How To Improve Your PC's Hard Disk Response

Disk Clean and Defragment Your Hard Disk Drive(s) to Optimize Performance

Your PC depends on the files held in the hard disk for just about everything it can do. It needs an occasional 'tune-up', a session of TLC (tender loving care) -- or, in computer speak, a 'disk cleanup' and 'defragging'. This is best done after a housekeeping session when you give your old computer files a spring clean-out.

If you have loads of backup files on your disk and other stuff you no longer need – just as we are advised to de-clutter our homes, desks, offices, etc. – your pc needs the same sort of attention from time to time. You may also have programs and features you no longer use, and if you are sure you never will, they can be deleted too. This saves space and usually improves the performance of the hard disk drive.

The hard disk drive runs for most of the time your computer is switched on. It's an electro-mechanical device with two main operations:

  • To send data.
  • To store data to and from the computer's main chip, the central processing unit and main memory.

A computer works at speeds we humans find difficult to comprehend. Binary data moves along wires and tracks (buses) so quickly that a whole book can be on screen in less time than you can get up from your chair and go pick up your copy from the bookshelf across the room. OK, it doesn't actually display all of the book at once – just as you have to read a real book page by page – but it's all there available if you scroll.

Windows is the most popular operating system for standalone pc's by a long way and works best if the files are stored in a nice, closeby, sequence – in contiguous blocks. So give your pc's hard disk drive(s) an occasional tune up and run these two utility programs.

  1. Firstly, disk cleanup (Start –> Programs –> Accessories –> System Tools –> Disc Cleanup). Decide which sort of files you can afford to delete – the options shown in the Disk Cleanup list are:
    • Temporary Internet Files: These 'cookies' are small files sent and stored on your pc so you can be identified as a previous user on many websites. You can delete these if you have your user names&passwords safely remembered.
    • Downloaded Program Files: You should know if you download and install program files. But if your pc is used by many different users (e.g. a well-used family pc), other users may have installed programs you are unaware of - beware.
    • Recycle Bin: When a file is deleted, the data is not removed from your hard disk – only the address details are. The file is noted in your 'Recycle Bin' in case you change your mind and decide you didn't want to delete it after all. If you're sure, then now is the time to get rid of unwanted and old files you have previously marked for deletion.
    • Temporary Files: When you download a file attached to an email or for other reasons, the file is stored temporarily in a folder inside the windows directory/folder on your hard disk. It is not very easy to find. Once you work on a file, it is normal practice to then save it again in your 'Documents' folder. So now you have at least two copies of this file – an older one, and one newer. You don't really need both; there are better ways of keeping a spare copy – ue for another article! So the temporary file (the older one) can be deleted.

    Windows provides a viewing box below this list so you may review files in any of the categories where you have left a tick on the box to the left hand side of the list.

  2. To make the most of this new-found space, run 'Defrag', the de-fragmenter utility. This reduces file fragmentation by re-sorting files, moving them into more easily managed chunks. Whilst there are some files that the operating system wants to keep in one spot, by reducing work for the disk heads you can make your machine perform better.

    Defrag works best without interruption. Any programs running in the background, like anti-virus software, can cause Defrag to restart its run again and again. To avoid this, start the pc using a clean boot option.

  3. Run msconfig: Click Start –> Run, type 'msconfig' in the text box, and then click OK. This opens the System Configuration Utility.
    • On the first tab - General, choose 'Selective Startup' and only tick.
    • Load static VxDs.
    • Load environment variables.

    Click OK so your computer will restart using these new settings.

  4. Run Disk Defragmenter: Select All Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> Disk Defragmenter under 'start', or from the disk properties window [right click on the drive letter in my computer, bottom option], look under the 'Tools' tab pane. Later version of defrag initially check the disc for fragmentation.

    If you have a large hard disk drive or have never run the utility before, it may take a considerable length of time. Some users set this to run overnight. Once defrag has completed, you may want to read the log file. Be careful – doing this might turn you into a computer geek!

  5. Remember run msconfig: To open system config again - step 4. Select Normal Startup on the general tab.

You should find you have more disk space and your pc should operate a little faster.


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I am going to try this right now. Thank you for detailing it clearly.

By Mary Norton

Thanks Bronwyn - regards

By Rik Whittaker

Great information - thanks! I think this will be useful.

By Bronwyn Harris