Squeeze More Data onto Your Hard Disk

SAN FRANCISCO (08/28/2000) - Three of life's certainties: You can never be too healthy, you can never find too many tax deductions, and you can never, ever, have too much hard disk space. Despite the proliferation of double-digit-gigabyte hard disks, the amount of data you need to store can quickly expand to fill your available space.

Thanks to today's huge software programs and multimedia content such as MP3 files, most of us need every megabyte of storage we can get.

Fortunately, it's cheaper than ever to add storage: A 6GB, 8GB, or even 10GB hard drive costs less than US$200. But if you don't want to spend money on a new hard disk, or you want to avoid the bother of installing one, here are a few things you can do to free up wasted disk space and extend the life of your current drive.

Cleaning House

The easiest way to clear disk space is to delete files you don't need, but you can't always tell which files are safe to delete. Windows 98's Disk Cleanup utility helps remove some of that uncertainty.

To run Disk Cleanup, click Start*Accessories* System Tools*Disk Cleanup. Then click OK to delete files in each of the four categories listed in the dialog box: Temporary Internet Files, Downloaded Program Files, Temporary Files, and Recycle Bin.

Deleting temporary Internet files and downloaded program files removes data and programs deposited on your drive by Web sites you've visited. If you frequently visit a site, these files help you avoid repetitive downloads, but if you rarely visit the site, the files are dead weight.

Software programs created the files listed under Temporary Files for temporary use but didn't delete them at the end of the session. There's no danger in deleting them. If you're hesitant to empty your Recycle Bin, just uncheck the box next to its listing.

The Disk Cleanup utility's More Options tab lists two options: Windows components and installed programs. Both launch the Add/Remove Programs applet found in Control Panel. Search under the Windows Setup tab for files you can live without, such as the 30MB of Desktop Themes or the 31MB of Web TV for Windows. Under the Install/Uninstall tab, you can remove old or unwanted programs. Always use Add/Remove Programs to remove programs; deleting the program's files via Explorer may leave behind troublesome system files and Registry entries.

If you upgraded to Windows 98 from Windows 3.X or Windows 95, Windows backed up the old operating system files to disk. You can free up many megabytes of disk space by uninstalling the backup. You'll find it listed on the Install/Uninstall tab if it's still on your hard disk.

Finally, scan all the large files on your hard disk. You may be surprised at how many useless files lurk there. In Explorer, select the hard drive and press to bring up Find. On the Advanced tab, select At least and 100KB for 'Size is'. Select Find Now to generate a file list, and click the Size column header to sort the resulting list by size.

Cluster'S Last Stand

Your hard drive will hold more data if you can reconfigure it to reduce the size of its clusters. A cluster is the smallest standardized block of data Windows uses to organize data and files on the disk. Cluster sizes are fixed--4KB, 8KB, 16KB, or 32KB.

A file written to the hard disk occupies as many clusters as it needs. For example, on a hard disk configured with 16KB clusters, a 40KB file uses three--two clusters filled with 16KB of data, and the last filled with 8KB of data and 8KB of empty space. This doesn't seem like much until you multiply it by the thousands of files on a typical PC.

To reduce the waste of space, configure your hard drive with the smallest possible clusters. To determine your current cluster size, click Start*Run, type chkdsk, and press . You'll see the size of your disk's clusters--which chkdsk calls "allocation units"--along with several other statistics.

If your disk already has 4KB clusters, you don't want to make them any smaller, but if the clusters are larger than 4KB, there are a couple of ways to shrink them.

The easier approach is to convert your disk from the FAT16 file structure to the new FAT32 scheme--assuming your disk isn't already configured for FAT32.

Almost any system purchased new with Windows 98 or with the OSR2 version of Windows 95 should already be using FAT32, but systems upgraded to Windows 98 may still be using FAT16. To check your system's file structure, right-click the hard disk's icon in Explorer and select Properties.

If your disk is using FAT16, go to the Disk Cleanup utility's More Options tab (mentioned above), and click the Convert button in the Drive conversion (FAT32) box. Third-party utilities such as PowerQuest's PartitionMagic also perform FAT conversions, and unlike the Windows utility, they can convert from FAT16 to FAT32 and from FAT32 to FAT16.

A FAT32 partition will support only the OSR2 version of Windows 95, not the original version. And some older software, especially older hard-disk utilities and file/data compression programs, won't work correctly with FAT32. Check with the software manufacturer for updated versions before converting.

If converting to FAT32 won't shrink your clusters, you can lower your cluster size by repartitioning your hard drive.

Partitions are subdivisions of a hard drive, each with its own drive letter.

Many hard disks come with only one partition (and a single drive letter), but hard drives can have many partitions.

As Figure 3 shows, the size of the partition determines the size of the clusters used in it. Splitting a 2GB drive into two 1GB partitions using FAT16 could reduce cluster size from 32KB to 16KB and recover substantial disk space.

Windows' Fdisk utility lets you add partitions and alter their size, but only if you delete all the data on your hard disk. A third-party utility such as PartitionMagic lets you add, remove, and resize partitions much more quickly and easily.

Fossilized Files?

When my Windows 98 system boots up, the screen displays several DOS messages telling me that my sound card and another device--I think it's my CD-ROM drive--are being initialized from the autoexec.Bat and config.Sys files. I thought these old DOS files had gone the way of the dodo. Why did my seven-month-old system come configured to use them? Do I risk losing use of these devices if I delete either or both of these files?

Lloyd Grove, Austin, Texas

The autoexec.Bat and config.Sys files are used to configure hardware and software for the DOS operating system. While they're definitely on their way to becoming digital dinosaurs, they aren't extinct yet. There are a couple of possible reasons why your system may still use these files to configure hardware.

First (and less likely), your PC may have an old graphics card, hard disk, or other component using real-mode DOS drivers that can be loaded only from autoexec.Bat and config.Sys. Unless you bought your PC out of the trunk of a '68 Buick from a guy listening to Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra on his eight-track, it's unlikely to have such outdated hardware or drivers.

The second, more likely explanation is that the PC manufacturer loaded DOS drivers for your sound card and your CD-ROM drive so you'd have access to these devices when running programs under DOS. New systems continue to enable both sound cards and CD-ROM drives in DOS to support the many popular DOS-based games still being played.

You could probably eliminate these files without causing any problems, but it's not a particularly good idea. If your system crashes and you can't get Windows to launch properly, you'll want your CD-ROM drive to work in DOS mode so you can access replacement files on your Windows CD-ROM.

Send tips and questions to kirk_steers@pcworld.Com. We pay $50 for published items. Kirk Steers is a PC World contributing editor.

PartitionMagic 5

$70, PowerQuest Corp., 800/379-2566, www.Powerquest.ComImprove Drive PerformanceOne way your PC speeds up your Zip, Jaz, and other removable drives is by storing frequently accessed data in a high-speed cache. It also writes the same data to disk. You may be able to improve your drive's performance by eliminating data writes to the disk. Right-click My Computer and select Properties*Performance*File System*Removable Drives. To keep the PC from double-writing the data, check Enable write-behind caching on all removable disk drives. Every little performance tweak helps.

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