Windows 7

Maintaining Your Hard Drive

While the CPU and RAM are the most important factors for system performance, your hard drive plays an important role in determining the overall speed of your computer. That's because the hard drive comes into play when you're opening programs or documents, when you're saving documents, or when you're moving and copying files. By moving less-used applications to your hard drive from RAM, it also comes into play when you are running low on RAM. So keeping the hard drive running as near to peak performance as possible will have a positive impact on system performance.

Recovering wasted hard drive space

At any given time, some of the space on your hard drive is being eaten up by temporary files. As the name implies, temporary files are not like the programs you install or documents you save. Programs, apps, and documents are "forever," in the sense that Windows never deletes them at random. The only time a program is deleted, for example, is when you use Programs in Control Panel to remove the program. Likewise, documents aren't deleted unless you intentionally delete them and also empty the Recycle Bin. Finally, Windows 8 apps can be removed from the Windows 8 interface.

The files in your Internet cache, also called your Temporary Internet Files folder, are good examples of temporary files. Every time you visit a web page, all the text and pictures that make up that page are stored in your Internet cache. When you use the Back or Forward button to revisit a page you've viewed recently, your browser just pulls a copy of the page out of the Internet cache. That saves a lot of time when compared to how long it would take to re-download a page each time you clicked the Back or Forward button to revisit a recently viewed page.

Before you click the Disk Cleanup tool, be forewarned that the process could take several minutes, maybe longer. It's never necessary to use Disk Cleanup to get rid of temporary files.

To recover some wasted disk space, click the Disk Cleanup button on the Properties sheet for the hard drive. Open the Computer folder, right-click a drive, and choose Properties. In the Properties dialog box, click the Disk Cleanup button. Disk Cleanup then analyzes the drive for expendable files. Eventually, you'll get to the Disk Cleanup dialog box. The Files To Delete list shows categories of temporary files. When you click a category name, the Description below the names explains the types of files in that category. All the categories represent temporary files that you can definitely safely delete. There won't ever be any important programs or documents you saved on your own in the list of temporary files.

The number to the right of each category name indicates how much drive space the files in that category are using, and how much space you'll gain if you delete them. Choose which categories of files you want to delete by selecting (checking) their check boxes. If you don't want to delete a category of files, clear the checkmark for that category. The amount of drive space you'll recover by deleting all the selected categories appears under the list. After you've selected the categories of files you want to delete, click OK. The files are deleted and the dialog box closes.

Deleting system restore files and unwanted features

If you click the Clean Up System Files button in Disk Cleanup, a More Options tab appears on the Disk Cleanup dialog box. Clicking that tab provides two more options for freeing up drive space:

  • Programs and Features:
    Takes you to the Programs And Features window, where you can uninstall programs and Windows Features you don't use.
  • System Restore and Shadow Copies:
    Deletes all restore points except the most recent one. This can be signifi cant because system protection files are allowed to consume up to 15 percent of your available drive space.

Defragmenting and optimizing your hard drive

When a drive is newly formatted, most of the free space on the drive is available in a contiguous chunk. This means the disk clusters (the smallest amount of storage space that can be allocated) are side-by-side in contiguous fashion. As Windows writes a file, it can do so in contiguous clusters, writing the entire file in one pass. When it reads the file back, it can also do so in one pass, making drive performance as good as possible.

However, the more a drive is used, the more fragmented the data becomes. Instead of writing data contiguously, Windows writes it here and there on the drive, splitting up the file into fragments (thus the term fragmentation).

Data is not stored on solid-state hard drives the same way it is stored on traditional hard drives. Because of this, fragmentation of data does not exist, so defragmentation is not necessary for solid-state drives.

When that happens, the drive head has to move around a lot to read and write files. You might even be able to hear the drive chattering when things get really fragmented across the drive. This puts some extra stress on the mechanics of the drive and also slows things down a bit.

To really get things back together and running smoothly, you can defragment (or defrag for short) the drive. When you do, Windows takes most of the files that are split up into little chunks and brings them all together to make them contiguous again. It also moves most files to the beginning of the drive, where they're easiest to get to. The result is a drive that's no longer fragmented, doesn't chatter as much, and runs faster.

Defragmenting is one of those things you don't really have to do too often. Four or five times a year is probably sufficient. The process could take a few minutes or up to several hours. So it's another one of those tasks that you'll probably want to run overnight. However, note that Windows 8, by default, defragments the drive. You can view the current schedule, if any, in the Disk Defragmenter program.

You don't have to stop using the computer while Windows defragments the drive. You can continue to use it as you normally would. Doing so, however, continues to generate read/write operations on the drive, which ultimately slows down the defragmentation process. For that reason, it's best to run the defragmentation operation while you are not using the computer.

To defragment a hard drive, starting at the desktop:

  1. Open the Computer folder in File Explorer.
  2. Right-click the icon for your hard drive (C:), and choose Properties..
  3. In the Properties dialog box that opens, click the Tools tab..
  4. Click the Optimize button. The Optimize Drives program opens.

    When you see a message that says you don't need to defragment, that doesn't mean that you can't or shouldn't. It just means the drive's not badly fragmented. But you can still defragment it.

  5. In the Optimize Drives dialog box, you're able to set up a schedule to run the optimizer. Click Change Settings to establish that schedule. You also can click the Analyze button to get the current status of the drive and to see if an optimization process (defragmentation) would be benefi cial. The program will start analyzing your drive and may take as little as a few minutes or up to a few hours.
  6. When the defragmentation is complete, the Current Status column shows an OK (0% Fragmented) message for the drive you optimized.

When you optimize the drive, the Disk Defragmenter tool defragments all the fragmented files and moves some frequently used files to the beginning of the drive, where they can be accessed in the least time with the least effort. Some files won't be moved. That's normal. If Windows decides to leave them where they are, it's for good reason. You may hear a lot of drive chatter as Disk Defragmenter is working. That's because the drive head is moving things around to get everything into a better position.

When Disk Defragmenter is finished, you can just close any open dialog boxes and the Disk Defragmenter program window.

Power Settings

The power settings under Power Options in the Control Panel provide features that enable you to adjust the performance of your system while conserving energy. To get to the power options for your system, open Control Panel. If the Control Panel opens in Category view, click the System And Security link. Then click the Power Options icon. The Power Options applet will open. Click the down arrow beside Show Additional Plans to show the High Performance plan.

The Power Options applet provides the basic configuration for the power options on your system. The three plans listed - Balanced, Power Saver, and High Performance - are the default power plans for the system. You're able to alter the settings for the three default plans by either clicking the Change Plan Settings link beside the plan or, for the selected plan, clicking either Choose When To Turn Off The Display or Change When The Computer Sleeps from the left column. Clicking any of these links brings up the Edit Plan Setting.

Adjusting either of these options alters the default plan you have selected. Clicking the Change Advanced Power Settings link brings up the Power Options dialog box, which includes the Advanced Settings.

With these options, you're able to drill down on individual options at a more granular level. If you change something that you think you shouldn't have, you can click the Restore Default Settings For This Plan link to get back to where you were. Note that notebook computers have additional power options not typically available on desktops.

Create a power plan

If none of the default options meet your needs and you'd like to build your own power plan, click the fourth link on the left side of the Power Options applet, Create A Power Plan.

To make it easier, Windows lets you create your power plan from one of the three defaults. You're also able to name the plan on this page. After you've set the name of your plan, click Next. The next window allows you to set when you want to turn off the display and when you want to put the computer to sleep.

After you've configured these last two options, click the Create button. When you are back at the Power Options applet, your plan should be first on the list and selected. If you want to change some of the advanced options in your plans, click the Change Plan Settings link and then click Change Advanced Power Settings as mentioned earlier in the tutorial.

System settings

Clicking the first two links on the left side of the Power Options applet, either Require A Password On Wakeup or Choose What The Power Button Does, takes you to the System Settings page.

With older computers, when you pressed the power button, the system would power off. With current computers, the power buttons take on a different role. Under the first heading in this window, Power Button Settings, you determine what happens when the power button is pushed. You're given two options:

  • Sleep:
    If you select this option, the data you are working on will be stored in memory and to the hard drive. The system will run using very little power until you press the keyboard or move the mouse. On a notebook computer, when Windows notices that the system is running low on battery power, Windows starts writing the information to the hard drive. Upon restarting, the system moves all of the information from the hard drive to memory, just as the system was left originally. Usually, it takes two to three seconds to bring the computer back from Sleep. Sleep mode is not limited to notebooks. Most newer desktop computers also support it.
  • Shut Down:
    This selection shuts down the computer without saving any of the data you have in memory. Windows prompts you to save your work before you shut down. This method does a graceful shutdown of Windows.

After you've determined which option you want, click the Save Changes button.

On the System Settings window, you're also able to set the password option for what happens when the computer wakes up. As indicated by the text next to each of the options, when your system wakes from Sleep, the user may be prompted for a password. Obviously, the more secure option is to use a password. However, if this is your home system and you are the only one with physical access to the system, it's suffi cient to pick the second option.

The settings described in this section are the most common settings based on the hardware. For instance, if you're using a laptop, you may have two additional or different options on the left side of the Power Options window: Choose What Closing The Lid Does and Choose What Power Buttons Do. These options are specific to the system and offer additional options for power management.

With all of the power options available in Windows 8, you should be able to conserve resources on your system while still making your system very responsive. The power options will probably benefit a portable user more so than a desktop user.

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