Win 9x - Defrag troubleshooting

Fragmentation of a hard drive occurs when you undertake a lot of data and application management duties. Creating, deleting, copying and moving files will, in time, mean that data being saved to your hard disk will be scattered, instead of being stored sequentially; this forces the hard disk to work overtime when trying to retrieve your information.

Obviously, it will take longer to open a file whose parts are in different locations on the hard drive than it would if the file was located in sequence on one area of the drive. Likewise, applications will load more slowly if they become fragmented.

This is where defragmenting plays an important role. You can do yourself and your hard drive a favour by running the Windows defrag utility at least once every two to three weeks, or whenever you feel significant changes have been made to your system and it's running a little sluggishly. Beware! It is a long process - my 20GB hard drive takes around 90 minutes to defrag - and during this time you will not be able to use your computer.

Over the last few months, users of our online Help Screen forum (http://helpscreen.com.au) have been complaining about the defrag utility: some say they can not get it to complete more than 10 per cent of the job, some say that it takes an awfully long time to complete, and others just have trouble running it altogether, receiving error messages telling them that the defrag can not continue. Here are a few defragging tips to ensure that you can successfully complete this operation without pulling your hair out.

Background work

Before starting a defrag session, the single most important thing you have to remember is to turn off background tasks. This means all virus scanners and agents, and basically everything that you see in the System Tray (near the clock area of the taskbar). A good method is to fire up the System Configuration Utility (Start-Run and type msconfig), and under the Startup tab, temporarily disable everything apart from the System Tray and the Task Monitor, or Explorer. You may want to write down all the programs you disabled so you can re-enable them after the defrag is complete.

Screen savers should also be disabled during the defrag process as they "will interrupt the defrag once they activate.

Cleanup time

Delete all unwanted data files and uninstall all unwanted applications before you defrag your hard drive. Doing this extensively after a defrag will mean that you will have to run another defrag soon. All Internet cache and temporary files should be deleted, and make sure that the recycle bin is empty.

Perform a scan

Before embarking on the defrag journey you should make sure that your disk is free of errors by running a quick ScanDisk test over it (Start-Run, and type ScanDisk). Perform a Standard test and make sure the "Automatically fix errors" box is checked. The defrag utility will not run if your disk has errors.

Start it up

The easiest way to defrag a hard drive is to double-click the My Computer icon. Right-click the hard drive you want to defrag and select Properties. Go to the Tools tab and click on the Defragment Now. button.

You can also launch it from the Run box (Start-Run) by typing defrag. If you use this method you will have a little more control over the utility, as you will be able to specify whether applications or just data files are put in order and whether the program checks the disk for errors, simply by clicking on the Settings button.

The safe option

If you're still having problems running a defrag, your best option would be to try running it from Safe mode. While your computer is booting up, press the key, and select Safe Mode from the ensuing menu screen. Windows doesn't load any non-essential drivers in this mode, so you should have a totally uninterrupted run.

Degrag at a price

If you're willing to spend money on a third-party utility for defragging, your best bet would be to purchase Norton's Utilities. Readers have reported that using the defrag utility in this suite is much quicker and less troublesome than Microsoft's own. As a bonus, you get a whole swag of other utilities to play with. You can pick up a copy for about $99. Visit www.symantec.com.au for more information.

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Elias Plastiras
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