August 18, 2021
What if I don’t safely eject my USB!?
Adrian Pratap
To eject or not to eject? Is it safe to rip the USB drive out when we're done, or should we be 'Safely ejecting' it?

To eject or not to eject? This is the question that many a tech nerd has grappled with and I’m absolutely certain that at least one sheep station has been lost due to the resulting scuffle! Seriously though, USB drives have become a cheap and easy way to move data. However, in our quest to be time efficient, is it safe to rip the USB drive out when we’re done, or should we be ‘Safely ejecting’ it?

Since Windows 10 1809 you no longer need to ‘Safely Remove USB’ to remove your USB drive. You can just rip that bad boy straight out without a care in the world! Yep, you heard that correctly. It is like freedom, sunshine, roses, chocolate, and floating on a fluffy cloud. But… just make sure you’re not actively writing to the drive first, or you might run into problems.

Do you use a Mac? Well, Apple doesn’t say as much on their official support website, but anecdotally we can tell you that we haven’t run into any problems… yet. Having said that you will receive a rather stern “Disk Not Ejected Properly” which can be concerning… especially if you’ve just copied your only version of a hastily cobbled together uni assignment you stayed up all night to complete.

To understand things a little better, we should probably talk about a little thing called ‘write caching’. You see when your computer is told to copy or write data to your USB drive, what it does is write the data to its own internal drive. This happens quickly, and a normal human wouldn’t even notice it… except if you’re the Flash. Then when you click “Eject Properly” this signals the computer to quickly write it’s cached data to the USB. All of this happens in the blink of an eye on modern USB drives and computers and is usually not noticeable. Seriously though, write caching or not, if you just wait until the USB has stopped writing then it should be okay.

The difference between the default behaviours of Windows vs Mac, is that Windows has enabled a feature called ‘Quick Removal’ which basically keeps it from continuously writing to the USB drive. This is another way of saying that Windows does not enable write caching for USB drives as a default behaviour.  Whilst this may lessen the performance of the USB drive, it does mean its safer to simple unplug it when you’re done without having to ‘safely eject’.  This is opposite on a Mac as Apple has decided that performance of USB drives is more important than being able to quickly yank them out.

So, the next time you get the urge to just pull that USB drive out and get going with your life, just remember on Windows, quick removal minimises any risk of data corruption. On Mac, well just wait until the USB light stops flashing and you should be good to go despite Apple’s scolding message to the contrary. You rebel you.

However, if you do play by the rules then you will have only lost a grand total of 0.632 seconds by clicking the ‘safely eject’ button first. Your call.