Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How to maximize the life of your hard drive

Even though solid state drives (SSDs) are the new "it" thing, many people still have regular old EIDE or SCSI hard drives with movable parts.  These hard drives, like any mechanical device, will degrade and eventually break down over time.  However, there are some things you can do to prolong the life of your hard drive.

* Error-checking

Windows has a handy utility called Error-checking that can scan your hard drive for bad sectors and other problems and attempt to fix them.  This process takes a while, but it should be done on a regular basis -- once a month is a good interval.

To run Error-checking, open My Computer and right click on your hard drive.  Select Properties, then go to the Tools tab.  Click the Check Now button under Error-checking, and in the box that appears, put a check next to both options.  When you click Start, the system will tell you that the scan can only be run when your computer is restarted.  Click Yes, and the next time you reboot your computer, Error-checking will run.  Plan to run it at a time when you won't need your computer for at least an hour or so.

* Use partitions

Partitioning your hard drive not only makes good organizational sense, but it can help your hard drive live longer.  By putting similarly-grouped files in the same partition, you can keep the read/write heads of the hard drive from wandering all over the disk to find or place data.  For example, you could have one partition for operating system files, one partition for work or professional files, and a third partition for everything else.

Partitions can be created and managed through the Disk Management snap-in (Start > All Programs > Administrative Tools > Computer Management, then click Disk Management from the list on the left).

* Defragment

For the same reason you should make use of partitions, keeping your hard drive defragmented can also alleviate some of the work the read/write heads have to do.  If a file is in one piece instead of three or four, the hard drive's arm only has to go to one place to retrieve that file.  The less you can have your hard drive parts move, the better.

Windows comes with a defragmentation utility (the Disk Defragmenter, located in the System Tools folder or in the Tools tab of the hard drive's properties screen), and it should be run at least once a month to keep your files from getting too broken up.  If your hard drive is partitioned, run the defragmenter on each partition.

* Disable the page file

Windows uses an area of the hard drive as extra RAM and calls it the page file.  If you have plenty of RAM and you don't need the extra virtual memory, you can disable the page file to cause less wear and tear for the hard drive.  To disable the page file, right click on My Computer and select Properties.  Under the Advanced tab, click the Settings button in the section labeled Performance, then go to the Advanced tab in the new window.  In the Virtual memory section (toward the bottom) click Change, and then click the circle next to "No paging file" and click Set to make the change.  Then just click OK to get out of the various windows.  (You may have to restart your system for it to take effect.)

If you find your computer running slower or locking up, or if you start getting memory errors, simply go back in and turn the page file back on.  A good page file size is about one and a half times the amount of RAM you have.

* Use other media for long-term storage

For back-ups, music libraries, or other forms of long-term storage, use alternative storage media rather than your main hard drive.  Some storage media you could use include DVDs, tapes, flash drives, and external SSD hard drives.

(Originally published on Helium.com, May 2010)

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