PC Doctor May 23, 2012

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Dear PC Doctor,

Do I have to eject my USB thumb drive every time I want to unplug it? I've always just unplugged it from my Windows computer. The other day though, I unplugged it without ejecting it from my friend's Mac computer and I got an error message that scared me. Thankfully, everything on the drive is still okay. My friend showed me how to drag my drive to the trashcan to eject it on a Mac. I know you can right click the drive on Windows and choose “Eject” but I was wondering if there was an easier way to eject it on Windows.


Dear Sara,

I'll say upfront, that yes, it's an extremely good idea to always eject your drive before unplugging it. This is the guaranteed way to prevent your drive from being corrupted in case it's still writing data.

As you've seen, Mac computers process file writing to drives a bit different than Windows does. Windows doesn't “cache” the files on your drives. Basically, it doesn't wait for things to pile up before actually writing to the drive like Macs do. If you were to unplug the drive while caching was happening, the files being transferred/stored would end up missing either important parts of the file or the instructions to retrieve the files. Since Windows tends not to set up caching for USB thumb drives it's usually ok to unplug them without ejecting. However, you should always eject your drives when working on a Mac since they do write to cache. (Ever seen the ghosted files that begin with periods after working on a Mac? Those are written during the write caching process.)

When you eject your drive, the computer wraps everything up to make it safe to unplug the drive. In the future, save yourself a potential headache and get into the habit of ejecting your drives!

PC Doctor

Until next time… happy computing!