The Hard Disk

The Hard Disk

From throwing our unnecessary files, to defragmenting, from partitions to formats-learn how to keep your hard disk in top shape

The hard disk is the place where all your programs and data are stored. If the hard disk Stops working you could end up losing all your data. What we’ll do here is take you on. A quick tour of the different things you need to know about it, so you can keep it working smoothly.

What is the hard disk?

The hard disk is a magnetic mass storage device installed in special bays within the system unit. The hard disk could do compared to a large cupboard having several shelves

With different items being neatly arranged and stored on each self. The hard disk stored all the data you need to store on your PC-the operating system (for example, Windows),

Software program (for example an office suit), business or household applications and data, games, e-mail message, address books and so on.

A hard disk off the assembly line is just a mass of magnetic media. The magnetic surface of the hard disk has to be structured into specific areas where data can be stored properly, a process known as formatting. When you buy a new computer, the system comes with a formatted hard disk.

A hard disk needs to be divided into partitions before it can be used. The hard disk on a newly purchased computer comes configured with a single large partitions, the primary partition (C: in My Computer) and an extended partition, which may be further subdivided into logical partitions (D: E: and so on in My Computer) if required. Partitioning makes the storage of data more efficient and reduces the access time to retrieve data.

The storage capacity of hard disk has increased by leaps and bounds since IBM XT’s first 10 MB hard disk. Nowadays, 10GB is the entry level and 17 GB is common. The hard disk communicates with a PC’s motherboard through an expansion card or a disk interface card.

How does it wok?

The disk is formatted to divide its magnetic surface into concentric circular paths called tracks (these are like the grooves on a phonograph record) and wedge-shaped slices called sectors. Data is stored in the form of a file or groups of disk sector called clusters. A disk drive locates data by moving its magnetic read-write head to specific track within a specific sector.

When a new file is created in a freshly formatted hard disk, it is assigned cluster numbers in a sequential order. If the file is expanded, then the first available clusters are assigned. When file is deleted, their cluster numbers are simply marked as available. Over course of time, when files grow in size to require additional cluster or are deleted, the perfectly ordered sequence of clusters gets disturbed, a process known as fragmentation.

Partitioning the hard disk

Partitioning divides a large hard disk into smaller virtual-not physical-hard disk or partitions, leading to an efficient utilization of space and boosting your PC’s performance. Partitioning could be very useful in following circumstances:

1-One PC, several users-If several persons have to work on the same PC, partitions could be assigned for each of them so that each person has his or her own “working space.” This could be useful in home setting too, where you could have separate partitions for your spouse, children’s games, business applications and data and so on.

2-Work on multiple operating systems-You may want to work on more than one operating system on your PC, for example Win98, Linux and Windows95. (Maybe you have applications that work perfectly in Win95 but suddenly crashed in Win98). You can keep these various operating systems safely on the same hard disk by installing them in separate partitions.

Partitioning Tools There’re several partitioning tools available for your hard drive. Two of the most popular ones are:

1-PartitionMagic Version 4.o for Windows95 and 98-Partition Magic, from Power Quest is a useful and powerful partitioning program. It effortlessly creates, moves, converts and resizes partitions on your hard disk without the necessity of reformatting the disk of erasing valuable data.

2-FDISK- is a freely available partitioning utility that runs in the DOS environment. Its greatest UPS is that it is available for free. It is cumbersome to use and also requires formatting of the hard disk (perhaps its biggest drawback).

Formatting a hard disk

As with most mechanical devices, prolonged use of the hard disk results in inevitable wear and tear and malfunction. Repeated adding and deleting of files takes its toll on the hard disk and you may get disk error, including the notorious “fatal error” of Windows. This is an indication that you may need to re-format your hard disk to have it working properly again.

However, before deciding to re-format the disk it may be worthwhile to try out other alternative-

1-Run Disk Defragmenter

2-Use a cleanup shareware programs such asregclean.exe, available for download.

However, if after trying out these alternatives, you continue to get fatal error message, then you probably need to format your hard disk.

The procedure of formatting is simple enough but has to be done carefully. When you format the hard disk, all the data on the disk is lost-Windows operating system, software programs, business applications data, games, e-mails messages. In short everything.

How to do the formatting ?

Windows 95

1- Double-click on My Computer icon. Then click the icon for the drive you want to format. (e. g. C:)

2- On the File menu, click Format and follow the instructions.

Remember that you can not format a disk if there are files open on that disk. If the disk has been compressed, use Drivespace or other compression to format the disk.

Windows 98

1- Click Start, click Shutdown, click Restart, and then click on OK.

2- Press and hold the CTRL key until the Microsoft Windows 98 Startup Menu appears.

3- Select Command prompt only and press Enter.

4- At the C:\prompt, type format C: and press ENTER.

5- Follow the instruction on the screen.

After formatting you’re left with a blank hard disk with more space then before. The next step is to restore the programs you need on your disk.

1- First reinstall Windows and then application programs you use.

2- Restore your backups into appropriate files. If you use a Zip drive or a CD-writer, these need to be installed first.

3- Reinstall all drivers for the printer, modem or other peripherals.

Do the defragmentation

A file on your disk may not be stored all in one place or cluster. For example, if you create a Word document and make changes to it at a later date, the change may get saved in a different cluster from the original file. The more often you make changes to a file, the more disorganized the cluster becomes, and the disk becomes fragmented. This makes the magnetic head that reads and writes data to and from the disk, works harder to retrieve the entire file. Fragmentation of hard drive reduces the storage efficiency and then access time for retrieving information.

The process of defragging helps to rearrange the files and unused space on your hard disk so that programs run faster.

Before Defragging, it may be a good idea to check how much of your hard drive is fragmented. You can do this by running ScanDisk. Empty the temp folders and Recycle Bin before defragging.

Windows 95 and Windows 98-: Open the Start Menu, choose Programs, choose Accessories, and choose System Tools and click on Disk Defragmenter.

You defragging schedule will depend on how much you use the PC. A good rule of the thumb is to defrag every two weeks.

Make sure all your files are closed and then you have turned of the screensaver also.

Spring Cleaning

No more hard disk space left? Getting disk error or illegal operations? It may be time to clean up your hard disk. A few spring cleaning pointers to help you out.

1- Toss out unwanted applications-: check out all the software applications you have loaded on the PC. Delete the old applications if you have installed newer versions. Go to the Control Panel’s Add/Remove program option and uninstall those applications you don’t need.

2- Run ScanDisk-: the ScanDisk option in Windows is very useful application which fixes problem like lost clusters, invalid directory entries and physical disk errors. Run ScanDisk once a month.

Go to start, choose Programs, choose Accessories, and choose System Tools and click on ScanDisk. Click the drive that contains the folders and files you want to check.

3- Defrag often, once in two weeks.

4- Empty Recycle Bin-: Right-click on Recycle Bin icon on the Desktop and choose Empty Recycle Bin from the dropdown menu.

5- Clean out your folders-: do you really need all those download you had undertaken for a past research project or those games you seldom plays? Delete those folders that are not required.

6- Delete .tmp files and create more space on hard disk.

Close all programs. Go to Windows Explorer. Press the key to open find dialog box. Enter *.tmp in the box. Make sure that C: Drive is listed in the Look-in box. Include subfolders by checking them. When .tmp files appear, delete them.

7- Delete temporary Net files to create more space.

Go to the temp Internet Files folder in Windows Explorer. Delete all present files.

8- There are several Windows components on your hard disk that you could do without. You could remove these individual components from the Add/Remove Windows setup option and create more space on your disk

Some windows components that are not necessary are accessories such as Desktop Wallpapers (a saving of 700kB) and games (a saving of 600kB

Before you format…..

1- Enter the hard drive’s technical specifications (number of cylinders, tracks, sectors etc.) into the PC’s BIOS setup table so that it is available for the machine’s Startup program.

2- Backup all your important data onto another hard disk, recordable CDs, Zip Drive, magnetic tapes or floppies. If you have a sort of backup space or are in hurry, copy only important folders. Backup your e-mail and address books too. After taking the backups, check them out to make sure that they are okay.

3- Backup any folders that you share with others over a network.

4- Keep handy the installation disks or CDs of the application software you use, such as Windows or an office suite. These will have to be re-installed after formatting.

5- Keep handy the driver disks for your printer, sound card, CD ROM driver, modem or other devices. These will have to be re-installed after formatting.

FAT Facts

When a hard disk is formatted, a File Allocation Table (FAT) is created on the disk. FAT keeps a record of the locations of all the files on the disk FAT 16 is the file allocation system used in DOS and Windows 95. FAT 32 file system is used in Windows 98 or Win 95 OSR 2. FAT 32 is considered to be more efficient as it saves more space on the disk.

The performance of hard disk largely affects the overall performance of a PC. Hard disk performance factors include storage capacity, data access time (the time it takes for the read write heads to find a required position on the magnetic surface), data transfer time (measure how many million bit per second can be transferred from disk to RAM) and reliability.


Keep your hard disk in tip-top condition and optimize its performance.

1- Create separate folders for each business application, data or for each family member. This will keep your disk clean and organized.

2- Avoid the compression

Though file compression increases the amount of storage space, it also considerably slowdown system performance.

3- Keep 10% free. Always keep at least 10% of your hard disk free-filling it beyond 90% of its capacity will lead to system slowdown and potential loss of information.

4- Run the Maintenance Wizard utility of Windows 95 and 98. This utility make your programs run faster, checks your hard disk for problems and free hard disk space. You can schedule it to0 run on a regular basis at a specific time, for example once a week or other interval of your choice.

Start maintenance Wizard by clicking on Start, choose Programs, choose Accessories, choose system tools and click on Maintenance Wizard.

5- Use software package that help to optimize your hard disk’s performance, e.g. Symantec’s Norton Utilities.

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