Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
"Device cannot be stopped" can be a frustrating error if there's no obvious cause. Turning off device power or unplugging anyway isn't really safe.
If I have an external hard drive connected and running (but not being used or accessed through my overt actions) and I get the message "The device ... cannot be stopped right now. Try stopping the device again later.", would be safe to turn off the external drive (assuming it has an on/off switch) and then unplug it from the computer? Or would switching it off be just as risky?
Ultimately turning off the device is pretty much the same as unplugging the USB cable. So, the short answer is no, it's not really a safe alternative.
Unfortunately it does happen sometimes that a USB device appears to be in use and cannot be stopped. I'll walk through some of the approaches you can take to removing the device while minimizing the risk of data loss.
And no, pulling the plug isn't one of them.
The message that you're seeing in Windows XP:
(Windows Vista and Windows 7 have similar messages.)
Here are the steps I take whenever I encounter this (which is often):
I check for Windows Explorer, or Windows Command Prompts that are open and are displaying the contents of the external drive in question, or have that drive set as the "current" drive. This is by far the most common cause on my machine. Simply closing which ever I find, or having it display something else that isn't the removable device instantly resolves the issue.
I fire up Process Explorer, as outlined in Why do I get "device ... cannot be stopped right now" trying to safely remove my USB drive?, and use it to see what application might have a file or "handle" open to something on the removable device. Once I identify the application I then take action appropriate to that program - perhaps closing it, perhaps going to it and doing whatever makes sense in that application to stop it using the external drive.
I wait a while. Seriously, sometimes the process using the external drive will just disappear on its own.(Yep, this is the "Try stopping the device again later." part of the error message.)
I shut down the machine. This is the ultimate. Once the machine has been shut down then by definition it's safe to remove anything you want. (You can use "Restart" as long as you're careful remove the device after Windows has truly shut down, and before it begins to reload - in other words while the BIOS self-test screen is showing.
You'll note that just pulling the plug wasn't on the list.
I'll be honest.
Sometimes I don't follow my own advice. Sometimes if none of the steps short of rebooting have worked, I'll just wait awhile, paying careful attention to disk activity. If the device has truly been idle for "a while" - I'll remove it anyway.
Caution: If you follow my example you may lose all the data on the device. Heck, you may lose the USB device itself. It's a risk I run because I'm impatient and don't want to wait for a reboot. And it usually works.
And I'm also very well backed up. I'd never take that inappropriate shortcut if the data on the USB device was, say, the only copy of the data.
So, weighing all the risks, I sometimes break the rules. (I include it here because there are times when you honestly are in a hurry, or a reboot just isn't in the cards for some reason.)
I don't recommend that you do the same. Take the time to reboot your machine to be safe.
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