Housekeeping chores

Defragmenting a computer hard drive supposedly makes it faster and more efficient. Yesterday I defragmented my 156 gigabyte drive in my Windows XP Home edition machine. It took a couple of hours but when it finished, the files on the drive were rearranged in a more efficient configuration.

If we want to keep our machines running as fast and efficiently as possible, there are a few housekeeping chores we should take occasionally, once or twice a year in my case. If we go to Start – Programs – System Tools we find Disk Defragmenter and Disk Cleanup. Disk Cleanup looks for all the detritus on the drive and asks us if we want to remove it. I click Yes and let it do its thing. Then I click on Disk Defragmenter and ask Windows to Analyze the drive. If Bill Gates tells me it’s time to defragment, I start the process and go away from the computer for a couple of hours. Incidentally, Windows 98 has the same process but sometimes it must be started in the Safe Mode to run correctly.

The hard drive is one of the major components in our computer systems. It is where we “store” the operating system, programs and data files. It is an amazing device. On the plus side, modern hard drives store a tremendous amount of stuff. An article I just read stated that hard drive capacity has increased 7,500 times in the last 15 years. A 500 gigabyte drive now can be purchased for $239.99 (Western Digital WD 500 GB). That is 500 thousand million bytes of data. And Terabyte (1000 gigabytes) drives are right around the corner. Is this important to us? Probably not unless we or our grandchildren start to download and keep full length movies from the Internet.

The article I was reading concerned commercial data centers, those installations where the Googles and eBays store the entire world’s knowledge or articles to auction. These 500,000 square foot centers with thousands of computers and hard drives must prepare themselves for digital video that takes exabytes (1,000,000 terabytes) of storage. Utterly amazing. And one of the reasons they can do this is that storage has become so inexpensive.

A byproduct of this inexpensive storage is that we no longer have to worry about how much we store on our own drives. In the old days we had to remove things from our drives to make room for new things. No longer do we need to do this. The hard drive on my machine only is about 20 percent full. Plenty of room for more stuff.

I must mention the down side of hard drives. They are mechanical devices that will fail some time in the future. For that reason we should at least backup all our important data and possibly the entire drive. I’ve discussed this in other columns but only mention it again here because the costs for backup drives are low and external drives are easy to install and use.

This may have been more than you ever wanted to know about hard drives but what is happening to them today is fascinating and changing the way we use our computers.

If you would like to hear more about hard drives or other computer topics, visit “Coffee and Computers” at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. ‘C’ Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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