NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, January 2012
Tips & Tricks | Tutorial Disk Maintenance
By Les Townsing,
a member of the Melbourne PCUG, Australia
April 2011 issue, PC UPDATE
editor (at) melbpc.org.au (click to email author)

Cleaning up your hard drive can restore your PC’s Performance

There are three important utilities provided in Windows that help to improve a PC’s performance: * Disk Clean Up
* Error Checking (previously known as Check Disk or Scan Disk)
* Disk Defragmenter

Disk Clean Up
Over time, unnecessary data and “leftover files” gradually collect in all PCs as you use them. As this garbage collects it slowly clogs up your system, taking up space and making performance slower and slower. The Disk Cleanup tool helps you free up space on your hard disk by searching for files that you can safely delete.

There are a number of ways to start Disk Clean Up. My preference is:
1. Open ‘Windows Explorer’ and right click on the required drive
2. Select ‘Properties,’ click the ‘General’ tab, and then click ‘Disk Cleanup’
3. Disk Clean Up will then scan the drive and provide you with a list of possible actions and an estimate of the space that can be saved

Depending on your system, a number of different file types are analysed when the initial disk scan is conducted. After the analysis completes you can choose what to do with them. The analysed files include:
* Downloaded program files
* Temporary Internet files
* Recycle Bin
* Temporary Remote Desktop files
* Setup Log files
* Backup files for a previous operating system
* Offline files
* Compressed old files

In addition to the Disk Cleanup tab, the More Options tab offers further opportunities for freeing up hard drive space. There is nothing on this tab that isn’t available elsewhere within Windows in standalone fashion and some will be dealt with below.

There may be other categories that appear in your Disk Cleanup window, but in all cases, highlighting the item will display an explanation of the category in the Description area.

Error Checking
Previously called Scan Disk or Check Disk, this utility is known as Error Checking within the Windows XP / Vista / 7 system.

Error Checking will check the hard disk for defects in its platters. It will also check file systems. If errors are found it will attempt to fix them.

These errors are found inside your hard drive may be caused for a number of reasons. These include:
* system crashes
* applications that have been improperly closed
* the existence of harmful programs such as viruses

It is important to know that Error Checking is not a data recovery tool. Its job is to maintain the file system, and if your directories or files get in the way of this objective, they will be sacrificed!

Before checking volumes or drives for errors, make sure that all other programs are closed, and disable your screen saver.

To run Error Checking:

1. Open ‘Windows Explorer’ and right click on the required drive
2. Select ‘Properties,’ click the ‘Tools’ tab, and then click ‘Check Now’
3. You will be given the options of automatically fixing file system errors and recovering bad sectors

Note: Vista and Windows 7 will not allow Error Checking to run while the system is operating. It must be scheduled to run at boot time.

Disk Defragmentation
When files are created, deleted or modified it’s almost a certainty they will become fragmented. Fragmented means the file is not stored in one place in its entirety and different parts of the file are scattered across the hard disk.

Fragmentation causes the drive heads to search for all the pieces of a file in different locations. The more fragmented files there are on a drive, the more performance and reliability suffer.

The Disk Defragmenter Utility is designed to reorganize fragmented files and optimize their placement on the hard drive for increased reliability and performance.

To run Disk Defragmenter:

1. Open ‘Windows Explorer’ and right click on the required drive
2. Select ‘Properties,’ click the ‘Tools’ tab, and then click ‘Defragment Now’

When Disk Defragmenter first opens you’ll see a list of the hard drives displayed at the top of the screen. Clicking on the ‘Analyse’ button will display a graphical representation of the amount of defragmentation on the selected drive.

When the Defragment button is clicked, a graphical representation of the defragmentation during and after defragmentation is progressively shown. This graphical representation does not appear in Vista or Windows 7. You can schedule the Disk Defragmentation Utility to automatically run at a pre-determined time in both Vista and Windows 7.

For the technically minded, you are also given the opportunity to view a defragmentation report after the drive is analysed and when it has been defragmented.

For the majority of users, the Disk Defragmentation Utility included with Windows is sufficient to keep the hard drives in relatively good condition. If you are the type that wants to extract the best possible performance from a system, consider upgrading to one of the premium defragmenter products.

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