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94. Putting the pieces together

By Andrew D. Wright

Like a finely tuned sports car, computers need regular attention to housekeeping matters or they stop working at peak performance.

An often overlooked bit of computer maintenance is disk defragmentation.

The idea is that as your computer writes and deletes files from your hard drive, it has to break up new files being written to the drive so they fit in the gaps the deleted files left behind. Over time it takes longer and longer to read files broken up into smaller pieces scattered all over the hard drive.

In extreme cases the computer stops working completely and the person calls a computer shop. You can save the $80 and speed up your computer's disk access speed, which is the slowest part of any computer, at the same time.

It's a good idea to check the hard drive first before defragmenting it. Microsoft's Checkdisk utility can be found by opening Windows Explorer or My Computer then right clicking on your hard drive and selecting Properties from the drop down menu. Click on the Tools tab and click the button under Error-checking.

Selecting to automatically fix file system errors will require the computer to reboot so the Checkdisk program can access files Windows locks by running before Windows starts up.

Another good idea is to delete temporary files. This can be done safely using the Disk Cleanup utility buried under Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> Disk Cleanup.

Disk Defragmenter can be found in the same place. Open it, click on the hard drive you want to defragment and hit the Defragment button. It's a good idea to run this at least once a month or so.

Regular disk defragmentation not only speeds up the hard drive's file access time, it also groups files together on the hard drive, opening up larger chunks of free space so new files can be written without breaking them up.

The disk defragmenter software which comes with Windows is a "lite" version of a program called Diskeeper made by Burbank, California-based Diskeeper Corporation.

Diskeeper offers many features the lite disk defragmenter does not have such as the ability to run from the system boot-up so system files and folders can be defragmented. It is shareware available for a 30 day trial period. The basic home version costs $30 U.S. but power users might find the Professional version with its additional features and support for 64-bit Operating Systems at $50 U.S. more attractive.

Maryland-based Raxco Corporation makes a Microsoft-certified disk defragmenter called PerfectDisk which works on both 32-bit and 64-bit systems. It too is shareware available to try for 30 days and is priced at $40 U.S.

Windows is most prone to disk fragmentation, though this is less of an issue with Windows 2000 and XP and the NTFS file system than it was with Windows 95/98/Me and the FAT and FAT32 file systems. Unix and Linux file systems are resistant to file fragmentation so rarely require defragmenting. Macintosh OS X and its HFS+ file system also resist file fragmentation to the point where Apple does not include any manual disk defragmenting software.

Diskeeper (shareware):

PerfectDisk (shareware):

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Originally published 22 October 2006


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