|An informational and technical guide to selecting the best hard drive for building a new computer or upgrading a current system.|
Formatting a Hard Drive and Hard Drive Basics
How Does a Hard Drive Work?
When you save a file to your hard drive, it is magnetically recorded onto a platter (a flat disk) inside your hard drive. Most hard drives have several platters mounted on a spindle that allows them to spin as fast as 15,000 times per minute. Each two-sided platter is mounted on a single arm with a slider that lets the heads move across the surface of the platter to access data. It is kind of like how phonograph records are read by the needle but incredibly fast and back and forth.
The amount of data
each platter can hold is usually measured in Tracks Per Inch, where a track
equals one concentric ring around a disk. Because of the amount of data that
can be stored in a single track, each track is divided into sectors, and
each sector holds roughly 512 bytes of information. When you save data to
the disk, it is referenced according to its track and sector.
Click here to see a graphic of the internal
components of a hard drive.
Hard Drive Organization
Occasionally your hard drive will make a whirring sound as it searches for a file. This is the sound of the platters spinning as the read heads zoom back and forth to "seek" the sectors where the data has been stored.
You can speed up this process by periodically “defragmenting” your hard drive. The Windows Disk Defragmenter utility reorganizes the scattered data on your hard drive to make your files run more efficiently. It also moves the files that you use most often to the beginning of the hard disk where they’ll load faster.
To run Disk Defragmenter in Windows XP, follow these directions:
The bottom frame displays a graphical representation of the utilities progress.
Cleaning Up Your Hard Drive
Another powerful utility that comes with Windows is Disk Cleanup. This application allows you to easily sort through and delete unused and temporary files, freeing space on your hard drive and speeding up its operation.
To run Disk Cleanup in Windows 98, Windows Millennium, and Window XP:
The ScanDisk Utility in Windows
If you have ever turned off your computer without properly shutting down the system (or had to restart after a hard drive crash), then you have probably seen your computer run a utility called ScanDisk. ScanDisk checks the hard drive for errors and, if it finds any, marks the cluster of sectors containing the error as unusable, so that no data can be written to or read from that portion of the disk.
You can also run
ScanDisk from within Windows. This allows you to do a more thorough scan of
your hard drive and detect errors that might make it difficult or impossible
to read or write to the disk.
ScanDisk should not take very long to run, and should probably be done every two or three months just to be safe. It will give you a report of the number and types of errors it has found, and can even automatically repair some of these errors. More serious errors can be repaired by reformatting the drive, if the errors are "soft" errors (which means that the magnetic signal on the disk is weak or the formatting is bad).
"Hard" errors, however, refer to actual physical damage to the disk, such as a scratch or a bump, and cannot be repaired. If you have a large number of hard errors on your disk, you will probably need to replace your hard drive.
The average life span for today's hard drive is between three and five years. Simple maintenance can keep your hard drive running smoothly well past the time it has become obsolete.
Go to: How to Format a Hard Drive
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