Maintaining the Hard Drive



This web page explains some utilities that can be used for maintaining your hard drive, such as ScanDisk (now called Error Checking, sometimes still called Chkdsk), Defrag, and Disk Cleanup. It also discusses how to get rid of unwanted software and how to manage your startup programs.

What is the hard drive you ask? That is the C: drive (usually) where just about everything you save is stored. An excerpt from an article I found on SmartComputing.com, "Get Rid Of The Gunk", dated September 2004, says the following:

"A 20 GB hard drive can hold a whopping 160 billion bits of magnetically charged code. If each of these bits were as thick as a penny and you stacked them one on top of the other, the resulting column would stretch more than 154,000 miles into outer space."

And that's for a 20 GB hard drive! Typically, hard drive capacities today, (i.e. if you were to buy a new desktop computer today) range from 80 GB and higher. Here's another comparison, as quoted from helpwithpcs.com (http://www.helpwithpcs.com/courses/hard-drive-basics.htm):

"...let's take a colour photo, and let's say the photo takes up 500 KB of storage space on a hard drive, so if you had a 40 GB hard drive, you could potentially store up to 81,290 colour photos."

(That's assuming nothing else is on the hard drive, like the operating system and other system files, and all your application programs, etc.)

Another excerpt from an article entitled "Maintenance & Customization" from Smartcomputing.com, dated September 2004:










"Scan for drive errors. As the primary repository for a system's data and program files, the hard drive is an integral part of everything that happens within a computer system. It doesn't matter whether you're playing a game of solitaire, surfing the Web, viewing a digital snapshot, or reading a text document: The flow of data in and out of the hard drive is almost constant. Most of the time, this flow continues without a hitch. But faulty bits of data occasionally work their way into the incoming and outgoing streams. Data corruption, file loss, error messages, and drive crashes may occur when this happens.

A tool you can use to avoid much of this is a built-in Windows utility called ScanDisk, which scans the hard drive for the presence of bad sectors (drive areas that cannot hold data, primarily due to physical deterioration of the storage media), lost clusters (storage areas that the hard drive mistakenly assumes are in use), cross-linked files (two or more files that try to occupy the same part of a drive), and other drive errors. You can access ScanDisk by opening My Computer, right-clicking the icon representing the Windows drive (the drive on which Windows is installed), clicking Properties , choosing the Tools tab, and clicking the Check Now button under the Error-Checking (or Error-Checking Status) heading. The utility will fix any errors it detects."

The following excerpt about ScanDisk is from another article entitled Disk Cleanup, Scandisk, and Defrag from the pcyoubuy.com web page dated June 7, 2004.

"ScanDisk (Error Checking).

Before using ScanDisk, now called error checking in Windows XP, or Defrag make sure you close all your programs that are running. You can do this by pressing the Ctrl Alt Delete keys. Click on each item to highlight it and then click on end task for each program except for Explorer and Systray. You will have to keep doing this for each program one at a time until they are closed.

(Note - Safe Mode)
You can also run your computer in safe mode by pressing and holding F8 while your computer is booting and then selecting Safe Mode with the up and down arrow keys keys on your keyboard then pressing the enter key. Running your computer in safe mode will only load those files necessary to run windows. Some people do their disk cleanup, scan and defrag in this mode in older versions of Windows.. This is the method I had used on my old computer to run my scan and defrag and other programs did not hinder Defrag or Scandisk from running. I have no problems with my new computer and XP running Error checking or Defrag in the normal mode.

  • Step 1 Click on Windows Start, then move your mouse cursor to "My Computer", when selections appear for your drives right click on Local Disk (c:) then left click on properties then click on tools.
  • Step 2 Click on the Tools tab
  • Step 3 Under Error-checking, click on the Check Now Button.
  • Step 4 A new box will appear called "Check disk options". Put a check mark in both of the options.
  • Step 5 After you click Ok, a box will pop up saying you cannot run disk check at this time, and do you want to start it the next time your computer restarts. Click on OK then restart your computer."
Disk Cleanup can be used for cleaning up and getting rid of temporary files and junk files that have a way of collecting on your computer without you realizing it, such as when surfing the Net. Here is the excerpt from the above mentioned article about Disk Cleanup:

"Disk Cleanup.

Step 1 To clean up your temp files on your drive (which will slow your computer down if these files get too big), Click on Windows Start, then "My Computer", when selections appear for your drives right click on Local Disk (c:) then left click on properties then click on Disk Cleanup next to the graphical display of your hard drive capacity.

Step 2 After you click on Disk Cleanup, Another window will be displayed. Make sure you have a check mark in Temporary Internet Files, Temporary files and the recycle bin. Click on Ok and these temp files will be cleaned up on your drive."

The other maintenance utility is Defrag. As you use your computer, and programs and files are saved to/deleted from your C: drive, the file storage becomes, shall we say, sloppy. The files eventually become scattered about the hard drive - this is called fragmentation. The more fragmented your hard drive is, the slower the computer is to open up files. So, you should defrag your drive periodically, which just reorganizes the files so that they are not scattered all over the disk. How often is periodically? Some articles say monthly. I think even every other month is probably good; maybe even quarterly. If you wait to do it say, once a year, then it may take an hour or more to do. The more often you do it, the quicker it is. Here is the excerpt from the above mentioned article about Defrag:

"Defrag.

Step 1
Click on Windows Start, then move your mouse cursor to "My Computer", when selections appear for your drives right click on Local Disk (c:) then left click on properties then click on tools.

Step 2
Under Defragmentation, click on the Defragment Now button.

Step 3
After you click on ok, the previous display will be shown again, just click on OK again to start the Defrag for your Drive C."

Here is another article about ScanDisk & Defrag from http://www.pcdon.com/page82.html that is also very informative. One suggestion made in this article is to always run ScanDisk right before running Defrag, because ScanDisk may fix some cluster errors that if weren't fixed might interfere with the Defrag. So, that's a good suggestion. This article explains alternative ways of accessing ScanDisk in Windows, DOS, Safe Mode, and Special Instructions for Windows XP. It also talks about what else you need to know (such as remembering to close all other applications that you might have running, like your anti-virus software, before running Defrag). MSCONFIG and managing startup programs is also mentioned.

The following are more excerpts from the article entitled "Get Rid Of The Gunk" dated September 2004, from Smartcomputing.com, from which an excerpt appears at the top of this web page. It discusses Defrag, and Disk Cleanup as well as other hard drive maintenace tasks that you can do to keep your hard drive clean and improve its performance. It also has several third party program suggestions for each of the types of maintenance tasks mentioned, along with currect prices and descriptions of each (sometimes third party utility programs have more features or more capabilities, perhaps they do a better job?, than the ones included with Windows.)

The excerpt below is the part that talks about Defrag:

"Organization Equals Speed. One of the unintended consequences of cleaning a hard drive is that you leave gaps all over the platters. These gaps have a negative effect on PC performance. Here's why: When a computer begins the process of writing data to a drive, it strategically positions the data on the drive's platters for efficient retrieval. It continues in this mode until the user chooses to delete a program or file. When this happens, a gap emerges. The next time the computer writes data to the drive, it fills the gap with the new data. The data that fills a gap is often a fragment of a larger collection of related data.

As you might expect, it takes longer for the computer to retrieve multiple fragments than to fetch a unified body of data. You can expedite retrieval speeds by reorganizing the hard drive with the purpose of eliminating fragments. To execute this process, called defragmentation, use the Disk Defragmenter utility that ships with Windows. Access the utility by opening My Computer, right-clicking the drive's icon in the resulting window, and selecting Properties. When the dialog box appears, choose the Tools tab and click the Defragment Now button. You can expect to wait an hour or longer for the defragmentation process to finish.

As an alternative to Disk Defragmenter, you can use an automated defragmenter, such as Executive Software's Diskeeper ($29.95; http://www.execsoft.com) or Buzzsaw On-The-Fly Defragmenter (free; http://www.dirms.com). Such a utility runs on a schedule, defragging the hard drive in the background and strategically positioning new data for efficient retrieval."

The next excerpt is the part that talks about Disk Cleanup:

"Junk files. It often takes hundreds or thousands of individual files to build a single computer program that works. An active computer user can generate hundreds more simply by using those programs. So what's the big deal if you have a couple of junk files (any file with no discernible purpose, such as a TMP [temporary] file or an orphaned data file) hanging around on the hard drive, too?

Nothing, if the number of junk files amounted to two or three in total. But the fact is that your system probably has several thousand of them clogging up the hard drive at any given moment, and new ones keep popping up all the time. (You can acquire junk files by Web surfing, shutting down the PC prematurely, and uninstalling software, among other things.) The mere presence of these junk files wouldn't be so disconcerting if all they did was consume space, but their mere presence makes it more difficult for the computer to find the files it actually needs, thereby hindering PC performance.

The solution, of course, is to remove the junk files from the hard drive. Fortunately, Windows includes a utility designed for this purpose: Disk Cleanup. The Disk Cleanup utility (accessible by clicking Start, All Programs, Accessories, and System Tools) will help you remove TMP files (including temporary Internet files), application debugging data, and other common junk files contained on your system. All you have to do is select which type of files you want to remove and click OK. Disk Cleanup takes care of the rest.

The first time you run the Disk Cleanup utility in Windows, you might be surprised at how much space temporary Internet files occupy. Delete them to improve your PC's performance.

Disk Cleanup can eliminate most of the junk on your system, but it won't get everything. Duplicate files, broken shortcuts, and orphaned uninstall files will sneak past Disk Cleanup every time you use it. In order to remove these types of junk files, consider using a third-party utility, such as Pointstone Software's System Cleaner ($29.95; http://www.pointstone.com) or AceLogix Software's Ace Utilities ($29.95; http://www.acelogix.com). In addition to deleting all of your junk files, these standalone utilities can protect your privacy by cleaning out your Internet history folder and overwriting junk files up to 10 times (before deleting them for good) so that it's nearly impossible to recover them."

The next excerpt is the part that talks about getting rid of unwanted software:

"Unwanted Software. The programs you choose to install on your PC will either benefit you or they won't. Unfortunately, you have no way of knowing which is the case until you have used them for a while, at which point you should make an effort to remove the unwanted ones from your computer.

The easiest way to remove a program is by using the Add Or Remove Programs (called Add/Remove Programs in Windows 98 and Windows Me) utility, which you can access through the Control Panel (on the Start menu). When you open the utility, it will present a list of the programs currently installed on your PC. Simply highlight the one you want to uninstall and click the corresponding Remove (also labeled as Change/Remove or Add/Remove) button. Windows will delete the program and its settings from your PC. Upon completion, the utility may present a message indicating that it could not remove all the program's elements. Click the Details button to find out where the remnants reside so you can delete them manually from your system.

Users who want to take a more aggressive stance when removing unwanted software, especially the programs that software developers released with no uninstall option, should consider a third-party uninstall utility. Such a utility springs into action when you first install a program. It takes note of every change that occurs during the installation and records this information in a log file, which resides in a secure location on the hard drive. When you eventually want to remove the program, the utility uses the information contained in the log file to restore your system to its prior condition.

Although most uninstall utilities ship as part of a larger suite, standalone products are available if you look hard enough. URSoft's Your Uninstaller! Basic ($17.95; http://www.pcfaster.com) and Optimus Software's Trash It! ($29.50; http://www.optimussw.com) are a couple of the standalone uninstall utilities currently available.

Just remember that it's not a good idea to delete a program by opening Windows Explorer to find what you think are the program's main files and delete them manually. This approach is almost guaranteed to cause trouble."

The next excerpt is the part that talks about unnecessary startup items:

"Unnecessary Startup Items. When you boot a computer, it goes through a complex routine that involves identifying the processor, testing the hardware components, loading Windows, and launching the applications contained in the Startup group. It's this last part that can put a drag on your system, especially if the Startup group is overrun with programs you don't need.

You can expedite the startup routine by trimming these unnecessary programs from the Startup group. Once again, Microsoft provides a utility in Windows that can help you accomplish the task. Open the Start menu, select Run, type msconfig in the field, and click OK to access the System Configuration Utility. Choose the Startup or Startup Group tab to view a list of the programs that launch each time you boot into Windows. Deselect the ones you don't need, such as RealPlayer Scheduled Updates and Microsoft Office StartUp, and click OK. See Wring Out The Registry on page 65 for more information about the System Configuration Utility.

If you want to exercise greater control over the Startup group, then you should try a third-party utility, such as Mike Lin's Startup Control Panel (free; http://www.mlin.net) or MetaProducts' Start-up Organizer ($25; http://www.metaproducts.com). These products let you set the order in which programs open, configure the startup routines of other user accounts, and disable individual programs on a per-boot basis simply by activating key commands during the startup routine. They also can alert you to the presence of programs that act like spyware or Trojan horses.

Whichever utility you choose, keep in mind that the startup routine should include programs that protect your system and automate crucial tasks. You should never remove your antivirus utility from the Startup group, for instance. Ditto for programs that control system functions, such as System Restore and the default power profile. We advise you to reboot the system immediately after disabling a program in the Startup group so that you can determine what effect, if any, the change has on your PC. Undo the change if you experience problems."

The article contains one last section that talks about Adware and Spyware. A discussion of Adware and Spyware can be found here on the second web page that also deals with anti-virus software and firewalls.