Safe Removal of USB Drive Hacks in Windows 8.x

How many times have we seen the "device is in use, please close, blah, blah, blah..." message when trying to eject an external/USB harddrive ?

TOO MANY !!! ONCE is too many for some of us when (think) we know that we've shut everything that is touching the drive down.

You've probably also realised that the "reboot into safe mode" is a total cop-out and no more of an answer than "shutdown"!

Similarly, you've probably also already sussed that suggestions about updating drivers or using recovery console are generally pointless.

Finally in desperation, you have turned to your friend Google (who knows more about you than your parents or spouse probably know)...

Let me guess... you've done everything you can think of as the known problem children, right ?
Note: The mentioned handle checkers are here : SysInternals Suite or here

Well, Windows 8.1 has a dirty little secret (v8.0 is a little more forgiving for some reason?).
If you are one of those people that like to have Task Manager running in the Systray, you have inadvertantly tripped over one of the changes between v8 and all prior versions of Windows. With the introduction of v8, you would likely have seen the nice shiny Resource Monitor that has far more features than poor old Task Manager.

Well guess what... If you have a closer look at what options are on the new version of Task Manager has far more features than its predecessors, most notably the inclusion of "Disk" and "Network" loads on the "Process" panel. Further to this, you may have noticed in v8, Task Manager defaults to a "Paused" state instead of the old "Normal" refresh cycle.

Congratulations, you've found the narky little pest that is constantly (well, at your refresh rate) accessing the disks to open the NTFS metadata (among other things).

If you just shutdown Task Manager and retry ejecting the USB drive... VOILA!    ... You can relaunch Task Manager after the drive is physically unplugged.
In theory, once the drive has been unmounted, only an explicit mount request should undo this process, but as most UNIX-heads will tell you, "mount" is just a software command for the relevant disk controller, so Task Manager's "Disk" monitoring may be able to re-issue the request while the USB controller can still see the USB device on the bus.

Footnote: I refer to "USB" drives throughout, but the issue probably also afflicts eSATA and Firewire drives. Note also that we're talking about traditional "disk" drives (aka "spinning rust" technology), so some aspects are specific to that technology.

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