Simple Solutions for USB Storage Problems

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Be they flash drives or external hard drives, USB storage devices are wonderful. You just plug them in and they work.

Unless, of course, they don't.

Here I answer three reader questions about USB drives that don't quite plug and play.

How Do I Remove a USB Drive If Windows Says It Isn't Safe to Do So?

--Stan Grant, Lodi, Ohio

It would be nice if, rather than just telling you that the drive can't be safely removed, Windows bothered to say why. Sadly, it doesn't.

If a USB drive is too busy to be safely removed, Windows will tell you to wait a while and retry. But we've got some other suggestions.
So what can you do in this situation? Windows recommends--via a dialog box--that you wait and try again, and that often works. But while you're waiting, check your taskbar and system tray for programs that might be running files off the USB drive. Close any such programs.

In fact, close programs that were running files off that drive, even if you've already closed those files.

Still no luck? Try Task Manager, using these steps:

Use the Windows Task Manager utility to seek out apps that may be tying up your USB drive.
1. Press Ctrl-Alt-Delete. If you're using Vista, follow that by clicking Start Task Manager.

2. Click the Processes tab.

3. Examine the list of processes, looking for anything that could be from that drive--for instance, a process with a name similar to that of one of the files on the drive.

4. If you find such a process, select it, click the End Process button, and confirm your decision.

5. Try safely removing the drive again.

If Windows still won't let you remove the drive, it's time for desperate measures. Here are two of them:

1. You can shut down your PC, remove the device, and then reboot. It works, but it's time consuming and annoying.

2. Or you could take a deep breath, cross your fingers, and just pull the stupid thing out. I know, I'm not supposed to tell you that. It's bad advice. But I've done it more times than I'd care to admit, and it's never backfired on me. Which isn't to say I can guarantee that it won't backfire on you--I can't. And don't even think about doing this if your external drive is NTFS-formatted (see the tip on the next page for a discussion of that issue).

To put a simpler, more intuitive face on your USB device removals, try USB Safely Remove.
If those solutions don't prove helpful enough, there's another one you can try, but it will cost you 20 bucks.

Download and install USB Safely Remove. This $20 shareware program puts its own icon in the System Tray in place of Windows' remove icon. When it can't safely close a drive, it shows you what processes are causing the problem and gives you the opportunity to close them.

USB Safely Remove has other cool features, too. You can rename your USB devices, set up a hot-key to stop a particular device, and set autorun options. If you don't want one more autoloading program, you can turn off the "Run on Windows startup" option and launch USB Safely Remove only when you need it--that is, when Windows won't otherwise let you safely remove a drive.

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