Tips for Using USB Drives

by Barry Dysert
(last updated February 2, 2015)


USB drives are a boon to those using computers because they are portable, reliable, fairly fast, and have a good deal of capacity. USB drives are well suited for transferring large amounts of data between computers that aren't connected by a fast network.

When selecting a USB drive for use with your system, you'll always get the best performance if you match the "generation" of the USB drive to what is supported by your system. In other words, if your system has USB 2 or USB 3 connectors on it, then you will get the best performance by using a USB 2 or USB 3 drive. You can use older generations of drives with newer generations of connectors, but the transfer speeds will only go to whatever speed is the slowest between your system and drive. (For example, a USB 1 drive won't perform at USB 2 speeds even if your system is capable of USB 2 support.)

One thing to be aware of when using USB drives is that if AutoPlay is turned on, the disk will be searched every time it's plugged in. When you plug in a drive, you'll see the AutoPlay dialog box appear. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. The AutoPlay dialog box.

Don't be fooled into thinking that you must wait until the search is finished before you can use the device. Instead, simply click the Open Folder to View Files option near the bottom, and you'll immediately see Windows Explorer appear with your USB drive selected. You can then navigate the drive just as you would any other disk drive.

Another unnecessary cause that may concern you is that occasionally nothing happens when you plug in a USB drive. When this happens, it's usually because the USB connectors need to be reseated. Simply remove the USB drive from the USB port and plug it back in. You should then see your drive appear.

Finally, it's recommended that you always safely remove the USB drive instead of simply pulling it out of the USB port. You safely remove a device by clicking the Safely Remove icon in your system tray. It looks like a USB cable with a check mark next to it. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. The "Safely Remove" icon.

Once you click the Safely Remove icon, Windows shows you the USB devices it detects on your system. Click the name of the device you want to remove and Windows will shortly let you know if it is OK to remove it. Once you're notified, you are free to unplug it.

 This tip (12371) applies to Windows 7 and 8.

Author Bio

Barry Dysert

Barry has been a computer professional for over 30 years, working in different positions such as technical team leader, project manager, and software developer.  He is currently a senior software engineer with an emphasis on developing custom applications under Microsoft Windows. ...


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What is five more than 4?

2015-04-19 03:36:24

Peter Schmid

If using Hotswap! you do nlot have any problems correctly discontinuing USB Drives:
Sincerley yours
Peter Schmid

2015-02-03 16:27:29

Gordon Schochet

Obviously, if a file from the device is still open and has not been saved to another location, the drive is still in use. But even when all the files are closed, some programs retain the name of the file in something like a cache, which Explorer interprets as in use"/don't remove. Acrobat is especially problematic in this respect, and sometimes has to be closed to release the drive. Another reason is that something like My Computer is opened and showing the device (translation: it's "in use").

2015-02-03 12:01:54


I used USBs constantly for file sharing for myself and with customers on Win7 and XP. I get the annoying message "files still in use" quite often when ejecting a drive even when I know I have just closed the file in an application (usually Excel or QuarkExpress).

I'm always leery of the options to proceed anyway. I often handle many files and some checking has shown that there seems to be a higher incidence of the message when the files on the drive are still listed in the "recently opened files" directory. Closing the application seems to always clear the message.

I'm a printer and often need to temporarily use a customer font. Loading a font in place (on the USB) will usually hang up removal of the USB until the font is removed from the system.

2015-02-02 13:35:17


Duncan/Bernard. My resolution to a similar experience as you are seeing is to make sure all files that reside on the USB are closed, including applications. Most often I found that the spreadsheet or word document that I had been editing was open because I hadn't closed the app or closed the file. 99% of the time, closing them resolved the issue.
I only use the "Eject"command from the command window.

2015-02-02 08:44:07


Be very careful about accepting USB drives from others. Before using in your machine, they should always be scanned for virus' before using. In fact, unless you can confirm that the drive is virus free you should seriously consider whether to use it at all. Many virus' now look to transfer to USB drives automatically the enable spreading.

2015-02-02 08:03:17

Bernard Liengme

I get the same message as Duncan every time even if I wait an hour after using the drive. So I open File Explorer and use Eject on the drive.

2015-02-02 06:24:15


On my system (Win7), Windows responds with something like "This drive/device is still in use and cannot be unplugged at the present time." This seems to happen more often than not, and even if I wait and try again, it often recurs.

Any ideas on what's ahppening and how to resolve it?

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