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86. Exploring your hard drive

By Andrew D. Wright

Dear Mousepad. Just about every day there is a new Norton virus definition to download and install, which is a good thing. The question is that if this happens every day, won't the computer memory eventually be all taken up with these definitions?

Dick Bolivar


When you're talking about memory, what you are really referring to is the storage space your computer has, its hard drive. In the case of your virus definitions, this is not a problem as new definitions will over-write the older ones.

Hard drives have gotten much cheaper and hold much more information than before. Still, it's a good idea to clear out the deadwood now and again.

Running Disk Cleanup from the Windows System Tools menu allows you to remove old temporary files safely. You can choose to erase or keep different types of temporary files through a checkbox menu. You can find System Tools under All Programs - Accessories on the Windows Start button menu.

Emptying out your web browser cache will also help get back some hard drive space. In Internet Explorer this is under Tools - Internet Options - General. In Firefox it is under Tools - Options - Privacy - Cache.

Old System Restore points can take up to 12% of your hard drive by default. Assuming your computer is running well at this time, you can delete the old restore points and set a fresh new one for your protection.

Go into Control Panel - System and select the System Restore tab. Select your C: drive then Settings. Move the slider to 0% and click OK. You should see the hard drive light going for a few moments as the old restore points are erased. You can now put the slider back to how much room you want to allow for future restore points.

You can set a new restore point by clicking on System Restore in Windows System Tools.

Once you have freed up disk space, it is a good idea to defragment your hard drive. This puts files back together and consolidates the free space on the hard drive. You can find Disk Defragmenter in Windows System Tools.

A hard drive is a marvel of engineering. Glass or aluminum disks or platters coated with fine magnetized iron particles typically spin at 7,200 revolutions per minute in new hard drives and a hard drive will have at least two platters spaced apart on one spindle.

Tiny magnetic read/write heads, one for each side of each platter, float on the cushion of air produced by the spinning platter. These heads are fixed on a pivoting arm that allows them to access the entire surface area of the platter.

If we were to blow this up to our scale and make the distance between the platter and the read/write head one inch (2.54 cm), then the read/write head would be the size of a skyscraper lying on its side moving at a speed of 4,800 km per second an inch off the ground with the power to stop on a dime.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 18 June 2006


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