Should You Be Safely Removing Your Drives?

Safely removing drives... Is that still a thing? I'm assuming that most, if not all of us have removed a drive without going through the process of safely removing it from our computers. I mean who has time to sit and wait? It's much quicker to simply disconnect the drive and carry on with our day, but could this be a disaster waiting to happen?

For the longest time, I've been removing my drives from my computer without actually "ejecting" them properly. I've seen the warnings and the message that pops up afterward about how the drive wasn't removed safely. However, I haven't had any problems at all so far. Linus Sebastian, a popular YouTuber, describes on his channel Techquickie how this may, in fact, be a severe mistake that could cause damage or loss of data. Both Windows and macOS-based computers have options available that allow you to correctly eject your drives before you remove them. The reason for this is that it ensures any communications between your computer and device aren't interrupted prematurely to prevent corruption or loss of data. For most of us, it's pretty obvious that removing a drive while transferring data is a bad idea, however, Sebastian describes that your computer may actually still be communicating with your device even when data transfers have been completed. This is where problems can occur and although most of the time it's probably fine, it may only take one instance where a drive isn't properly removed for things to go wrong. 

Check out the full video to see why we all may need to start removing our drives properly and safely. 

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Johnny Rico's picture

I've never had an issue pulling a usb flashdrive on PC (I still probably do it around 50/50). But I have learned my lesson on the mac side, I will always eject the damn things. I've had more issues with that than one could believe.

Michael Aubrey's picture

Windows has as fail safe to protect data corruption called "quick removal" that is the default mode for usb drives. It's slightly slower than what you get on a Mac, but you never really (=rarely, if ever) need to worry about data corruption.

OSX makes the performance a priority and designed its OS so that it teaches people its "best practices".

It's simple to change Windows to the higher performance mode in the device manager.

Matthew Saville's picture

And yet, to this day, OSX Finder still doesn't tell you the data transfer rate when copying files from drive to drive. That's literally the only thing I miss about Windows. And while we're at it, why is it 2018 and we still don't have a preference option to just perform multiple copies in sequence instead of simultaneously? We're launching Teslas into space, and yet I still have to watch my computer become completely useless l if I try and queue up a handful of transfers at once in Finder. ...#priorities

Benton Lam's picture

Not too sure what you mean about writing multiple copies in sequence vs simultaneously.

Matthew Saville's picture

Start and finish one copy / transfer, before starting the next one, if you queue up multiple copies / transfers at once. Say you have an external hard drive plugged in, and you're going out to lunch, and while you're out to lunch you want to transfer some images from your computer to the external drive, AND some other photos from the external hard drive to the computer drive. If you start a back-and-forth transfer situation, OSX throws a fit and takes far longer than if you had just been there to manage each transfer one at a time.

Benton Lam's picture

I see.

You may argue that Finder would know that you have requested two simultaneous transfer request on the same drive, so it should put it sequentially.

One of the problems that it needs to solve is to decide when to combine the two requests. If your first request is long running, say 5 minutes, does it always combine subsequent requests on the same drive? What if you wanted to transfer this one small file while the big transfer is happening too, and you would like to work on that one small file quickly? It's difficult for the software to deduce what you intend to do.

Another problem is that Finder was probably written with one type of assumption, and accommodating your particular case could be a major rework. Think of the current file transfer as UPS in the 80s. The driver got a print-out of pickups at the start of the shift, and there wasn't a lot of good ways to communicate with them on the go. So when you transfer from USB to laptop, the UPS driver (a thread in nerdspeak) gets a list of stuff to shuffle around, and when the driver's done, it drives back to the warehouse.

If now you want to support the case where the user could add a new request that needs to be executed sequentially, then you need to update that paper print-out to a computer that HQ could modify that list on the fly. This requires more "infrastructure", and introduces kinks that needs to be worked out.

With Finder being rather integral to how the OS operates, it really depends on how well they could test a change and make sure they don't introduce something new.

Benton Lam's picture

It matters regardless of the OS that you use, because all modern OS that works with removable writable media caches writes to the drive.

The OS may choose to be less aggressive and lean towards survivability over performance, but that is still no guarantee.

If the OS cached to a part of a file, it would corrupt that file. If it was caching writes to other data structures, such as which blocks are free, etc, the disk recovery tools might be able to preserve the file system as a whole, but could leave multiple files damaged.

If that USB / SD card that you're removing is your livelihood, please actually eject them.

Johnny Rico's picture

On windows I only eject all external hard drives, flash drives for client delivery, and cards (they auto eject on import). Again though, intra office and misc. usb usage I just pull, and have never had an issue on windows. On mac, I've had computer lockups, crashes, other people yanking usb's, pulling out wrong cable, etc that have borked stuff a few times.

Jonathan Ferland-Valois's picture

Anyone has an idea how it is on Linux? I usually just pull my drives out when I'm done.

David Mawson's picture

If in doubt, I'd always use the eject option. (You can't give a simple answer for linux because there are so many different file systems available.)

Benton Lam's picture

Do the eject option. Linux can be *very* aggressive with caching.

In the really good old days with floppy disks, you could create a file on the floppy with some data, and it would tell you it's done quite quickly. If you remove the disk without ejecting, you'll be in for a nasty surprise.

When you eject, the OS knows for sure you wanted to sync() to the drive, and then writes everything out.

Jonathan Ferland-Valois's picture

Thanks guys, good to know!

Simon Patterson's picture

I am religious about ejecting them first. I've never had a problem with data loss with this method.

Ray Hardy's picture

Cmon’ guys, your smarter than this.
Eject your drives properly.

Johnny Rico's picture

I just wish windows wouldn't put Format right next to Eject on the right click.

Spy Black's picture

I've only recently had a Garbage Can Mac wipe out a card reader, but I suspect it was a faulty reader. The card in the reader was not affected. Other than that, I've never had an issue just pulling a drive out of computer.

Daris Fox's picture

I've not used Eject in Windows for over a decade, never had an issue. The only time I used eject command was with e-SATA solutions, which work at a lower device level. Windows is pretty good at recovering missing files depending on file system used on the drive, I tend to use NTFS.

Should also note, not all USB drives can support Write Caching and therefore you can't enable it in the properties.

Scott Ishiyama's picture

For Windows, try USB Disk Ejector. My USB stick requires repairs when I don't "safely eject" it, which often requires multiple tries. I keep a portable version of this software on the stick, with an alias on my Windows desktop. When I want to eject the stick, I double-click the desktop alias. In the pop-up window, I double-click on my USB stick and it ejects properly every time . Saves me a ton of frustration and time.

Tom D's picture


Ralph Hightower's picture

Also do the eject if you've done any writing to CD-RW or DVD-RW storage media.

Steven Jannis's picture

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