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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | COMPUTER BASICS / KIM KOMANDO

Regular Hard Disk Tuneups Can Prevent a Big Headache

November 04, 1996|KIM KOMANDO

Hard disk drives are pretty reliable, generally lasting at least five years. But as with any machinery, they need upkeep. A tuneup of your hard disk may make programs work a bit faster, prevent you from saving files on a bad part of the hard disk and limit the number of software program faults that are not your fault.

Start your tuneup with the right software, specifically disk-scanning and repair software. These utility programs put your hard disk or a floppy disk through a series of tests that find and fix troublesome areas.

If the programs find any shortcomings in the integrity of your hard drive, they automatically move the information to another area on the disk.

The programs also report damaged directories, lost files and areas on the disk that are damaged and unusable. You can scan both compressed and uncompressed hard disks or floppy disks.

Microsoft DOS 6.0 or higher and Windows 95 include disk-scanning software called ScanDisk.

While the biggest advantage of ScanDisk is that it's free and it works, Symantec's Norton Disk Doctor (part of Symantec's Norton Utilities) performs more rigorous testing.

Just in case you're the type that only thinks about your hard disk's care when you get an error message, Norton Utilities also automatically notifies you when maintenance is recommended. Hard disk maintenance isn't for PC users only.

To find any disk problems on a Mac's hard disk, use Apple's Disk First Aid, which has been included with the system disks for some time. The Disk First Aid program is installed from the floppy disk named Disk Tools; for Performas, it's on the Utilities Disk.

You should put Disk First Aid in your applications folder and run it from there. It works, but Norton Utilities, which like its Windows counterpart includes Norton Disk Doctor, works better.

Symantec's other utility program, MacTools Pro, is also a good choice, but you get more bang for the buck with Norton Utilities.

Scanning the hard disk for potential problems on a weekly or, at a bare minimum, monthly basis is necessary. You wouldn't want to lose the last scene of your soon-to-be best-selling screenplay, or, worse, the only version of your child's book report.

After you've tuned the hard disk, give the files on the hard disk a once-over.

Your PC saves files on a first-come, first-served basis. Very basically (and leaving out many boring technical details), if the first space it finds on the hard disk isn't quite big enough to hold the file, it puts some pieces of the file in that space, finds more, then keeps track of where it saved all the pieces. As a result, files are stored in fragments all over the hard disk. The more fragments a file is in, the longer it takes to reassemble the file so you can use it. Makes sense.

Special utilities called disk defragmenters (or disk optimizers) organize the information on the hard drive, like cleaning up shop. They collect all of a file's pieces and put them in contiguous blocks.

Most PC users experience a slight performance gain when a disk is defragmented. Plus, there's another benefit to having a neat and tidy disk: Recovering deleted files is much more reliable on a regularly defragmented disk.

Microsoft DOS version 6.0 or higher and Windows 95 include a defragmenter utility that is a scaled-down version of Norton Speed Disk. The added features of having the entire Speed Disk program reinforces having Norton Utilities on your PC.

In addition to doing everything, the Microsoft Defrag Speed Disk gives you several other options when defragmenting a disk.

Mac users don't get a defragment utility built in. Use Symantec's Speed Disk, part of Norton Utilities for Macintosh or MacTools Pro.

There is no hard and fast rule as to how often you should defragment your hard disk--a few times a month is a good general rule.

Simply stated, take care of your hard disk and it will take care of you.

Kim Komando is a Fox TV host, syndicated talk radio host and founder of the Komputer Klinic on America Online (keyword KOMANDO).

Send e-mail topics you'd like covered in future columns to komando@komando.com

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