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Data Recovery Article

Hard Disk Drive Maintenance Procedures

by Bill Hoyt, Hoyt Station Personal Computing

You want your computer to last. You've ordered the free preventive maintenance report from http://www.hoytstation.com, cleaned out the mouse, kept out the dust... but that's all 'hardware' stuff. What do you do to keep the software in good running order?

Lucky for you, Microsoft provides a couple of tools to help keep your hard drive and the programs on it healthy and happy (and running longer) as well. The best part is (if you have Windows), they're already loaded on your machine! We're going to take a look at a few of them, and we'll be providing another one in our final free software section, so let's go!

The first thing you need to do is locate them on your hard drive. Right-click the Start button and select Open, then double-click Programs, then Accessories. You should see a folder called System Tools (if you don't, look around here, they're hidden somewhere). Double-click System Tools to discover a bunch of stuff you never knew you had ;-)

The first one we're going to look at is the Disk Defragmenter. What's a defragmenter? I'm glad you asked. As your programs save files to the hard drive, they try to grab the next available space (this is simplified, of course) to where you saved the last time. If the space is 'right next door', it's called 'contiguous' space. That's good space, because when the program is reading the hard drive, it just goes 1...2...3..., everything is in order.

However, if the space next door is taken, it will have to search around and put your files somewhere else. After a while, it is trying to read it back in as 1...78...32...that can take longer and can result in Windows losing track of where the parts of a file are.

In order to put everything back in order, you must defragment the disk, which takes all the pieces of all the files and puts them in contiguous space. I defrag (that's a techie term) about monthly, but some recommend it be done at least weekly.

To run the Defragmenter, double-click the icon, select the drive you want (your hard drive is usually 'C') and click OK. Then go make a sandwich, as this will take some time. Windows will read all the programs on your hard drive and put them together with all other parts of that program, freeing up space and making your machine run better.

OK, we've freed up some space, but we want more. Where can we get it? One place is by deleting all the temporary files that Windows has kept for you. Double-click the Disk Cleanup icon, select your hard drive again, and a popup box will appear showing things like Temporary Files, Recycle Bin, all the places that Windows knows of files that are not needed. Select the ones you want and click OK. They're gone, and you have a lot more space for those new downloads you want.

If you're constantly low on hard drive space, it might be best to do this *before* you defragment the disk, then you can free up all that used space as one big block.

The final program is called ScanDisk...it's the one that comes on when you boot up after failing to shut down the computer correctly (if you should have a lock-up or lose power, for example). Double-click the ScanDisk icon and a box will pop up and give you a number of choices. Select your hard drive, and then either Standard or Throrough.

A Standard scan will check your files and folders to make sure everything is 'pointed' in the right place. It doesn't take long to do. However, before you run it, it's a good idea to close every program you can, because if these programs write to the hard drive while Scandisk is running, ScanDisk may have to start over...it can be pretty frustrating if that happens. If you've closed everything and it *still* keeps restarting, it might be an indication that a program is hung up... shut down the machine, restart, and try it again.

A Throrough scan performs a Standard scan, but then checks the hard drive itself for errors (like a 'spot' that won't record data correctly), and marks them 'off limits' to the computer so data does not get lost there. All hard drives develop 'bad spots', so it's a good idea to run a throrough scan at least monthly to catch them.

If you really want to play around, there's also a 'Task Scheduler' which will allow you to automate this process... I don't use it, but some people find that it easier to perform preventive maintenance if they set reminders for themselves.

Good Computing to you!

About the Author:
Bill Hoyt is the Webmaster of Hoyt Station Personal Computing. For the best in free software plus tips to make your computing experience more enjoyable, subscribe to the Free Software Newsletter by visiting http://www.hoytstation.com


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