How to safely remove a USB drive even when Windows says it isn't safe to do so

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

When he isn't bicycling, prowling used bookstores, or watching movies, PC World Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema.
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Windows doesn't always allow you to safely remove a flash drive or external hard drive. Klaatu asked the Answer Line forum for advice.

If you simply pull an external drive out of a running computer, you're asking for trouble. You might lose files, crash applications, or even ruin everything on the computer. But removing it safely isn't always as easy as it should be.

[Email your tech questions to answer@pcworld.com or post them on the PCW Answer Line forum.]

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Add an external drive to your WMP or iTunes music collection

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

When he isn't bicycling, prowling used bookstores, or watching movies, PC World Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema.
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Kat Korsmo asked how to play music off an external hard in Windows Media Player library. (My answer covers iTunes, as well.)

As people replace their hard drives with smaller SSDs, many will choose to move large music collections to external drives. And they'll want their media player, whatever it is, to know what's on that drive.

I covered this topic back in 2009, but Windows has changed a lot since then. If you're using Windows XP or Vista, I suggest you go back to that article. The following is for Windows 7 and 8 users.

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Manage passwords, and not just on the Web

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

When he isn't bicycling, prowling used bookstores, or watching movies, PC World Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema.
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Mgentry2 asked the Windows forum to recommend password managers that can " keep track of both online passwords and desktop application passwords (Outlook, Quicken, etc.)."

The safest passwords are long, seemingly random strings of letters, numbers, and punctuation--and you need a different one for each Web site and application. Unless you have a photographic memory, you need a program where you can securely store your passwords. That way, you only need to remember the one password that will give you access to all the others.

You need a password manager, which is essentially an encrypted password database. There's no reason why a good password manager it can't work for Web sites and applications.

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How to securely wipe sensitive files--or your entire hard drive

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

When he isn't bicycling, prowling used bookstores, or watching movies, PC World Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema.
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Rommel asked the Utilities forum for advice on cleaning files off a hard drive so that they can never be restored.

When you delete a file, it doesn't actually go away--even after you've emptied the Recycle Bin. The actual bits remain written on the drive until some other disk activity writes over them. Even when you format a drive, the files are still there for those who want and know how to read them.

If you want to truly and securely delete a file, or the contents of an entire drive, you need software that will overwrite the space where the file(s) once sat. Fortunately, several free programs can do this.

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Automatically delete a huge amount of duplicate files

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

When he isn't bicycling, prowling used bookstores, or watching movies, PC World Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema.
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Duplicate-file-finding programs expect you to manually check each file for deletion. That's not practical for Edward Derbyshire, who has "121,000 duplicates" to delete.

Before I tell you how to delete all of your duplicate files automatically--without checking each one first--let me give you a warning: Doing so requires you to let software make decisions best left to you. Are the files really duplicates? Is there a good reason for that file to be in two different locations? And if not, in what folder should the file reside?

[Email your tech questions to answer@pcworld.com or post them on the PCW Answer Line forum.]

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Cool down an overheated laptop

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

When he isn't bicycling, prowling used bookstores, or watching movies, PC World Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema.
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Gamersim17's laptop was "getting intensely hot." He turned to the Laptops forum for advice.

A hot computer is a bad computer. Excess heat can cause malfunctions and crashes, and permanently damage your hardware. And although laptops generally put out less heat than desktops (energy efficiency is a higher design priority), they have their own unique problems. They're rarely as well ventilated as a desktop, and much more difficult to clean.

 [Email your tech questions to answer@pcworld.com or post them on the PCW Answer Line forum.]

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Regain your PC's administrator rights, even if you don't have the password

Lincoln Spector Contributing Editor, PCWorld

When he isn't bicycling, prowling used bookstores, or watching movies, PC World Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema.
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LouieB62 needs administrator-level access to his Windows PC, but he doesn't have the password. He asked the Answer Line forum for help.

Your Windows PC has at least one administrator-level account. If you can't access that account, you've got a problem--you can't install or uninstall programs, or change certain settings.

I'll tell you a way to gain this access,  but first, ask yourself if you really should be doing this. If it's unquestionably your computer and you've forgotten your password (or if the previous owner failed to give it to you), you have every right acquire or change the password. But if it's a company computer and the IT department wants to keep full administrator control to itself, this is a good way to get fired. And if it's someone else's computer, it's a good way to get arrested.

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