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HOWTO: Safely Eject Hardware (if Windows doesn’t let you)

If you’ve ever plugged a USB device into your computer, you’ve probably experienced the need to properly disable it. When you are done with the device, you are supposed to safely stop the device before you shut it down. This is to make sure nothing is accessing the device at the time of shutdown.


Let’s say you have an external hard-drive that you want to turn off. If you don’t properly stop it, Windows may be accessing some files at the time of shutdown, and this may cause data corruption. Sometimes when you try to shut it down though, you get an error saying the device is in use. This may happen even if you know nothing is using the device. All explorer windows are closed, and you know no programs are using it.

eject2.jpg (click to enlarge)

If this happens, you can use freeware Process Explorer to hunt down the thread accessing the device. Just open Process Explorer, hit Ctrl + F to open the Search menu, and enter the drive, in my case, “E:\”.


Now I can see a hidden instance of explorer is actually accessing the E: drive, so I just need to click on the result to see the thread. Now, right-click the thread, and close the handle.


Now that the hidden instance of explorer is closed, we can go about stopping the device the right way and avoid possible data corruption.

In my experience, this happens often when I access an external drive a lot and keep opening and closing exlorer windows. Occasionally, an instance will be remain open even though I’ve closed all windows. This method is also good for other USB devices that may annoy you. Just search for the drive letter and close all handles accessing the drive.

Published in security time savers windows


  1. anonymous coward anonymous coward

    Process Explorer is definately a great tool, get it while Microsoft still allos free downloads (for those who do not know, two weeks ago, M$ bought SysInternals). However, if you use MCAffee Anti-Virus, make an exception, Mcafee classifies processxp.exe as a virus!

  2. Mark Mark

    You’re correct. Sysinternals (a sub-set of Winternals) was just bought by Microsoft. According to what I’ve read thus far, MS is willing to keep the utilities up for free until they find an outlet for the programs in their current packages. I’m certain one of the co-founders (Mark — what a good name) was just hired by MS when Winternals was bought. I think the apps will be around for some time until MS really finds a new way to distribute them…possibly as part of the OS itself.

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