How to Optimize USB Drive Performance in Windows 7

Would you like to make copying files to your USB drives go a little faster? Then you might try enabling something called “write caching”. (But be sure to read the last section of the tip about data loss.)  Write caching is a process that first places the files you want to copy into a cache in the fast memory of RAM and then sends them to the slower-reading flash memory of the USB device. It enables the file dialogs to close up sooner. The actual copying takes just as long but it occurs in the background.

By default, write caching is disabled for USB devices (unless they use the NTFS format). If you would like to use write caching, it can be enabled in Device Manager. (Administrator privileges may be required.) There are a variety of ways to get to Device Manager but here is a way to enable write caching for a given device:

  1. Open the Start menu and right-click “Computer”
  2. Select “Properties”
  3. Click “Device Manager” in the left pane
  4. Double-click “Disk Drives”
  5. Right-click the entry for the particular USB drive of interest
  6. Select “Properties”
  7. Click the “Policies” tab
  8. The dialog shown in the screenshot below will appear
  9. Select the radio button “Better Performance”
  10. Click “OK” and close Device Manager

Enabling write cache

Shortcut for using “Safely Remove Hardware” to eject a cached drive without data loss

A possible drawback of write caching is that the “Safely Remove Hardware” feature from the notification area will then have to be used before disconnecting the USB device. Otherwise, data might be lost if the writing from the cache is not finished before you disconnect. The “Safely Remove Hardware” icon is often hidden in the notification area and finding it can be a nuisance. If you use the feature frequently, you might find the following shortcut useful for opening "Safely Remove Hardware" quickly:

  1. Right-click an empty place on the desktop and choose “New”
  2. Select “Shortcut”
  3. For the location enter: %windir%\System32\control.exe hotplug.dll
  4. Click “Next”, choose an appropriate name for the shortcut, and click “Finish”
  5. Place the shortcut file wherever it is convenient

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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs several websites with Windows how-to's and tutorials, including a site for learning about Windows and the Internet and a blog with computer tips and commentary.

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