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How to safely remove external drives

External storage devices like flash drives or hard drives are so convenient for carrying data between computers. Just plug and play, as they say. But did you know it's not the same for when you unplug your drives? Here's how to safely remove external drives from your Windows computer.

How to safely remove external drives

Recently I was at a customer's location repairing her computer and needed some files from one of my USB flash drives. When I was done, I went through the process of ejecting the USB drive from her computer. She was surprised that I didn't just pull the flash drive out. You can, most of the time, unplug a USB device like a mouse or printer without having to do anything to your Windows-based computer. It's only when you have a storage device, like a flash drive or external hard drive, that you have to take an extra step to remove the device safely.

What is write caching?

By default, Windows enables write caching on storage devices for better performance, whether internal or external. Write caching allows programs to write to the device and continue without waiting for the data to be written. By properly ejecting a storage device, you ensure that the cache is getting written to the device before you disconnect it.

How to safely remove external drives

  1. Left-click on the Safely Remove Hardware icon on the Taskbar.
    Safely Remove Hardware icon on the Windows 8 Taskbar
  2. Left-click on the device you want to disconnect.
    List of removable drives ready to be ejected

or

  1. Open File Explorer (Windows logo key Windows logo key + E).
  2. Under This PC / Computer, right-click the drive you want to disconnect and select Eject.

Windows will display a notification when it's safe to disconnect the drive.

Inside the Windows 10 Technical Preview

Note: the Windows 10 Technical Preview program expired on 4/15/15 and is no longer available.

Coming on the heels of the Windows 8.1 Update, Microsoft recently released the Windows 10 Technical Preview. With this new Windows version, Microsoft combines elements from Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 to enhance the keyboard/mouse user experience better. Let's take a look at what's new in the Windows 10 Technical Preview.

The Start menu returns in the Windows 10 Technical Preview
The Start menu returns in the Windows 10 Technical Preview

With this Windows version, we see a shift in the focus from touch-based devices to keyboard/mouse systems. The most significant change by far is the return of the Start menu. And it is a hybrid now, with elements from Windows 7 (Start menu (left-side)) and Windows 8.1 (Start screen Tiles (right-side)). But if you like using the Start screen, it's still there too. It's just a checkbox and a restart away.

You can switch in between the Start menu and the Start screen in the Windows 10 Technical Preview
You can switch in between the Start menu and the Start screen in the Windows 10 Technical Preview

But let's be honest, the Start screen concept might work on a tablet or phone, but it fails miserably on a laptop or desktop computer without a touch screen. Customers have even told me that they had returned brand new Windows 8 systems because they could not stand the Start screen.

Using multiple instances of the Desktop with Task view inside the Windows 10 Technical Preview
Using multiple instances of the Desktop with Task view inside the Windows 10 Technical Preview

Along with the Start menu's return, Microsoft has also built-in the ability to run multiple instances of the Desktop called Task view. With Task view, you can have different sets of programs running in separate desktops. This feature is kind of cool if you're using a single display.

The Windows RT / Metro apps from Windows 8 / 8.1 also have undergone some changes. Their name has been changed to Universal apps, and they now run in completely re-sizable windows. You need to use the Store to install universal apps and can sync them across multiple devices using a Microsoft account.

There is a small change here and there too. One difference is with the way you copy and paste with the Command Prompt. You can now use the Windows keyboard shortcuts (Ctrl + C for copy, Ctrl + V for paste) for these tasks.

The Windows 10 Technical Preview is available for anyone who wants to give it a try. Remember; do not install the Windows 10 Technical Preview on a production system. Use only a system that can be reformatted after the preview expires (4/15/15). For this article, I used an Oracle VirtualBox virtual machine.

The correct ways to shut down your Windows based computer

Updated September 13, 2020

Doing computer repair, I see a lot of different issues. But there is one problem I see over and over again, start-up corruption. This most commonly occurs when the computer is not turned off properly. And it appears that laptops are more prone to this issue than desktops are. So here's how to properly shutdown your Windows-based computer.

Which power button do you use to shut down your computer?

Logic dictates that if you use a button to turn on a device, you should also use it to turn it off (button on / button off). You use a button to turn on and off your TV, audio/video components, and smartphone. But this is not necessarily the case when it comes to your computer. It is always recommended that you allow the operating system to close down all applications and turn the computer off itself.

Using the Start menu / Start screen to shut down Windows

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be amazed at how many people don't use this method. It's mainly laptop users who instinctively reach for the power button. But if you don't watch how long you hold the power button down, you could perform a hard shut down. It's simpler and recommended to use the shut down button on the Start menu / Start screen.

Windows Vista

Shut down button location in Windows Vista
Start button > Power button > Shut down

Windows 7

Shut down button location in Windows 7
Start button > Shut down

Windows 8

Sign out button location in Windows 8
1. Start screen > Sign out
Shut down button location in Windows 8
2. Sign in screen > Power button > Shut down

Windows 8.1

Shut down button location in Windows 8.1
Start screen > Power button > Shut down

Or

Power users shut down button location in Windows 8.1
Power users menu (Windows logo key + X) > Shut down or sign out > Shut down

Windows 10

Shut down button location in Windows 10
Start button > Power button > Shut down

Or

Power users shut down button location in Windows 10
Power users menu (Windows logo key + X) > Shut down or sign out > Shut down

Using the power button on the computer to shut down Windows

This method is acceptable for turning off your computer, as it performs the same command as the shut down button on the Start menu / Start screen. But you have to check and make sure that the power options inside the operating system are configured to shut down the system when the power button is pressed.

Power button options inside of Windows 8.1
Power button options inside of Windows 8.1 / Windows 10

The power button can be configured to put the system into sleep or hibernate. And if your system loses power while it's asleep, you will get an error when you restart it. This happens quite often with laptops when they are not using the ac adapter the battery runs out.

Using the power button on the computer to force it to shut down

How do you turn off your computer when it freezes up and doesn't have a reset button? This is where the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) specification comes into play. This spec has been built into every computer for well over a decade now. It mandates that when the power button is held down for 10 seconds or more, the system performs a hard shut down, turning off power to all components. This will most likely cause an error upon restart.

How to safely optimize your solid state drive

Updated September 20, 2020

When it comes to getting the best performance out of your computer, nothing can beat a Solid State Drive (SSD). Right out-of-the-box, they are significantly faster reading / writing data than a Hard Disk Drive (HDD). But there are a few things that you have to do differently with an SSD. Here's how to safely optimize your solid state drive.

The definition of tweak

There are plenty of articles out there that will give you a ton of different tweaks you can use to speed up the SSD access time, from turning off disk indexing to disabling Prefetch and Superfetch. Some may work for you; some may not. Generally speaking, if you're running Windows 7 or higher, the operating system should recognize the SSD and modify its behavior accordingly. The following tweaks are entirely safe and will not harm your system in any way.

General SSD maintenance

SSDs operate differently from HDDs, and there are a couple of things you should never do to an SSD. Since SSDs have limited read/write cycles, any program that intensively accesses the SSD could shorten the drive's life span. Running a disk defragment program on an SSD is not recommended. And as far as Check Disk (CHKDSK) is concerned, you'll need to contact the manufacturer of your SSD to find out if they recommend it or not.

Microsoft started building in support for SSDs in Windows 7 / Windows Server 2008 R2 and has expanded on it in Windows 8 / 8.1 & Windows Server 2012. Since the low-level operation of SSDs is different from HDDs, the Trim command was introduced to handle delete/format requests. To verify that Trim is on, you'll need to open an Administrative Command Prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 7

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 8

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 10

You can verify that Trim is enabled by typing the following into an Administrative Command Prompt:

fsutil behavior query DisableDeleteNotify

If the command returns a 0, then Trim is enabled. If it returns a 1, then it is not. To enable Trim, type the following into the Admin Command Prompt:

fsutil behavior set DisableDeleteNotify 0

SSD free space maintenance

SSDs do have one downside; their capacity can be smaller than HDDs. The capacity of SSDs is getting closer to HDDs every day, but the price for a 1 to 2TB SSD can be kind of expensive. If you have a smaller capacity SSD, maintaining an adequate amount of free space is necessary.

Now there are two scenarios for setting up computers with SSDs: Single-drive (SSD only) and Multiple drives (SSD + HDD). Laptops are usually single-drive, and desktops are almost always multiple-drive. Here are a few ways to maintain free space.

Single-drive (SSD only)

The options here are limited. You could store your files like documents, photos, and music to an external drive or the cloud to free up space. Here are a few more ideas.

Turn off Hibernation.
With the speed of an SSD, boot times will be relatively faster than with an HDD. You'll find that you can boot your computer just as fast as if you brought it out of hibernation. And since hibernation writes the system memory to disk, you'll free up the same amount of disk space equal to the total system memory. And if you have a lot of memory, this can free up a big chunk of space on your SSD.

Disable Windows hibernation and free up disk space

Turn off the virtual memory/pagefile.
Use this with caution! Technically, virtual memory is used when all of the system memory is full. If you have a large amount of system memory (16GB or more) and you don't run memory hog software like Photoshop, you should be alright disabling it. And you'll free up a few GB's of drive space in the process.

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 7

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 8

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 10

Clean up the drive regularly.
Temporary files and browser caches are a few items you'll need to keep an eye on. Using a program like Piriform's CCleaner or Disk Cleanup that comes with Windows will take care of these files. Disk Cleanup can also be run as a scheduled task.

Free up more disk space with Windows 7 Disk Cleanup

Clean up your hard drive in Windows 8 with Disk Cleanup

Clean up Windows 10 with Disk Cleanup

Clean up and optimize your computer for free with CCleaner

Multiple-drive (SSD + HDD)

This is the optimal setup. Everything under a single-drive scenario applies here. Windows and program files need to be on the SSD. Almost anything else that Windows doesn't require for regular operation can go over to the HDD.

Move the virtual memory/pagefile.
Instead of turning it off, move it to the HDD (see link above).

Move personal files to HDD.
Your documents, photos, and music can take up a large amount of space on your drive. Get them off of the SSD and over to the HDD.

Modifying the default locations of user files and library properties in Windows 7

Modifying the default locations of user files and library properties in Windows 8

Modifying the default locations of user files and library properties in Windows 10

There are plenty of other tweaks you can do, like moving the location of your browser cache and temp folders to the HDD. You can find all of that information and more with a quick search on Google.

Create great graphics with Paint.NET 4.0

Updated September 22, 2020

One of the things I like to do besides repairing computers is creating graphics. Over the years, I have used many different image editing programs, including Photoshop and CorelDraw. But for free graphics programs, you just cannot beat Paint.NET.

Lately, I have been back through some of my older articles and updating the content. Even though I wrote this article a few years ago, Paint.NET is still one of my favorite graphics programs. And it just keeps getting better all of the time.

The user interface inside of Paint.NET 4
The user interface inside of Paint.NET 4

Paint.NET was initially created to replace the Paint program included in Windows but has evolved in to so much more since then. It includes such features as layers, effects, transparency, blending, and best of all, plugins.

With hundreds of plugins available, you can expand on the out-of-the-box graphic capabilities of Paint.NET. Since I have a digital camera that will take photos in RAW format, I found a plugin that opens that type of file. I also use Photoshop and have found a plugin to open those files too.

Paint.NET uses an asynchronous, fully multithreaded rendering engine and supports hardware acceleration via the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). Selections are anti-aliased, and selected outlines rendered with 'dancing ants' animation, significantly improving the contrast between the sample and image. And the user interface is clean and straightforward to use.

The Settings dialog box inside of Paint.NET 4
The Settings dialog box inside of Paint.NET 4

There are now two (2) versions of the Paint.NET program. The original Windows desktop version and the UWP (Universal Windows Platform). The Windows desktop version is available for download for free from the dotPDN website. The UWP version is available for purchase from the Microsoft Store.

Paint.NET system requirements

  • Windows 10, Windows 8.1, or Windows 7 SP1 with platform update
  • .NET Framework 4.7.2
  • 1 GHz processor (dual-core recommended)
  • 1 GB of RAM

For more information on Paint.NET, follow the links below:

Get Paint 4
What's new in Paint.NET

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in servicing laptop and desktop computers. Since 2008, our expert and knowledgeable technicians have provided excellent computer repair, virus removal, data recovery, photo manipulation, and website support to the greater Phoenix metro area.

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