hard-drive-for-article.jpgInformation that appears to be a neatly arrayed bunch of data stored safely on your PC can actually be strewn haphazardly around your [tag]hard drive[/tag]. This makes it as easy for your computer to find and recall data as it is to find a pair of clean socks in an otherwise messy room. The difference is, that your computer will eventually find the data—you and your socks are out of luck. But this [tag]disorganization[/tag] (which ironically is born of fastidious design) can cause your machine to run slower, expand more energy, and in some very serious cases, crash altogether.

This happens because your computer does not store large files all together. It breaks those mammoth storage jobs up into more manageable pieces, which it then stores in correspondingly sized free space on your Hard Drive. This actually ensures that the drive fills evenly, but it also makes your computer work harder to read a single file from start to finish. The solution to this disorganized yet systematic situation is called [tag]defragmenting[/tag]. Basically, Defragmenting your hard drive reorganizes those scattered file bits back into contiguous segments.

If you use the provided [tag]Windows XP[/tag] Disk Defragmenter, there are several things you should know. The first is that while you can run the defragmentation process while using other applications, the program cannot defragment any files that are currently in use. You’ll have to close everything and reboot in safe mode in order to defragment everything. And even then, there are certain files that Windows needs to run that won’t be a part of the process.

To get to the defragmenter: Click on the Start Menu, All Programs, Accessories, [tag]System Tools[/tag], and select Disk Fragmenter. If you’ve got more than one drive active on your computer, you’ll have to select which drive to defragment when the application opens. Once that is done, you’ll be given the option to choose between Analyze and Defragment. Analyze creates two graphs which show how many contiguous and fragmented files you have on your hard drive, as well as how much free space you’ve got. If you press the Defragment button, then the disk starts defragmenting whichever hard drive you’ve selected.

The length of time the process takes depends on several factors. Of course, the severity of the fragmentation is one important issue. The size of the drive, the relative amount of free space still available, and the amount stored on the HDD in question also all play a role. A drive with significant fragmentation could take hours to completely reorganize. Don’t fret, though—handy software and graphs provided by the Disk Defragmenter will let you know before hand whether or not this process is going to take all day. You can also receive status reports on the progress being made within your machine. Also, this allows you to keep an eye on your machine, ensuring that it won’t lock up.

As with any preventative PC [tag]maintenance[/tag], performing periodical defragmentations will reduce the time it takes to complete the process, and makes the defrag process less traumatic for your system.

It’s important to know that Windows Vista users may experience more fragmentation because of the frequent drive swapping that Vista employs. Because of this, it’s important for [tagVista[/tag] computers to perform defragmentation duties more often than machines running previous versions of Microsoft operating systems. Luckily, Vista programmers anticipated this fact, and have scheduled Vista to automatically run a defrag program every Wednesday at 1 a.m.

You’ve got to leave your computer on for this to work, though. So if you want your PC to automatically defragment itself, then leave your PC running on Tuesday nights. Or conversely, you can always schedule these defrag sessions for a more convenient time.

While defragmentation might seem like a unnecessarily micro-managing task to undertake, it is well worth your while. As it turns out, running a defrag operation on a brand new machine helps it run faster than it would just removed from the box and plugged into the wall (think trial software). That being the case, it stand to reason that your machine’s Hard Drives could use a spring cleaning from time to time, as well.

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