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Use removable devices properly in Windows

How to eject removable storage devices in Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1 without losing or corrupting data

By . Last modified: 2013-08-12.

Windows makes using and managing removable devices, such as external hard drives or DVD-writers, smart card readers, USB flash drives, photo and video cameras, MP3-players, etc easy. Just plug the device in, wait for driver installation to complete (if necessary) and start using.

There is a very important catch, though. I've seen many people just unplugging USB storage devices without telling Windows to remove them safely first. Such behavior can sometimes cause loss of data on external data devices (flash drives, hard drives, cameras, players). Usually the worst results appear after unplugging a device while copying or deleting files is still in progress.
Windows does turn off write buffers for external storage devices by default, but people still remove external disks and cards without waiting for operations to complete properly.

Remember, you should always safely remove a storage device before unplugging it from USB or Firewire port! Even if a copy, delete or move progress dialog disappears, the process might still continue for several minutes until the contents have been completely copied to the disk or device.

There are some devices that do not require additional actions before unplugging because no data is stored on these, for example USB scanners and printers.

New device installation progress

When you plug an external device in to your computer's USB or Firewire port for the first time, Windows will recognize it and tries to find drivers for it automatically. You do not need to click the message, just stand by.
Windows XP, found new hardware - USB Flash Drive Windows 7, installing device driver software. You do not need to click the message.

Most data devices are recognized without any additional actions, just wait until you'll see the message "Your new hardware is installed and ready to use" or "Your device is ready to use":
Windows XP, found new hardware - your hardware is installed and ready to use Windows 7, device driver software installed successfully - your device is ready to use.

A small green check mark on USB plug icon appears in Taskbar Notification Area. It is called "Safely Remove Hardware" in Windows XP and Vista and "Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media" in Windows 7, 8 and 8.1. This is what you will use to safely remove your hardware.
In Windows 7 and later, you might need to click the Show hidden icons button (arrowhead up) to see the green check mark icon.
Windows XP, safely remove hardware icon in Taskbar Notification area Windows Vista, Safely Remove Hardware icon in Taskbar Notification area Windows 7, Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media icon in Taskbar Notification area

Your new disk device will also have the first available drive letter (F: in this example) and Type named "Removable Disk" when you open My Computer or Windows Explorer:
Windows 7, My Computer. USB flash drives and memory cards are called Removable Disks. Hard disks are called Local Disks.

Removing a storage device safely in Windows

When you need to unplug your external data device, click (or right-click) the Safely Remove Hardware (and Eject Media) icon in Notification Area and choose Safely remove <the type of your device> (in Windows XP and Vista) or Eject <the type of your device> (in Windows 7, 8 and 8.1).
In Windows XP and Vista, you have to close all Windows Explorer windows that have the device open, but Windows 7 and newer will close them for you automatically unless the removable device is in use (file copying, moving or deleting is in progress).
Windows XP, to properly remove a Removable Drive, click on Safely Remove Hardware icon in Taskbar Notification area and click Safely remove (the name of your device). Windows 7, to properly eject a Removable Drive, click on Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media icon in Taskbar Notification area and click Eject (the type of your device).

If everything is fine and nothing is using the device, Windows XP, 7, 8 and 8.1 users will see a pop-up message that it is now safe to remove your device. Windows Vista will open a dialog window for this.
Windows XP, Safe To Remove Hardware - you can now unplug your removable device. Windows Vista, Safe To Remove Hardware - you can now unplug your removable device. Click OK. Windows 7, Safe To Remove Hardware - you can now unplug your removable device.

If some program is still using the device, you will see a warning message. Click OK to close it.
Windows XP problem ejecting device - click OK. Close all programs that might be using the removable device and try again. Windows Vista, problem ejecting device - click OK. Close all programs that might be using the removable device and try again. Windows 7, problem ejecting device - click OK. Close all programs that might be using the removable device and try again.

Close all programs that are using the data device and try again after ten seconds.

Fixing file system errors on removable storage devices

If a USB flash disk, external hard disk or memory card has already been removed improperly and file system has been damaged, the Do you want to scan and fix Removable Disk dialog in Windows Vista and 7 appears after you reconnect the device. Always click Scan and fix (recommended) to prevent possible data loss.
In Windows 8 and 8.1, a notification appears on top right of screen (called Toast notification), stating "There's a problem with this drive. Scan the drive now and fix it." Click the notification.
Windows 7, Do you want to scan and fix Removable Disk? Click Scan and fix (recommended). Windows 8, There's a problem with this drive, Scan the drive now and fix it. Click the notification.

In Windows Vista and 7, Check Disk will appear. By default, Automatically fix file system errors is already selected, so continue by clicking Start.
In Windows 8 and 8.1, Repair this drive dialog appears. Click Repair drive.
Windows 7, Check Disk Removable Disk. Click Start. Windows 8, Error Checking Disk, Repair this drive. Click Repair drive.

After repairing the file system problems, a Some problems were found and fixed dialog appears. Click Close.
Please eject your device safely the next time.
Windows 7, Checking Disk Removable Disk, Some problems were found and fixed. Click Close.

Using Device Manager for selecting storage policies for a removable drive

You can also select between two policies for removable storage devices - quick removal and performance. The first one is turned on by default and it disables write caching to minimize the data loss possibility in case a user unplugs a device without ejecting it safely first.
The second one turns on write buffers and this enhances writing speed of the device. But you must always remove this hardware safely, because files might not be copied or written to the disk completely even if no activity indicator is on or blinking. If you select this one, it is recommended to use UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) to minimize the probability of data loss during unexpected power outages.

You might want use the better performance option for drives that are always connected to your PC - ReadyBoost devices, drives dedicated to backups, etc.

To open Device Manager, right-click (My) Computer icon on Desktop or in Start menu. Click Properties.
Windows Vista, Computer right-click menu. Click Properties.

In Windows XP, System Properties window opens. Open Hardware tab and click Device Manager.
Windows XP, System Properties, Hardware tab. Click Device Manager to select policies for removable devices.

In Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1, click Device Manager in the left part of Basic system information window.
In Windows Vista, click Continue in the User Account Control dialog.
Windows 7, Control Panel, System. Click Device Manager to select policies for removable devices.

In Device Manager window, expand Disk drives section and locate the removable drive. It usually includes its connector type, such as USB or FireWire in the name.
Right-click the drive and select Properties from the menu.
Windows 7, Device Manager. Expand Disk drives. Then right-click the removable drive and click Properties.

Open the Policies tab.
In Windows XP, select Optimize for performance to speed up the storage device. Optimize for quick removal disables write caching, but reduces the possibility of data loss.
In Windows Vista and later, the options are named Better performance and Quick removal (default).
Click OK after making changes.
Windows XP, Device Manager, removable device properties. Optimize for performance speeds up writing to the drive. Optimize for quick removal provides better protection against data loss. Windows 7, Device Manager, removable device properties. Better performance speeds up writing to the drive. Quick removal provides better protection against data loss.

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