” part of it. Since operating systems are getting major updates every year, a number of new ways to solve an existing problem are emerging. Take for example Microsoft’s Windows 10. Since the release of the version 1809 of Windows 10 back in 2019, Microsoft cleared that you shouldn’t really bother about safely removing your drives before ejecting it (unless of course their is an ongoing file transfer to it). Since Windows 7 was released, Microsoft has added a feature called Quick Removal that disables Write Caching on Windows. This feature will be turned on by default. You can still enable write caching manually if you want.

Note: To enable or disable write caching on Windows, Right click on My PC>Properties>Device Manager>Right click on Disk drives>Properties>Policies>Write-caching Policy. Refer to the images below for more information.

Right click on My PC and select Properties
Device Manager
Enable/Disable Write-caching policy

So, if you are writing files to your USB stick, you can remove your USB stick immediately after the file transfer has been completed. Hey, I’m also going to give you a good statement that you can tell that annoying friend of yours who keeps insisting that you should eject drives before removing them: Write caching can be a problem in case of power loss because a sudden power loss can make data corrupt as RAM is a volatile memory.

You can, therefore, pull your USB drive before ejecting it. Wait a second! Before you close this article, you need to know the other spectrum of the article. Let’s see the “yes” part of the question.

When you should eject your external media

Although after you have finished writing on it, you are free to remove a USB drive, there is a catch to this. Sometimes operating systems , especially Windows, do not recognize external hard drives as a removable device rather they think of it as an internal one. You can see this happening when you don’t get the “Safely Remove” option on your system tray sometimes. Windows has write caching enabled on internal storage media so if you eject an external hard drive without removing it, you may have a risk of data failure especially when the hard drive has several terabytes of capacity (as write caching becomes slower as the drive capacity increases).

And the worst thing is that you wouldn’t even know that your data has gone corrupt before the next time you use the drive, because unlike MacOS, Windows doesn’t display an error message as seen below:

You don’t get such a message on Windows when you remove your device directly without ejecting it

So, in some circumstances, actually ejecting your drive might potentially save your files.

Conclusion

The actual answer to this question is a bit cryptic. What I normally do is that when I write files to a small storage media like thumb drives, I don’t bother to eject them before yanking them. I do the same on both Linux and Windows and have never have to deal with corrupted data. Conversely, when I write some important and especially huge pieces of data to my external hard drive, I make sure I eject the drive before removing it.

So, even though ejecting the drives isn’t really that important today, doing it won’t hurt. You know, they say, “Better safe than sorry.”

Related Posts

Leave a Comment