You’ve probably seen the term “hot-swappable”—and to a lesser extend, “cold-swappable”—pop up if you’ve ever shopped for any digital storage devices. Here’s what that means.

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At its most basic, hot-swappable means that you can plug in or remove a device without first shutting down your computer. USB drives are probably the first thing that spring to mind, and yes, they are hot-swappable. So are external hard drives. And the term doesn’t just apply to storage devices. Things like mice, keyboards, printers, and headphones are all considered hot-swappable.


Of course, while you can remove these devices from your computer while it’s still up and running, there’s still a lot of debate on whether or not it’s safe to remove USB storage devices without “ejecting” them first—the argument being that the chances of data corruption are higher if you don’t properly eject storage devices before unplugging them.

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Although the chances are low that anything bad would happen if you were to remove a flash drive without ejecting it first, there’s always that very small chance that the data on your flash drive gets corrupted. So, it’s never a bad idea to take those few extra seconds and safely eject your USB storage drives.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, cold-swappable devices are a thing, too. These (as you may have guessed) are devices and components that require you to shut down your computer completely before removing or connecting them. Pretty much every component inside your computer—memory, graphics card, hard drives, and so on—are cold-swappable.

Sometimes, devices that are normally cold-swappable can become hot-swappable if they are part of the right system. A good example of this is the hard drives in many NAS and server systems. If the system supports hot-swappable drives, it means you can remove or insert a hard drive without first shutting down the system.

A feature like this is great when uptime is super important and shutting down the system wouldn’t be ideal. Plus, most NAS boxes and servers have special trays that hard drives fit into (as pictured above), so swapping out a hard drive is as quick and easy as pulling out the old one and sliding in the new one.

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Craig Lloyd is a smarthome expert with nearly ten years of professional writing experience. His work has been published by iFixit, Lifehacker, Digital Trends, Slashgear, and GottaBeMobile.
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