86. Exploring your hard drive
By Andrew D. Wright
Dear Mousepad. Just about every day there is a new Norton virus definition
to download and install, which is a good thing. The question is that if
this happens every day, won't the computer memory eventually be all taken
up with these definitions?
When you're talking about memory, what you are really referring to is the
storage space your computer has, its hard drive. In the case of your virus
definitions, this is not a problem as new definitions will over-write the
Hard drives have gotten much cheaper and hold much more information than
before. Still, it's a good idea to clear out the deadwood now and again.
Running Disk Cleanup from the Windows System Tools menu allows you to
remove old temporary files safely. You can choose to erase or keep
different types of temporary files through a checkbox menu. You can find
System Tools under All Programs - Accessories on the Windows Start button
Emptying out your web browser cache will also help get back some hard
drive space. In Internet Explorer this is under Tools - Internet Options -
General. In Firefox it is under Tools - Options - Privacy - Cache.
Old System Restore points can take up to 12% of your hard drive by
default. Assuming your computer is running well at this time, you can
delete the old restore points and set a fresh new one for your protection.
Go into Control Panel - System and select the System Restore tab. Select
your C: drive then Settings. Move the slider to 0% and click OK. You
should see the hard drive light going for a few moments as the old restore
points are erased. You can now put the slider back to how much room you
want to allow for future restore points.
You can set a new restore point by clicking on System Restore in Windows
Once you have freed up disk space, it is a good idea to defragment your
hard drive. This puts files back together and consolidates the free space
on the hard drive. You can find Disk Defragmenter in Windows System Tools.
A hard drive is a marvel of engineering. Glass or aluminum disks or
platters coated with fine magnetized iron particles typically spin at
7,200 revolutions per minute in new hard drives and a hard drive will have
at least two platters spaced apart on one spindle.
Tiny magnetic read/write heads, one for each side of each platter, float
on the cushion of air produced by the spinning platter. These heads are
fixed on a pivoting arm that allows them to access the entire surface area
of the platter.
If we were to blow this up to our scale and make the distance between the
platter and the read/write head one inch (2.54 cm), then the read/write
head would be the size of a skyscraper lying on its side moving at a speed
of 4,800 km per second an inch off the ground with the power to stop on a
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Originally published 18 June 2006