Since the dawn of USB technology, the questions and confusion about "safely removing" such hardware has been heard, especially for the storage devices. Is it safe to ignore this warning?
Unplugging A USB Device
Plugging and unplugging USB hardware while the computer is on could be dangerous because it can crash the operating system, damage the file system, or could cause loss of data from a USB flash drive or USB attached hard drive. Although most USB devices are designed to be hot swappable, care must be taken especially when unplugging the device.
A USB flash drive is probably the most commonly used USB device and also the device that is very frequently plugged in and unplugged every day. Pulling out the USB drive is not recommended because it might prove to be deleterious for the life of the drive. Also, many people have lost valuable information from their USB drives because they did not follow the safe removal method and suffered lost time and effort as a result.
Using the “Safely Remove Hardware” function of Windows ensures that the device is not in use so that it can be unplugged safely without causing any data loss or crashing of Windows.
The reason why there is a risk of data loss when pulling off the pen drive is the enabling of the write caching, which means that if you write something to the pen drive, it will first get written to a cache and then to the pen. So if you pull it out but the data has not yet been written to the pen drive, you will end up with data loss, file system corruption, or both.
Therefore, it is recommended this method of device removal is always followed for all USB storage devices, i.e. a pen/flash drive, external hard drive, etc.
Those pen drive users, who plug and unplug their drive many times a day can take advantage of accessing "Safely Remove Hardware" by the following methods, too.
Right-clicking the flash drive in My Computer or Computer and choosing Eject.
In the RUN window, type in: RunDll32.exe shell32.dll,Control_RunDLL hotplug.dll (Ok). A batch file (.bat) can also be created with this command and placed on the Desktop for quicker access.
You can also configure the USB drives for either performance - or quick removal. To be able to remove the USB drive safely, without going through annoying “Safely remove hardware” method, do the following:
1. Open My Computer.
2. Right-click on the USB drive icon.
3. Go to the Hardware tab.
4. Select your USB drive and press the Properties button.
5. Now go to the Policies tab.
6. Select “Optimize for quick removal” (if not already selected) and press the Ok button.
You can always change the setting back to “Optimize for performance.” It slightly increases the write performance, but if you don’t want to comprise quick removal with performance just leave it to the quick removal setting.
Still taking a little performance issue into consideration, it would be more appropriate to wait for a few seconds to unplug the device after Windows says it's safe to remove the device, to make sure that the read/write light on the drive is not flashing and that no data is being read or written to the drive.
Free Software assistants for USB unplugging
While there is a Windows built-in utility to unmount USB drives, there are several programs developed making the process easier and more reliable.
1. EjectUSB (recommended)
EjectUSB is a tool for quickly closing apps running from a USB drive and ejecting the drive from safe removal. It will automatically close all programs running from the drive EjectUSB was run from (host drive), close any explorer windows open to the host drive, remove Windows MUI and MRU entries and recent document shortcuts related to the host drive, and attempt to eject the host drive when done. It can also interface with various utilities to aid in drive ejection.
2. USB Disk Ejector
The program allows you to remove quickly USB devices in Windows. Originally, the software was designed to eject the USB pen drives only, but the latest version support all kind of USB devices. You can run it through graphic interface or non-visual command line.
3. USB-Stick unplug
Simple and lightweight open source GUI frontend for the RemoveDrive free application allowing USB stick removal.
Web site: http://usb-unplug.sourceforge.net/
Do thumb drives wear out?
When specialists try to convince users to unmount USB drives properly, they refer to the reasoning, that even thou your data might not be lost, and your drive crashed, you still impose certain harm to your USB, causing the more extensive wear
Yes, it is true. The downside to a thumb drive is that it will eventually wear out. Most thumb drives are built to last for about 10,000 to 100,000 rewrites. You may think that you will never rewrite the thumb drive that many times, but it happens all the time and before you know it, all the data on the thumb drive can be lost forever.
So why do thumb drives wear out? Well, here's the story behind a thumb drive, or a flash drive as they are commonly called. When you store memory on it the computer will send a signal telling the device to flash it, similar to that of a camera flash. Basically this flash is writing the data so the device remembers it. When you decide to re-write that memory, the computer sends a signal to the device to tell it to erase it where it is again flashed off the device. As this sounds like a simple and easy process, the little thumb drive device can only handle so many flashes. While the package says it can handle 100,000 flashes, it may give out before that time and your data can be lost. This is why you need to know that there is a limit to the thumb drive and why it's important to back-up your data with an external hard drive or purchase multiple thumb drives to back-up your data.
A lot of flash drive manufactures are installing circuitry on the flash drive to prevent corruption of data. While the circuitry may be able to recover some of the data on the device, it cannot guarantee this type of protection for everything on the device. What usually causes a thumb drive to wear out before its expected usage is a bit of bad information. If you are transferring worn out information on the thumb drive, it will corrupt the thumb drive rendering the entire device unreadable.
To prevent thumb drive failures with important information, always back-up your big data on a hard drive and use the thumb drive for the smaller applications and files. Replace your thumb drive every three years. This will allow for about 10 re-writes a day on the device. In a work-related setting, it is easy to re-write the information on a flash drive at least 10 times a say so this number isn't farfetched.
Keep backup of your most valuable data no matter how much are you following the safety rules. The problems might come without preliminary warning. And data recovery is much more complicated process than data backup.