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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Comments

by MilesAhead on 27. May 2012 - 20:15  (94056)

Plug a USB 3.0 thumb drive into the USB 2.0 port. That will give way better performance boost than any system settings. USB 3.0 drives are backward compatible to 2.0 and the prices are dropping as the speeds increase.

by Ashish Sahai (not verified) on 28. April 2012 - 17:26  (92729)

V.Lauri,

I have benefited from your tips many times (so Thank you!) but this one seems to be useless, even counter productive.

If getting the dialog box out of the way is so important then just walk away :-).

Enabling write caching does not really speed up writing on any external drive that can be unplugged (not just USB drive) only increases risk of data loss. It creates illusion of task completion thereby presenting an opportunity to make a mistake. If you are not aware of caching (or forgot about it) and not disciplined to always use "Safely remove hardware" feature you may pull it out sooner thinking you are done.

I think this (caching not enabled for external drives) is one of the good defaults in Windows. I can not think of one good reason why I would want to change it... can you ?

Regards and keep up the good work !

Ashish

by Joseph Betz (not verified) on 29. April 2012 - 12:07  (92757)

I can't speak with authority on Windows 7, but I can on Windows XP. Enabling write-caching on external drives improves transfer performance exponentially.

I've done lots of data recovery work, involving the transfer of thousands of files of various sizes from an internal drive to a USB drive. Sometimes, as in the case of a dying drive, it's critical to get it done as quickly as possible.

Having write-caching disabled means Windows looks at each file, writes it to the external device, makes sure it's there, then moves on to the next. No big deal if you're copying 10 huge files. If you're copying 100,000 small files, it's huge. Enabling it means windows can queue up (for example) 20 little files into a buffer, and shoot 'em through all in one go.

I've seen 10+ times better performance on the same file set. Try it yourself. Plug an 8 gig thumbdrive in, and copy your Windows folder to it (assuming Windows can manage to get through a simple file copy operation without choking on locked files - you might try unstoppable copier, ycopy, or teracopy.)

Grab your stopwatch and time how long it takes. Now delete the files you copied (from your thumbdrive, not your hard disk), enable write-caching on the thumbdrive, and do it again.

I think you'll find that the blanket assertion that this won't speed up writing on any external drive is in error. It doesn't do anything to alter the device's maximum transfer speed, but it pares the number of I/O operations significantly, and IOPS are where performance bottlenecks live.

As for the potential for data loss: If you aren't trained to use the Safely Remove feature for external devices, then either you shouldn't be using computers or the person who taught you how to use a computer failed to do his/her job. Not to worry though - most people only need to lose important data once before they magically start remembering to do things properly.

by Ashish Sahai (not verified) on 29. April 2012 - 20:27  (92779)

"Group together write request for large number of small files" - Now this makes sense, that's the stuff I was looking for.

Now I know what I can do to speed up when copying large number of photos/music files to my secondary external backup :-).

Thank you, Joseph Betz !

by v.laurie on 28. April 2012 - 18:13  (92730)

@Ashish:

I am glad that you have found many of our tips useful and I am sorry that this one doesn't suit your interests. But that is the way it is with Windows. There are many ways to do things in Windows and many tweaks. They can't all suit everybody. Different people will have different interests and different levels of expertise. The fact that Microsoft provides the write caching option must mean that some people want it.

I appreciate the danger of data loss and that is why I warned about it in the tip.

I hope you will keep reading the tips and that one that you like better comes along soon.

by Ashish Sahai (not verified) on 28. April 2012 - 19:32  (92732)

Hi Laurie,
My comment was not about my personal interest/suitability nor it was about someone' expertise.

The comment was to present my thought/experience with others and possibly to learn of something new (i.e., when this might be useful) that I may have been missing all along.

And no question about it, I will continue to read Gizmo like have been doing for last 10 years. :-)

Regards,
Ashish

by mariotrz on 27. April 2012 - 13:21  (92682)

Same applies on Vista! And, yes, I've also forgotten about this trick. Anyway, I ALWAYS use USB Disk Ejector, so more performance is good! Thank you.
mario

by JTH (not verified) on 27. April 2012 - 13:13  (92681)

Do not use this tip if you are in the habit of just yanking out your USB drive plugs.

Enabling Write Caching is like going back to the dark ages of Win98 where yanking out connections would crash your computer.

I'll wait the few extra seconds to make sure my data is secure.

by v.laurie on 28. April 2012 - 23:15  (92734)

"I'll wait the few extra seconds to make sure my data is secure." Exactly, you'll have to wait whether you use caching or not. Yanking out a USB key in the middle of a copying operation is not good, caching or no caching.

by Puzzled Always (not verified) on 27. April 2012 - 12:35  (92679)

Didn't work on my Win 7 machine. Set up a 4 GB HP flash drive as directed, then tried to use the command above to unplug and it never would say "Safe to Remove". However, turned off Policies cache feature and still wouldn't work with the command line given above. Just used USB Safe To Remove Hardware button in Notification Area and that worked. I'll stick with that. Not sure why it didn't work here. Gets 3 stars because the author made it work so he must know something I don't know. But that's usually the case since I'm not real skilled.

by ssoundman on 27. April 2012 - 2:09  (92659)

Good one, Vic. I'd forgotten about this trick.

Thanks!

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