It’s a situation with which you may be familiar…You’re at work and you just finished transferring a presentation from a coworker’s computer to a thumb drive. You decide to show off a little and just pull that USB right out. You know you’re supposed to eject it first, but you see yourself as a bit of a John Wayne type and you want your coworkers to know it. You strut away as the office looks on, impressed.
I hate to be a wet blanket, but your party trick may actually cause more harm than admiration. The warning to properly remove flash drives is there for a reason – a proper ejection prevents your data from becoming corrupted in the event that your system is busy writing something to the drive. Think of the data transfer between your computer and your external drive like moving people across a bridge. If you eject the drive mid-data transfer, it’s a bit like removing a bridge while there are still people on it.
Even if your computer shows that the data has already been transferred, it is not yet safe to remove because of something called write caching. Your computer uses write caching for removable devices as a way to improve speed. Any data you are attempting to transfer to an external drive is held in a cache in the computer’s system memory. Rather than forcing your program to focus on a data transfer at the very moment you ask it to, the computer puts the data in the cache and waits until the most opportune time to complete the task. Properly ejecting the drive commands the computer to go ahead and finish the transfer.
If you have a Windows computer, you can disable write caching (File Explorer -> right-click on your external drive -> Properties -> Policies -> select Quick Removal) with negligible performance loss, however this is not a fail-safe. There is still a small likelihood of data loss. On a Mac, you’re better off not messing with the write caching and knowing that it is automatically enabled.
How to Properly Eject a USB Drive
On a Windows device, open My Computer and find the USB device you’d like to disconnect. Right-click on it and select Eject. The computer will notify you when it is safe to pull it out.
If you’re a Mac user, locate the external device (likely either on your desktop or in the left-hand panel of Finder), left-click on it and drag it to the trash (bottom right of the screen). If done correctly, the trash icon should change to an eject icon (a triangle with a horizontal line below it). As soon as the eject icon disappears, you can remove it. Alternatively, you can hover over the device in the left-hand panel of Finder and click the little eject button that appears after the name.
Patient Computer Help for Grown Ups assists people with their Macs and PCs in the Chagrin Falls and Ohio City areas.