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Cleaning Up Your Hard Disk

If you use your system for months without paying a great amount of attention to what is happening to your hard disk, you may find that your disk seems to be getting smaller and smaller. Aside from the fact that it is very easy to create lots of data files and install tons of programs on the disk, some operating systems, install programs and utilities can leave "remnants" around that should be cleaned up.

In most cases extra files on the hard disk only affect performance--hard disks with a great deal of free space in general perform better than those that are almost full, and are also subject to fewer problems with fragmentation. However, in some cases, stray files can cause serious problems with your PC. First, allowing any disk volume to become completely full (less than 10 MB free is full as far as I am concerned) can cause some programs to misbehave, with the occasional result being lost data or other problems. Second, I have experienced problems, especially with Windows 3.x, with file system corruption in temporary (.TMP) files that are allowed to accumulate for a period of time. Finally, by default Windows 95 creates a virtual memory swap file that is sized dynamically, based on how much free space there is in the C: drive. If the disk gets too full, the size of the swap file is decreased, and performance goes down (see this section about optimizing operating system performance.)

I recommend that you, on a monthly basis, examine your hard disk and give it a good cleaning. Look over the disk for items that are leftovers and eliminate them. Look for old temporary files, aborted software installations, etc. and delete the items that you don't need. You should also be regularly checking your disk for file system problems, and in fact, it is best to scan for file system problems before cleaning out old files.

Warning: Do not delete temporary files that are currently being used by the operating system. Look at the date of the files to see if they have been accessed since the machine was last started up; that's a good indicator of whether the file is in use. And don't delete anything if you are unsure of whether or not it is needed; you can always look again next week and delete it then if you are then more sure about its status.

Tip: If you want to try deleting something but aren't sure if it really is not needed by the system, try renaming it first to another name. To the software, it is in most cases the same as if you deleted the file, since any software that needs it will be unable to find it with the new name and will cause an error if this is the case. Since you haven't actually deleted it, you can rename it back to what it was with no problems if it turns out that it is "missed". If you rename it and after a few weeks nobody seems to "miss it", then you can probably safely delete it permanently.

Next: Defragmentation

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