9.5. Speeding Up a Hard Drive
Your PC treats its hard drive like a shelf in the garage. Just as you store all your paint cans on one shelf, your computer saves all its data using the electronic equivalent of one long strip of magnetic space. And just as things can quickly get messy on your garage shelf, your PC's hard drive can easily get cluttered.
As you begin working with files, deleting some and moving others, Windows XP begins leaving gaps in that once-smooth strip of data. As your PC looks for available storage space, it breaks files apart, stuffing pieces wherever they'll fit. After a few months, the files on your hard drive look more like your messy garage shelf.
Rest assured that, unlike you, your PC keeps track of everything and nothing gets lost. But the drive has to work harder as it fetches all those scattered pieces. That slows everything down.
Enter Windows XP's built-in Disk Defragmenter, shown in Figure 9-5. The program picks up all the scattered pieces of your files and inscribes them back on the hard drive in long, contiguous, and easily accessible strips . That speeds up retrieval, letting your hard drive pick up a file in one pass.
To begin organizing your drive's virtual paint cans, run the Disk Defragmenter: go to Start All Programs Accessories System Tools Disk Defragmenter. The program takes several hours to run, and works best undisturbed. So run it in the evenings, when youre away from your computer.
Start by shutting down any programs to release any data they're clutching. Then click the Analyze button to make sure your drive is fragmented enough to be worth the effort. If Windows says "You should defragment this volume," then click the Defragment button and let it run all night. (It may take several hours to finish.)
Figure 9-5. Before running Disk Defragmenter, run Disk Cleanup (Section 9.4) so you're not spending time defragmenting all your trash. Then let the Defragmenter run all night, especially if you haven't run it for awhile. If you're working in the background, your PC won't be able to defragment files belonging to the program you're using.
Your PC should run a bit faster the next morning, making you wish your messy garage came with such a handy one-click organizer.