How To Prevent Hard Drive Problems
You know that a regularly scheduled simple maintenance may help keep your computer in shape and there are plenty of third-party programs to help you keep your computer in peak form. However, Microsoft Windows provides you with a solid toolbox of built-in programs to help you keep your computer in shape.
Check out the Windows START menu, through the PROGRAMS area, then ACCESSORIES, will reveal a group of computerhard-drive helpers called SYSTEM TOOLS.
Backing Up Your Computer Files
One of the System Tools is the Backup program. Backup may not be part of your default Windows installations. If is not installed on your computer system, it may be found and installed from your Windows system CD-ROM.
Backing up your computers data on a regular bases, including bookmarks, e-mail folders and personal documents, is an important task if you want peace of mind about your computer system. Once you start the Backup program, click on the files you want to copy — or pick one of the other options Windows offers, including backing up all of your files — and then choose where you want to save the files. If you lose a file, you can also restore it from the Backup program.
Your computer system can be backed up by a variety of other devices: this may be an external tape, CDs, anther hard drive or removable-cartridge drives like the Iomega Peerless. Regardless of what method you use, making a backup of your files that matter the most can save you aggravation or despair in the event that something happens to your computer.
Although it will not recover personal files like email or spreadsheets, the Microsoft Windows SYSTEM RESTORE tool may restore files for individuals who have accidentally deleted vital system files or tinkered so much that their computer has failed to operate properly. Windows Restore creates a series of backup points at regular intervals that the user can roll back to in an emergency.
Cleaning Your Computer Hard Drive
Once you have backed up your important system files, you should delete the files that you no longer use. Windows users can remove old unused software with the Add/Remove Programs function (from the START menu, then SETTINGS, then CONTROL PANEL). Or you may use commercial software to safely remove old software.
Commercial utility software will not only uninstall old programs but can also clean up unintentional clutter around your hard drive. Temporary files, bits of previously viewed Web pages, disconnected shortcuts, browser-history files and other digital detritus hog space that you can safely reclaim.
The Windows DISK CLEANUP tool in the System Tools menu does a good job deleting unneeded files, but commercial utility software like LIUtilities’ WinBackup, Norton CleanSweep or McAfee QuickClean may do a more thorough job.
Checking Your Computer System
If you have ever suffered a crash while working in Windows, you are probably acquainted with ScanDisk. The ScanDisk utility is run after an “unscheduled” computer system interruption. It checks the hard drive for file system errors, cross-linked files and other problems.
ScanDisk can do a lot more to your hard drive. It can seek out and find bad spots on the drive where data cannot safely be stored, and then prevent Windows from using the damaged space and possibly losing data. ScanDisk is standard with all recent Microsoft Windows operating systems and may appear automatically in times of your computers failure. It may also be launched from your System Tools menu (unless you use Windows XP).
ScanDisk offers two testing options: Standard and Thorough. The Standard test checks for file and folder errors, and checks the hard drives surface as well. If you choose the Automatically Fix Errors option, you may want to find something else to do while ScanDisk does its job. It can take quite a while to run fix options.
If you have Windows XP, you may check your hard drive by going to MY COMPUTER, clicking on the drive in question and then going to the FILE menu and selecting PROPERTIES. Under the TOOLS tab is the error-checking utility.
Many commercial utility software packages provide a variety of disk-checking and repair tools. LIUtilities’ SpeedUpMyPC and Norton SystemWorks suite by Symantec are two of the more popular utility packages.
Buffing Your Computer System
Once the computer has been checked out and cleaned up, a good defragmentation session can tune it up further. Operating systems tend to fragment and scatter files around the hard drive as they are used. This causes slower performance over time because the system has to look all over the drive for those file parts. Defragmenting the drive puts everything back together. Windows has a built-in Disk Defragmenter program on the SYSTEM TOOLS menu, and many of the non-Microsoft utility programs mentioned above also provide a defragmenter option.
If you find that your computer keeps starting the process over and over, try booting your computer in “Safe Mode” to turn off all programs before trying to run the Defragmenter again. Microsoft’s Safe Mode is a Windows diagnostics mode. When you start the computer in Safe mode, only the specific components that are needed to run your computer’s operating system are loaded. Safe mode does not load software applications automatically and does not allow some functions, such as connecting to the Internet.
Under Safe Mode, you are running your computer’s Windows operating system at its most basic level. To activate Microsoft’s Safe Mode, power-up your computer. Watch for a blank black screen. When you see “Starting Windows,” immediately press the F8 key. Windows then proceeds to start in Safe Mode.
If you are running under Windows XP, Click START, and then click RUN. A RUN dialog box appears. Type “msconfig” (do not type the “) and then click OK. The System Configuration Utility appears. Select the BOOT.INI tab then check the “/SAFEBOOT” option, and then click OK. The time needed to perform all of these system checks and cleanup procedures will vary, depending on the size of your hard drive and the amount of data stored on it. Each task could take just 10 minutes or so, but it is not unheard of for it to take several hours to complete all of them.
If you would rather be sleeping or playing softball, you can automate many of the cleaning chores with the Maintenance Wizard or, in some later versions of Windows, the Scheduled Tasks function. Both are found in the System Tools area.
Here are three most important steps that you must do to protect your valuable computer files:
- Regularly Backup Key Files: Save valuable computer data on a separate drive, CD, or disk, such as a Zip(R) disk. After files are backed up, remove the disks from the computer and keep them in a safe place removed from your computer.
- Install and Update Anti-Virus Software: Make sure any anti-virus program runs from the start menu and updates the program on a regular basis.
- Carefully Review all email Attachments: Dont open e-mail attachments unless you know the source. Also, to minimize the potential impact of an email attachment to your hard drive, transfer attachments to a CD or Zip(R) disk before opening.
Taking care of your computer with a little regular maintenance may just pay you dividends down the road.
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