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How should I keep my hard drive clean and working at its best?

How does one go about cleaning the hard drive? Does using scandisk and
cleanup clean it?

There are several schools of thought on this, and really there’s no right or
wrong answer.

So, rather than try and stake out what everyone should be doing, I’ll list
the steps I take and things I do to keep my hard disks working well.

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First, “clean” is kind of a vague term, so let me be clear on what my goals
are:

  • Data on my hard drive can be accessed quickly. Put another way, the drive
    doesn’t slow down my system any more than it needs to.

  • There’s enough room on the drive for what I need to do.

  • The drive isn’t likely to corrupt data or fail, to the extent that I can
    prevent it.

  • If the drive does fail or corrupt something, I can recover.

There’s a lot more I could go into, like data security or going beyond just
“having enough room” to removing unneeded items, but those are either outside
the scope of what I’d consider to be simple cleaning or represent needs or
desires that most folks simply don’t need to worry about.

Turn off the indexing service. The problem here is that I
never use the search feature that uses the indexes … so why build the indexes
at all? Even at low priority the indexing service will occasionally interfere
with other activity on the machine.

Right-click on My Computer, select Manage,
click on Services, right click on Indexing
Service
, select Properties, press
Stop, change the Startup Type to Manual, and
press OK.

Defrag weekly. I used to run the defragmentation tool
nightly, but that’s actually overkill. I now defrag once a week, in the wee
hours of Sunday morning. More on that in this article: What is ‘defragging’, and why
should I do it?

Periodically delete system temporary files. I’m not talking
about your internet temporary files; those are managed and controlled just fine
by your browser (though you’re welcome to delete them if you feel a need). This
is about “system” temporary files in the Windows temporary folder. Quoting an
earlier article Can
I delete the contents of my TMP folder?
:

Much of the contents of your temporary folder is not only temporary, but
stale. Unfortunately many programs fail to clean up properly when they shut
down, and any program that crashed has no chance to clean up at all. The result
is a temp folder full of “stuff”.

So, “every so often” I go in and delete the contents of that folder to free
up disk space that would otherwise remain “used” and unavailable. (That
referenced article includes specific instructions on how.)

Monitor disk usage. A common question I get is “why is my
hard disk filling up?” It’s a fair question, because it’s not always obvious.
In my case my nightly backup and maintenance script actually runs the process
outlined in this article: How can I tell what’s
taking up so much disk space?
That reports to me each morning the folders
that are taking up the most space on my hard disk. You don’t need to be that
watchful, but periodically looking into what’s taking up space on your hard
disk is a very good idea. The first few times you do so you’ll probably think
“oh, I don’t need that” and free up a bunch of space. Thereafter you’ll quickly
notice when something unexpected starts to take more and more space. Knowing
that you can take whatever steps are appropriate for your situation.

“If you ignore all the rest of the items on this list,
don’t ignore backing up.”

In addition to the command-line approach listed in How can I tell what’s
taking up so much disk space?
the free version of SpaceMonger can quickly and graphically identify folders
that contain large amounts of data.

Run ChkDsk periodically. In reality I do this rarely,
typically only when I suspect a problem. In addition, Windows will sometimes do
this automatically on a reboot after a system crash. Running it without “/R”
will often recover disk space, or long lost file fragments that you can delete
to recover disk space. Running it with “/R” will do a surface scan to detect
bad sectors, but as we’ll see in the next item, I have a different preferred
solution for that.

Run SpinRite periodically. Everything I’ve listed so far
uses tools that are either free or already included with your system. Spinrite
is not free (and there’s no “affiliate program”, so I make no money by
recommending it).

Spinrite is a hard disk surface analysis and data recovery tool. That sounds
complex, and it is, so I’ll summarize it down to two bullet points:

  • Run periodically Spinrite does what can best be described as a “format” of
    your hard disk, without losing any data. Spinrite does it in a way
    that repairs sectors on the hard drive that have gone or are going bad, and in
    the worse case, safely moves data off of irreparable sectors.

  • Run after certain types of hard disk failures, Spinrite can often recover
    and repair lost or corrupt data.

Running Spinrite periodically for the first bullet point often avoids
needing it for the second.

Back Up regularly. Even after the best of intentions, with
all the best plans and procedures in place, “stuff” happens. Hard drives die
suddenly and without warning. The only sure-fire way to recover is from a
backup of your data.

If you ignore all the rest of the items on this list, don’t ignore backing
up.

In the middle of every night my computers are replicating data between
themselves like crazy. And at 5 AM every day my “primary” machine launches a
backup program that backs it up to an external hard drive.

One of the most frustrating aspects of what I’ve just laid out is my use of
the phrases “every so often” and “periodically” without being specific about
how often you should do something.

Sorry about that.

The problem is that there’s no one answer for everyone. My wife and I are
extremely heavy computer users, so backing up daily, watching our disk usage
nightly, defragging weekly and performing disk maintenance monthly or even more
often makes a lot of sense.

And all that may be overkill for you. Or not. I can’t know.

For the “casual” home computer users the frequency might be quite different.
Backing up weekly might be enough. Watching disk space usage monthly, or even
only when there’s a problem might make sense. And running chkdsk or a tool like
Spinrite once a year might be all that’s needed.

You’ll need to judge for yourself.

But don’t forget that backup, ok?

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9 comments on “How should I keep my hard drive clean and working at its best?”

  1. —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
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    He actually mentioned it on a past episode of Security Now. He elected not to
    do it because of the potential for abuse.

    All I know is that if he did do it … assembly language would be involved
    somwwhere. 🙂

    Leo

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    iD8DBQFG7xhxCMEe9B/8oqERAv78AJ0fNr3EciA8jTLObGX9Dxz41TTHqwCfXijQ
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    Reply
  2. As you mentioned, there are several schools of thought; I’ve managed to jump from one to another several times. I used to kill the indexing service, but I am finding it useful in Vista. I’ve grown quite addicted to tapping the Windows key, then banging out a few key words to locate documents and images. I have nearly 9,000 images in my “Pictures” folder and 12,600 files in my “Documents” folder – sometimes having an indexing engine to find old documents can be handy! I don’t even want to think about how many e-mail messages I have saved… While I don’t tag each of my images, I have done a pretty good job of putting key words on to the subdirectory names – narrows my search to a reasonable number of images. The other items (text, doc, pdf) are indexed nicely.

    Reply
  3. I block spam & peoples e/m I don’t know.Does this clog up the hard drive? I notice I have aguired rather many.Should I clean and if so, how do I do this? A prior item I ask ’bout my videos being dark..you said screen too bright..I found out it was the monitor.. given to me free..now I know why it was free!!! 😉

    Reply
  4. OS XP SP 2
    I tried the ‘Turn off indexing service’ which is good until select Properties. This gives dialogue box of ‘Indexing Service Properties’ which has two tabs – ‘Generation’ and ‘Tracking’ with various tickable boxes none saying ‘STOP’. There is nothing about changing the Startup Type to Manual etc.
    Please advise.

    Reply
  5. Besides spinrite which is an excellent hard drive tool, try also HD tune. Another way to free up space is to use ccleaner and choose options to delete old prefetch files and temporary files that might chug up your computer in the long run. Ccleaner also has the ability to delete junk registry entries that might cause errors when uninstalling programs .

    Reply
  6. my brand new hard disk drive is become failure or not detected on the bios. after my reformat of my hard drive…pls…help me…

    Reply
  7. Dennis, in order to disable indexing service, go to run then type
    services.msc
    press enter. click on indexing service. press enter. click stop button. change the type to manual.(it is a drop down option showing “automatic,” “manual,” or “disable(d)”

    Reply
  8. I often clean up my unit to avoid dust. And I see to it that unused files were deleted to lessen the consumption of space. Before I format my computer, I see to it that my files were being backed up most especially my songs. I usually transfer to ipod my songs.

    Reply

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