If you have worked on your computer long enough, you are bound encounter some form of hard disk error. Hard disk errors are usually much more severe than other software-related problems. Hard disk failure can create critical problems during the system boot process and may even render your computer useless. Some of the common hard disk errors are:
"Fatal Error - Cannot access hard disk"
"Hard disk drive failure"
"No fixed disk present"
Hard Disk Tools
It is usually difficult to recover from a Hard disk error. Many times, you have to resort to expensive external help to recover your data from failed hard drives. Because of this, hard disk maintenance is a very important part of the system maintenance process. Your Windows XP system comes equipped with two very important tools that help keep your hard disk healthy and free of errors. These tools are Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter. Let’s look at how to run and use these tools to perform preventive hard disk maintenance.
Disk Cleanup Tool
The accumulation of a large number of unwanted files on your system not only clutters your hard disk, but can also cause physical damage to it. Although you can perform a manual search for unwanted files on your system to remove them, this is not a very effective method. Fortunately, Windows XP comes equipped with a Disk Cleanup tool that automates the process of cleaning up the hard disk. Using this tool you can empty your Recycle Bin and remove the following items from your system:
- Temporary Internet Files
- Downloaded Program Files, such as downloaded ActiveX Controls and Java Applets
- Temporary Windows Files
- Unwanted Windows Components
- Unwanted Installed Programs
To start the Disk Cleanup utility, open the Start menu, point to All Programs, and then point to Accessories. Next, point to System Tools, and then select the Disk Cleanup command.
As a shortcut, to run Disk Cleanup on a specific drive, open Windows Explorer, right-click on the drive you want to clean, and select Properties. Next, on the General tab, select Disk Cleanup.
Over time, blocks of related data belonging to specific files gets stored all over the hard disk wherever space is available. This fragmentation of files considerably slows down your system and increases the data access time. Moreover, in order to read the fragmented file, the read/write head of your hard disk has to move all over the disk which can eventually damage the hard disk.
The Disk Defragmenter tool that comes with your Windows XP system discovers all noncontiguous file fragments and rearranges them to either reduce the number of fragments or restore the complete file. The defragment utility enables you to improve the data access time, and also helps you reduce the burden of the hard disk, thereby improving system performance.
To run the Disk Defragmenter on your hard disk, open the Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter command. In the Disk Defragmenter window that opens, select the volume you want to defrag and then select the Defragment button.
Tip: To prevent any problems during the defragment process, it is recommended that you defragment the hard disk in Safe mode by selecting F8 at system startup and choosing the Safe Mode option. In Safe Mode, your PC starts up with only essential processes and services, which enables the Disk Defragmenter utility to run faster and be more effective.
Additional Third-Party Tools
In addition to the tools mentioned above, you must use other PC maintenance tools such as antivirus, anti-spyware, and registry cleaner tools to keep your hard disk free from junk files. You must keep your antivirus and anti-spyware programs updated with the latest virus definitions and run regular scans to keep the hard disk free from these malicious files. Viruses and spyware copy numerous junk files all over the hard disk. These files not only clutter the hard disk, but may also cause physical damage to the disk.
Over time, even the system registry gets fragmented and cluttered with unwanted information thereby slowing down your system and affecting your hard disk. To prevent this situation, you must use a reliable registry cleaner software to regularly scan the registry for unwanted files and defragment it to make its files contiguous.
To sum up, we can say that the best way to avoid hard disk errors is to perform regular preventive maintenance. Additionally, it is also recommended that you regularly make a backup of your critical files on an external source such as tape drives, CD or DVD Disks, or Pen drives. So, if despite all of these preventive measures your hard drive fails, you can recover your data from the backups.