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What is “Quick Removal” and How is it Changing in Windows 10?

Microsoft recently made an announcement that as of Windows 10 version 1809, the default for the “Quick removal” setting would be changed.

The pragmatic result is that you should see or need to use “Safely Remove Hardware” less often.

Let’s look at why that is.

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Removal considered harmful1

Removing or unplugging an external drive from your computer while everything is turned on can be risky. If anything is being written to the disk at the same time you unplug it, you run the risk of corrupting the data stored on the drive.

Unfortunately, this is at odds with a speed optimization that can make it look like your computer has completed writing data to the drive, when it has not.

Pull the plug at the wrong time, and bad things happen.

Write caching

Write caching is a technique used by many computers and device drivers to collect data in RAM (in a ‘cache’) to be written to a disk before writing it. This way, the device driver can tell the program requesting that the data be written, “I’ve got it”, and that program can do other work without waiting for the write to finish. Windows completes the write to disk in the background.

You might see this when you perform a save operation with a large file. You click on “Save” and it seems to happen very quickly, perhaps almost instantly. But if you look closely, the light on your external drive (if it has one) might still be flashing for a while as the data is transferred in the background.

By not forcing the program to wait until a write has completed, the program — and, indeed, the entire computer — operates more quickly.

Write caching is a speed optimization designed to make your computer more efficient.

Quick removal

“Quick removal” turns off write caching.

That means that the program doing the writing must wait until the data has been written to the device before it can move on to other things.

In this case, when you click “Save” on that large file, it’ll take longer. You’ll have to wait until the file has been saved before you can move on. You’ll likely see the lights on your external drive stop flashing right around the same time the save operation completes.

Quick removal is safer because you’re less likely to think that writing has completed when it’s still underway.

Safely remove hardware

The Safely Remove Hardware item in your Windows Taskbar notification area is, in concept, very simple.

Safely Remove Hardware

By clicking on “Safely remove” for a specific device, you force Windows to complete all the cached writing that might be underway.2 Once complete, you get the familiar “You may now remove…” message for whatever device you request.

Changing the default

When an external drive is connected, Windows has to decide whether to enable write caching or not.

In the past, for many (if not most) drives, the default was to enable write caching, and therefore require the use of “Safely Remove” before the drive could be removed.

With Windows 10 1809, the default has been changed. In more cases, Windows will not enable write caching, opting instead for “quick removal”.

You can see and change what Windows has selected for your drive. With the drive attached, right-click the Start Menu, click on Disk Management, right-click on the Disk representing the drive, click on Properties, and then click on the Policies tab.

Disk management dialog highlighting the Removal policy
Disk management dialog highlighting the Removal policy.

“Removal policy” indicates the current setting. You can change it if you like, and click OK.

The practical impact

On modern machines, the benefits of write-caching on external USB drives is minimal. On older machines, write-caching probably had more of an impact (perhaps most with the older, slower, USB 1 interface). With USB 3 (and even USB 2 to a large degree), the data is written fast enough for the additional caching to have little, if any, practical effect.

Not having to worry about “Safely remove” is probably of more benefit, as it reduces the risk of data loss by pulling the plug at an inopportune time.

To be clear, pulling a device while it’s being written to is always a bad idea and can result in corruption and data loss. “Quickly remove” just makes it less likely for the device to look like it’s done when it’s not.

If you see “safely remove hardware” present for a USB device, that device probably does not have “Quick removal” turned on3. If “Quick removal” is enabled, you’ll generally not need (or see) “Safely Remove Hardware”.

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Footnotes

1: “Considered harmful” is almost a meme in computer circles, dating back to 1968.

2: It almost certainly looks at other things, like open files on the device, but the primary function is to make sure pending writes are complete.

3: Or, it appears, the device is complex enough that, for whatever reason, it still requires “Safely remove” to be present. I have at least one device that still appears in “Safely remove”, even though it’s marked as “Quickly remove”. I do not get a warning if I remove without using “Safely remove”, however.

9 comments on “What is “Quick Removal” and How is it Changing in Windows 10?”

  1. Sounds great, but I have USB devices that don’t have a flashing light or the flashing light is facing the wrong direction when it’s plugged in so I can’t see it. So how do I know that it has finished writing to the USB device, if I don’t have to click Safely Remove?

  2. Thanks for the info, Leo. I wonder if this will affect being unable to “safely remove” a device because it’s in use, but you don’t know what’s using it, or how to release it. The safe solution is to shut down the PC, but that’s not practical if it’s a server and you’re trying to change a backup disk. Why is there no EASY way to determine what’s using a device? Or at least not that I’ve been able to find.

    • I’m curious about this too. At one point I used a program called taskkiller (I think) that would help identify what was running (and allow you to kill it) but I’ve stopped installing it as I trust 3rd party software less and less these days. Anyway, curious if Leo has any input on this question.

  3. Leo. I am running Win 10, 1809 with all updates up-to-date and following your suggestion “With the drive attached, right-click the Start Menu, click on Disk Management, right-click on the Disk representing the drive, click on Properties, and then click on the Policies tab”, Policies is not offered. 1. With a USB Flash drive installed: When I click on Properties the pop-up screen is different than what you show. Mine offers General, Tools, Hardware, Sharing, Ready Boost and Customize, none of which reveal Policies. 2. With an external hard drive installed: The options offered are now Security Previous Versions Quota General Tools Hardware sharing. Again no Policies. Please help.

  4. I have checked all my external HDD and they are all on “Quick Removal” according to the procedure described in your article, but out of an abundance of caution, I am still using “Safely Remove Hardware”. I have to admit that I am scared that something would or could happen to my data on those drives. And if that ever happens, it is like all hell is breaking loose.

    • Two things: 1) nothing wrong with your approach at all 2) if you’re concerned about losing data if one drive fails to eject properly, you’re not backed up. Start backing up your data right away. Rule of thumb: if there’s only one copy, it’s not backed up.

      • Premature removal of a drive will lose the contents of the buffer for any recently saved files so it might be a good idea to copy files from the hard drive to the external drives and not create them directly on an external drive if it can be avoided. This ensures you have 2 copies of your files.

  5. Backing up religiously my system is my mantra after having been with AskLeo for a very long time. If I understand correctly your answers, my way of doing things is OK since I am playing on the safe side. With regard to my important files, I am a subscriber to Office 365 and OneDrive is backing up everything regularly. On the other hand, all my system image backups with Differentials ( I am not a big fan of Incrementals) are on those external HDDs which for nothing in the world I would like to mess up with. Here lies the reason why I am being careful by still using “Safely Remove Hardware”. I don’t unplug them frequently, but under certain circumstances, or for one reason or another, that might happen.

    Thanks to both of you, Leo & Mark Jacobs for your insight.

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