Caring for Your Hard Disk Drive

What We'll Learn

  1. How information is stored on your computer
  2. How to check your hard drive usage
  3. Using special tools to maintain your hard drive 

Storing Information

Your computer stores information on a Storage Device.  Like putting your papers in a filing cabinet, Disk Drives and USB Sticks are where computer programs and files are stored when not in use.  The main Hard Disk Drive in your computer has a special purpose, since it holds most of the information.  It also stores the main programs you need to start and run your computer.

Like a filing cabinet, all the information on the main hard disk drive is stored in files. These files are organized in folders. See our tutorial on Using Files and Folders for information on how to view, and organize your storage.

The Hard Drive  (usually Drive C:) is made up of several metallic disks, stacked on each other. Using magnetism, the computer can easily store and retrieve information from these disks. Hard Disk drives are currently the most cost effective way for storing a large amount of information on your computer.

Why does the main hard drive on your computer use the letter C: ?

Computer Storage Trivia

Similar to how all living things are composed of cells, all information on a computer is composed of small building blocks called bytes.

1,000 Bytes = 1 Kilobyte or 1 KB
1,000 KB = 1 Megabyte or 1 MB
1,000 MB = 1 Gigabyte or 1GB

How Much Data is That?

Because early computers only had floppy disk drives.  These drives stored information on removable disks.  The first floppy drive was named drive A: . When a second drive was added it was called B:  When fixed drives (or hard drives) became available, they took the next free letter C:.   Eventually floppy drives were obsolete and those letters are not used anymore.

How Much Can I Store?

Disk Drive store information in Bytes.   A Byte is the amount of space it takes to store a single alphabet letter.  Most hard drives store 500 GigaBytes (see chart on right) or more.

Exercise 1 - Check Your Drives

You can easily check your drive size and usages using the following steps:
  1. Click Start
  2. Click on My Computer
  3. Right-mouse-click on Drive C:
  4. Click Properties
You should see the size of your storage space and how much is used in a window that looks something like the picture below:

Hard Drive Maintenance

The Hard Drive has some unique physical characteristics that you should be aware of:

1. Running out of Space

If you are running out of space, your computer will slow down and eventually fail to operate. Use the cleanup button if needed. Unless absolutely necessary, do not use the compress older files option.

2. Hard Drive Errors

Hard Drives use magnetism to store information.  If a spot on the surface of a disk is unable to hold a charge, it may "forget" the information in that area.  This can create serious computer problems, similar to a person having a heart attack.  The system may give an error, stop working, or behave erratically. 

Here's what to do to check and fix Hard Drive errors:
  1. Click Start
  2. Click on My Computer
  3. Right-click on Drive C:
  4. Click Properties
  5. Click the Tools tab
  6. The first tool is Error Checking. Click the Check Now button
  7. Click the "Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors" checkbox on the next screen
  8. Click Start
An error check will be scheduled. The next time you restart your computer it will automatically perform the check.  It can take one to two hours. The check will repair and isolate any problem errors.  If there is severe damage, it may indicate that the drive is about to fail completely.

3. Staying Organized

As a hard drive is used over time, it will become more and more disorganized.  Like trying to put a family in a crowded theatre, the computer may split up a file and put it into several smaller available locations. When you ask for the file later, it takes longer for the computer to find and load all the parts of the file. This is called fragmentation. You can use the Defragment Now... tool to check how disorganized your hard drive is, and then to re-organize it properly. This can help improve computer performance.

In Windows 7.0, the system will automatically defragment the hard drive from time to time.

Exercise 2 - Check Hard Drive Fragmentation

You can check how fragmented your hard drive is using the following steps:

In Windows XP:
  1. Click Start
  2. Click on My Computer
  3. Right-click on Drive C:
  4. Click Properties
  5. Click the Tools tab
  6. Click the Defragment now.. button
  7. Click Analyze to begin the analysis
  8. Review the results of the analysis after it is complete by clicking View Report
In Windows Vista or Windows 7
  1. Open Disk Defragmenter by clicking the Start button
  2. In the search box, type Disk Defragmenter, and then, in the list of results, click Disk Defragmenter.
  3. Under Current status, select Drive C:.
  4. Click Analyze disk. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
For additional information view the full tutorial (video and text) on the Microsoft Website