When is Safely Removing a USB Device Really Necessary?

When is Safely Removing a USB Device Really Necessary

Everyone knows that you should always use the Safely Remove Hardware icon before unplugging any USB device. But do you know why? After all, I bet we’re all guilty of at least once in a while unplugging a USB device without using that option and everything turned out totally ok.

The Windows operating system itself advises us that the Safely Remove Hardware option is unnecessary if you’re using specific settings, but this suggestion can be somewhat misleading.

Windows will allow you to optimize your USB peripheral devices for quick removal or overall improved performances. By the main default settings, Windows will optimize USB device for quick removal. You can access this setting from the device manager. Just right click on the computer icon, select Manage and then travel to the Device Manager option.

Expand the Disk Drives section in the Device Manage, right click on your specific USB peripheral device and then select properties. From there, select the policies tab in the Properties window and you’ll notice that Windows will alert you that you may now disconnect your USB device safely without using the Safely Remove Hardware notification icon, so this basically means that you can unplug your USB device without ever using the Safely Remove Hardware option. But this isn’t without its inherent risks.

This Windows message is often very misleading from the truth. Should you unplug your USB device while data is being written onto it, such as when you’re copying files or saving new ones onto a flash drive let’s say, then there is a high probability that this will result in data corruption. No matter what any operating system says, you should always make sure that your USB device is not currently in use before you unplug it.

Even if a USB peripheral device doesn’t appear to be in use, it still may be. An automatic program or software that you have installed could be writing data off in the background to the device, so data corruption can still possible occur if you suddenly disconnected the device from its respective hub.

If you’re pretty sure that your USB device isn’t in use, then you can probably unplug it without any data being corrupted. But just to be on the safe side, it’s still probably a good idea to use the Safely Remove Hardware option regardless.

If you select the Better Performance option in Windows, then the operating system will cache data instead of writing it directly onto the USB device immediately. This will definitely improve your flash drive’s performance overall. However, under this setting, data corruption is actually far more likely to occur if you remove the USB device without using the Safely Remove Hardware option. If the caching option is set up, then Windows will not write the data to your USB device immediately. This includes when data appears to have been written to the device and all files progress dialogs are closed. Even then, the data may just be cached on your system.

Whenever you eject a device, Windows will flush the write cache to the disk, ensuring all necessary changes are made before notifying you when it’s safe to remove the drive. While the Quick Removal option decreases overall USB performance, it’s the default to minimize the chances of data corruption in day-to-day use. Many people may forget to use or ever use, the Safely Remove Hardware option when they unplug their USB devices.

So yes, as a general rule, you should definitely use the Safely Remove Hardware option and eject your USB device before you unplug it from your system. You can also right click it in the Computer window and select eject as well. Windows will alert you saying that it is now safe to remove your device, removing any chance of data corruption.

When it’s ok to unplug without Safely Remove Hardware

Here are a couple of scenarios that should be ok to unplug your device without using the Safely Remove Hardware option. As stated earlier, it is always safer to just use that feature, but people tend to forget or not care sometimes, and that’s perfect ok. I do it myself from time to time. These situations are the ones where you never need to use the Safely Remove Hardware option before unplugging your USB device.

First up, read only media like CDs and DVDs as well as write protected USB, CF, or SD memory cards. Whenever these devices are in read only mode there is absolutely no way to corrupt the information on the device because the Windows operating system does not have the capability of changing information. For USB devices, make sure there is a physical switch on the casing that lets you to switch between read and write modes.

Any network drives stored on a NAS or on a cloud service is also a safe bet. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the information will not become corrupt by disconnecting your network while writing files, but these drives ultimately don’t need to be safely removed like other devices because they’re not controlled by the same system.

In addition to these devices any sort of media player like an iPod or digital camera connected through USB is also pretty safe. These types of USB devices don’t even have an option to safely remove hardware most of the time. This also goes for devices with ReadyBoost.

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Vincent Clarke

Vincent Clarke is the Universal Serial Bus (USB) Guru for USBtips.com. When he's not writing tutorials and catching up on the latest USB news, Vincent is busy preparing his next blog post and answering USB questions from his readers and subscribers.

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