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Hard Drive Maintenance

Hard drives store all your programs and critical information. They should be maintained as part of your normal computer security, backup and maintenance procedures. I recommend four maintenance procedures to keep them in good shape.

Disk checking

Windows has a program called chkdsk.exe (for check disk), which examines the hard drive's file system for integrity and logical flaws. Most of you have a little icon I've setup for you in your maintenance folder called Fixdisk.bat which runs this with the appropriate parameter selected. I recommend doing this monthly. If you don't have the fixdisk.bat icon, then you can press the Windows key and the letter R (Windows-R) which will open the run command. Or you could click start ⁄ run. Then type chkdsk.exe ⁄f  - The ⁄f means to fix any problems you have.

If you are checking a drive that Windows is not on, and that holds no open files, then it will immediately perform the scan. Usually however, Windows will respond with a DOS Command window saying "blah blah blah blah..." Followed by "Blah blah blah" then "jibber jabber". The technical term for this is "Gobbledygook".  What it means is that Windows can't check the file system integrity when Windows is using the file system. It's like changing you car's oil while driving. So it offers to do so next time you restart your computer. You answer Y (for YES) and then press enter. The next time you restart, Windows will begin, see that it is supposed to run chkdsk, and then back out, and check your file system. It'll only take a few minutes.

This is a one time switch. Once it has checked the file system, it'll go back to not checking when you reboot. It is a good idea to do this once a month.


Depending on how often you add and remove files and add records to a database or accounting application it makes sense to run some defragmentation tool somewhere between once a month and once every 6 months. Since it can't hurt, I normally prescribe doing it monthly. Defragmentation means to put all the files back together in a contiguous stream. Windows always uses whatever open space is available, so as you add to files or delete files, you create openings and a single large file can get strung out in hundreds of different places on the hard drive. This slows your computer, strains the hardware, increases the chances of error and decreases the chances of recovery from errors. Defragmentation puts them back together.

NEVER EVER defragment a flash drive. Defragmentation is for spinning magnetic media (hard drives), not for flash drives. Flash drives have a limited number of re-write cycles on each part of the drive, so they have their own special way of storing files to even out wear. Don't mess with it.

Windows provides a perfectly reasonable defragmentation tool called Defrag which can be found under Programs⁄ Accessories⁄ System Tools. I normally setup my clients with a shortcut to Defrag in their maintenance folder. However, more features and better performance are available. Currently my favorite free defragmenting tool is Smart Defrag . I don't recommend their continuous operation feature, but simply run it once a month. For a paid defragmentation tool, I currently recommend Puran Defrag, though honestly I don't think people need to pay for a defragger just because I do.

Temporary file  cleaning

Windows and other programs make lots of temporary files on your hard drive which are used for only a little while. Like naughty children, they often don't clean up their messes. There are certain places that windows specifies as playpens for these files and often they just don't get emptied. Like children's toys, if you don't clean them up, then someone will trip over them. If you are using Windows XP, I've probably loaded Emptemp and set it up for you. I choose only temporary files from specific temporary file locations, over a day old (so they aren't being used) and I empty the trash bin (which Microsoft erroneously calls the recycle bin as if we were going to recycle these programs and file parts!).

For Windows Vista users, I recommend using Microsoft's Disk Cleanup utility.

What I do delete:

  • Everything in the temp folders (all temporary files)
  • Windows Internet files
  • Stuff in the Trash (recycle) bin.

What I do NOT delete:

  • Recent files. Recent files or history files are those records made by each program of recently used files. I find these useful and appreciate the program remembering them for me.
  • Cookies. I like Amazon recognizing me.
  • Recently downloaded files. I'll occasionally take care of some of these by hand.

Surface scan annually

Sometimes, over time, parts of your hard drive lose their magnetic properties. They cease to hold a charge perfectly at a microscopic level. The information may be readable, but only after two or three tries. This is an indication that that tiny part of your drive should not be used. Surface scans find and remove those parts. A surface scan will begin at the start of your hard drive and read everything on the entire drive, even the empty space that isn't used yet. If it can read it just fine, then it moves on. If it has some trouble reading it, then it will either refresh it or move it to another part of the drive and mark that spot out so it won't be used in the future. This is just like Disk Checking, and will do a disk check first. Simply Click Start⁄ Run and type chkdsk.exe ⁄r for (recover) and press Enter or click OK. You'll get the Gobbledy Gook window described above, enter Y for yes and then reboot and have some lunch, it'll take a long time.

Date: July 2009

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