Law Office Computing
Hard Drive Maintenance Revisited
A few years ago in this column I discussed the problem of data fragmentation on hard drives and the need to “defragment “ drives on a regular basis. At that time drives of 10 GB were considered large. Today drives of up to 100 GB are readily available. With those larger drives defragmentation is even more important. Let me recap my earlier comments:
One of the things that most people don't realize about the way digital information is stored on a computer's hard drive is that the bits and bytes information that make up file are not stored in contiguous places on the disk. When you load up a file into your word processor, for example, the hard drive brings together information from sectors all over the disk to create the final image that you see on your screen. Think of the old trick that you see on TV and in the movies where the film is run backwards and a broken glass magically reconstructs itself in someone's hand. That is what happens when your hard drive pulls up a file. When that file is sent back to the hard drive it doesn't necessarily go to the place where it was before, and as a result, over time, the files on your disk enter an advanced state of what is called "fragmentation." Fragmentation occurs on every computer and the more you use it the worse the problem becomes. Before fragmentation becomes critical you may start to notice that your computer has slowed down dramatically. It will continue to slow down until it finally stops and one day you seek to open a file and the hard disk will simply fail. The short of it is that your computer has then suffered brain seizure and you are in serious trouble. It is possible to recover much of the information on the disk by sending it away to specialists who have developed their skills in data recovery. When they are not working for the FBI or the DEA, those people can, for a substantial fee, recover most if not all of your data. You will make your insurance carrier happy, however, if you avoid problems of this kind because they are so easily avoidable. If you do your own computer maintenance, then read on. If you don't do your own computer maintenance, clip out this column and give it to whoever in your office handles those tasks. What I am about to describe should be done on a regular basis, certainly no less than once a month and once a week in a busy office. A full backup of your critical data should always, I repeat ALWAYS, precede the following procedures.
In all Windows versions Microsoft has provided free utilities as a part of the Windows system. In recent versions of Windows 98 you will find in the System Tools submenu on your Start menu a utility called Disk Degragmenter. Defragmenter will actually group your files on the disk so that the ones you use most often will be given the fastest access possible. The increase in the operating speed of your system is really very noticeable.
You do need to defrag at least once a month. Fortunately, in Windows 95/98/2000 defragmentation is basically automated. The only thing you really have to be aware of is that the process will stop and restart with any disk access. If you are on a network make sure you have gone off the network before you start defragmentation. Close down any program that might automatically do something during the process. In other words, stun your computer=s brain with care.
Defragmentation is oddly interesting to watch because you can see the files on your hard disk being moved around to create a more efficient pattern of access. Of course you are not actually looking at your hard disk but you are seeing a representation of those files as they are read and moved around. While this is not a procedure that one wants to do for hours, it is in some bizarre way, a very calming, non-chemical sedation. If you have had a very really hard day, watching your disk defrag itself is a bit like meditation. Depending on which of the options you choose, the defragmentation process may take anywhere from a minute to several hours. Indeed, it may take many hours on a large drive or one that has been compressed and I suggest you do it late at night and let the computer run until morning.
A Better Solution
Obviously, this is a very time consuming process. Because of that computer users are apt to avoid defragmenting for years. Eventually their drive crashes and they lose information and even more time rebuilding their machine. I recently discovered a product that will run in the background of your machine and keep the drive in a constant state of perfection. It is called Diskeeper and you can get it from Executive Software at http://www.executive.com/products for 49.95 for a single license with bulk pricing available for offices with large networks. A new feature called “Smart Scheduling™” dynamically configures your defragmentation schedule based on the condition of your disk. It eliminates the need for you to know how often to defragment each of your disk volumes for maximum performance. Diskeeper will take note of fragmentation levels and adjust run time frequency anywhere from every hour to one week. Executive Software claims speed increases of 50% to 80% as well as dramatically reduced time for the defragmentation process. It has consistently received awards from the likes of PC Magazine and InfoWorld. It is also a Microsoft certified product. You can download a trial version from the website. I think you will like a lot!
PS-Don’t forget to back up the first time you run any defragmentation system!