Ten Tune-up Tips For Windows 94 Performance
Tip 10. Defragging your Hard Drive and the Windows Swap File.
We are often asked the same questions time and again, “A friend said I should defragment my hard drive, can you tell me what that means?” In this Tip, we will explain what a fragmented hard drive is, how it got that way and how to fix it, although being fragmented doesn’t mean it’s broken. We will also cover how to fix a possible fragmented or even corrupt Windows Swap File.
What is a fragmented hard drive and how did it get that way?
Many of you reading this have no idea of what a hard drive looks like or how it operates, so let’s start there. A hard drive is essentially one or more disks (magnetic media) spinning at a predetermined speed over which an arm passes in order to read or write data to given segments of the drive. The picture immediately below provides you visually with what the inside of a hard drive looks like. The circular disk is what is referred to a platter, and the aluminum colored arm is referred to as the actuator. The actuator holds two read/write heads for each platter, one for the top of the platter and one for the bottom.
Now let’s take a look at these platters and see how they relate to your data. Each platter is made up of a group of concentric circles referred to as Tracks. Each Track is broken down into Sectors, with each Sector having a maximum of 512 bytes of information stored in each. Sectors are grouped together to form clusters. The size of these clusters is dependent upon how your hard drive is Partitioned and then formatted, e.g. FAT 16 or FAT 32. The tracks are numbered beginning with outer most track being track 0 (zero). Each track, based upon its numerical assignment, is then matched to an identical one on the next platter beneath and so on to form a Cylinder. As an example, if your hard drive had 4 platters, one stacked on top of the other, Track 0 on each of the 4 platters would be collectively referred to as a Cylinder. Click this link for a graphic that will give you and idea of what these Sectors and Tracks look like.
In order to store data on your hard drive, the drive must first be Partitioned and then Formatted. The partitioning process sets the physical size of that segment of the drive. During this process, the outer most Track on the platter (cylinder 0, head 0 physical sector 1) is reserved for the partition table. This partition table, also know as file allocation table, holds information about the types of partitions in the drive and in which cylinders these partitions reside. Most important, this table contains the Master Boot Record (MBR). The Master Boot Record contains a program that (1) reads the partition table, (2) looks for the active partition (all systems have 1 active partition), and then (3) boots your system.
When your Windows 98 operating system was loaded, along with your other software packages, onto your hard drive, everything went on in a neat orderly fashion, with all this data being stored in sector after sector. Everything was nice and tidy and all programs were grouped together. This made it easier for your computer to quickly start a program or retrieve data as all those little sectors of data were grouped together.
After using your computer for a while, downloading programs, installing them, uninstalling them, saving and deleting files, files become fragmented as they are saved all over your hard drive wherever Windows can find space on the drive. Let’s assume for the moment that you download 8 pictures from the Internet and save them to your hard drive, and let’s also assume that those several pictures consume 60 sectors of space on your hard drive. Windows found room for those 8 pictures, however the total bytes of data comprising those pictures was not saved in consecutive sectors. To dramatize the effect, we have assigned 8 colors to your 8 pictures and presented that in the form of a graph of a fragmented drive segment.
As you can see, parts of your picture files are scattered across the various sectors of your hard drive wherever Windows could find room for them. While this doesn’t damaged your files, it does take your computer longer to assemble all of the pieces when you attempt to load the pictures. What’s the solution? Simple, defragment your hard drive on a regular basis, at least monthly, and more often if you use your computer every day. Here’s a graph of how that same data would look like after you defrag your hard drive. (Although there are 4 rows, each row forms a part of a continuous chain).
Defragging the hard drive where Windows and all your programs are installed is an extremely important factor in keeping your system running at its peak speed. A complete defrag of a large hard drive can take hours, so this is a program that you can start at night before you go to bed, and leave it running all night long, letting the defrag program work its magic.
Windows 98 comes with a great defrag program, and here’s the procedure for you:
- Click Start, then Programs, then Accessories and then click on System Tools.
- Next, click on the icon for the Disk Defragmenter.
- This will bring up the Disk Defragmenter program, and you will be asked to select which drive you wish to defragment. If you have more than one drive, select your drive “C“, and click OK.
- The program will show a status indicator so you can determine the defrag progress. You will also notice a button marked Show Details. If you click on it, it will show you a visual representation of your hard drive data as it is moved and organized. Like we mentioned above though, if you have a large hard drive, the defrag process could take a few hours. You must not use your computer during the defrag process, as should you touch a key or perform any other tasks at all, the entire defrag process will start over from the beginning.
- Note: If you use a screen saver or any other form of power saving features, they must be disabled before starting the defragmentation procedure. If a screen saver starts, or your hard drive powers down, this will stop the defrag process.
- It is also a good idea to use the Windows Task Manager (See Tip #1) and “End Task” for all tasks in the Task Manager except for Explorer and Systray.
When the defragmentation has completed, the data on your hard drive will be stored more efficiently, and programs that work together are stored together. This means faster access times to your programs and your files, and better performance overall. If you have never defragged your hard drive, we strongly encourage you to do so — it cannot hurt, and it could improve your computer’s performance significantly. It just takes a little time!
The Windows 98 Swap File
We briefly mentioned the Windows Swap File earlier in these Tips, when we discussed the significant role it plays in how Windows 98 creates virtual memory and swaps data back and forth between your hard drive and physical memory. Although Windows 98 should, by design, be reducing the size of this swap file as well as maintain its contiguous nature on your hard drive, this does not always occur. In fact, at times the swap file becomes heavily fragmented and even corrupt. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to fix this while in Windows, as Windows will not allow you to touch the swap file as long as Windows is active. There’s is a way to resolve this though, and that is by following these steps.
- Restart your computer normally, by clicking Start, Shutdown and then select Restart.
- As your computer begins the restart or reboot process, hold the [Ctrl] key down.
- This will bring up the Windows Boot Menu.
- Now select #6 Command Prompt Only. Your system will then boot to pure MS-DOS and leave you at the “C” prompt, which will look similar to this: C:\>
- Now type CD WINDOWS and touch the Enter key.
- Now type DEL WIN386.SWP and touch the Enter key.
- You’re done. The swap file is gone, and when you restart your computer, Windows 98 will recreate a brand new one!
Note: You may want to perform this procedure just before doing a regular defrag of your hard drive. It will insure that the swap file is at its minimum size and is not corrupt.
As you have seen by reading through these Ten Tune-up Tips, it doesn’t matter whether you’re new to Windows or a long time user, with a little effort and a handful of tweaks here and there, you can easily improve your Windows 98 performance. Keep in mind that these Tips are the basics. There are more advanced technical tweaks and changes that you can use to take performance to an even higher level and create a faster, more efficient system!
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