It’s Safe to Unplug USB Drive without Safety Removal?

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Yanking out the USB devices, especially the external hard drives, from a Windows computer without going through the Safety Removal used to be very dangerous. I have personally damaged quite a few in the past. But it’s no longer the case in Windows 10 since 1809 update.

In the past

To safely unplugging a USB drive from a Windows computer, you used to engage a feature called Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media, usually hidden in the System Tray.

image 1 - It's Safe to Unplug USB Drive without Safety Removal?

Right-click the icon and choose the removable media you’d like to disconnect. And then physically unplug the USB device from the machine.

image 2 - It's Safe to Unplug USB Drive without Safety Removal?

This way, Windows will properly write back all cached data and close all the active sessions other applications may have opened and prompt when it’s safe to remove the media.

image 3 - It's Safe to Unplug USB Drive without Safety Removal?

It’s inconvenient so the majority of people have been ignoring this safety method for years, including myself. Though I felt guilty every time I yanked one out, silently hoping nothing bad would happen, I did it anyway.

What’s changed

It’s no longer a thing you and I need to worry about anymore.

There are two main removal policies defined in all Windows:

  • Quick removal – that disables write caching on the device to keep the device ready to remove at any time. You can yank out the device whenever you want without using the Safety Removal procedure, as long as you are not in the middle of writing data to it.
  • Better performance – that enables the write caching in Windows. It has better performance but must use the Safety Removal procedure to disconnect the device safely.

Guess which one was the default policy in earlier versions of Windows? Better performance. And that’s why yanking out USB drive was never safe in the past.

Since Windows 10 version 1809, the default policy has changed to Quick removal. I can feel better now every time I unplug a USB drive from my computer.

To verify and change the default Removal Policy

To verify, plug in a USB drive, open Disk Management, right-click the label of the USB device and choose Properties.

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Go to the Policy tab and you will see which policy is checked.

image 6 - It's Safe to Unplug USB Drive without Safety Removal?

What happened on Windows 7?

Out of curiosity, I checked one of my Windows 7 computers to see which default removal policy is set in place. Surprise, it’s also Quick removal.

Why is that? My speculation is that maybe it’s because I have the latest Group Policy ADMX version loaded up in my domain control and therefore the default storage policy gets deployed to all Windows machine regardless of the version. It’s great news but since I can’t find the exact policy in Group Policy I can’t really confirm if that’s the case.

1 COMMENT

  1. I ALWAYS, in EVERY CASE, disable write-behind caching on all drives, whenever I install any Windows. Why? Very simple. If it’s a server, maybe it’s OK, but for an end user to use it, imagine the following scenerio:

    A user is editing a file in an application. They have done a lot of work, and typed a lot of data. Now, they hit “Save”. They relax, thinking the file is saved. Then, there’s a power failure. They restart the computer when it comes back on, to see if it is OK. It’s NOT! Everything they typed since the last autosave will likely be gone!

    I’m not playing Russian roulette with my data, just so M$ can come out a little faster on benchmarks; at the cost of not actually writing it when I tell it to.

    It is thus, my understanding, that I will never lose data on a removable drive by not doing a “Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media.” Life is too short to “Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media”!

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