Hard disk Checkup


5 Aug 2011
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It’s a hard fact to face, but it’s true—the Windows tuning utilities are not so effective. That means, they won’t be able to speed up the performance of your PC, if your hard disk is creeping along at a snail’s pace. This doesn’t mean that regularly scanning the system for infections, deleting temporary files, and defragmenting the hard drive is useless, but the impact on the system’s performance is greatly reduced if the underlying hardware has some serious flaw or faults.

If you’ve had your PC or laptop for more than a couple of years, then it’s high time you performed a thorough scan of your hard drive and bring the partition up to the mark. There are a quite a few shareware applications in the market that do this, which you'll find on this month’s CHIP DVD. Additionally, there are plenty of tools available for monitoring, optimizing and recovering your hard disk.

The first step in optimizing your hard drive is to clean up the Windows partition thoroughly and get rid of any existing physical read errors in order to achieve maximum speed. Once the hard drive is all spruced up, create a backup image of it in its most optimal state, so that you can always revert back to it if anything goes wrong in the succeeding steps. After creating a backup, separate the Windows system files and folders from your personal data, and remove information that isn’t essential including junk files. The last step describes how to automate this entire process, since creating a backup can be quite a nerve wracking task, but once set-up and initiated, your PC will automatically save the system partition information and will make sure that the hard disk is always in its most optimal condition.

Cutting the brakes

Sure, Windows is a system resources hog, but it’s not the only reason why your computer slows down. Junk files and folders, as well as read errors contribute to this, but this is fixable. Simply get rid of the unnecessary data, and within no time your hard drive will be back in full swing.


First, install the HDCleaner, available on this month’s CHIP DVD or download it from the CHIP website (download.chip.eu/en/). The tool will help us to create a restore point after booting the system. Open the program and select the system partition that needs to be backed up and click on the ‘Start’ link under the category ‘Clean Hard Drive’ from the left navigational panel. This will open up the ‘Start Scanning’ screen, where the Scan Options show ‘List found files after scan’, check mark this, before you press ‘Scan now’ to start the process.

Once the scan is complete, a window titled ‘Following files were found’ appears. Go through the list to ensure that no important files are listed, and check the option ‘No Backup’ before you click on the ‘Delete and wipe files’ button. Note that this action permanently deletes the files from the computer and there is no option of restoring this data at a later time. This action ensures that files are permanently deleted and not simply sent to the Recycle Bin or saved as a compressed ZIP archive. Once the deletion process is complete, go back to the main application window to perform the system scan once more to confirm that there are no more files hidden on the disk. HDCleaner also has a couple of more useful functions like ‘Clean Folders’ and ‘Clean Center’.

‘Clean Folders’ helps to clean all the free space on a hard disk, a file shredder with a drag and drop interface, a duplicate files scanner, and a shared DLLs list. ‘Clean Center’ contains all the tools that a clean-conscious user will need. This includes an Internet Explorer cookie wiper, a Registry cleaner, a Super cleaner to delete temporary files and MRUs, the AutoRuns module, and uninstaller, a list of all the software registry keys, a file splitter, and an AntiSpy module to disable sending private information to Microsoft.


It's possible to track down physical errors in individual sectors using the 'Check Disk' Windows utility. Right click on the icon of a particular system partition in ‘My Computer’ and select ‘Properties’, switch to ‘Tools’ and click on ‘Check Now’ under the Error-Checking category to start it. Activate, ‘Automatically fix file system errors’ and ‘Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors’ options. Since the disk check utility requires exclusive access to some Windows files, the PC needs be restarted. So, save all your work and leave the PC alone while the checkup is in progress.

Creating backups

There’s a slight risk involved in working with partitions. Therefore, it’s prudent to create a backup image of the system partition in order to be able to recover the original status of the system in case of an emergency. There are various methods to do this, and it all depends on the size of the Windows partition in question.


For system with partitions sized less than 5 GB, use the SkyDrive service provided by Microsoft that comes with 5 GB online storage space, which can also be password protected. Open up the Web browser and navigate to the site http://skydrive.live.com. If you don’t have an account, you'll need to register for a Windows Live ID, which includes your Hotmail account ID. Click on ‘Get Started’, and sign into your account. Create a new ‘Personal Folder’ by clicking on ‘Create a folder just for you’ link and limit access to this folder to ‘Just me’, or make it public to share with the world.

The main drawback to SkyDrive is that the file size is limited to 50 MB, which means that you can’t directly upload the image of your hard disk, it has to be split. To split up the backup image file into individual 50 MB files, use any file splitter including HDCleaner. Fortunately, Paragon Software’s Drive Backup comes with a module that creates a backup and splits it into smaller ones all at the same time. So, install Drive Backup from this month’s DVD or download the installation file from their website (www.drive-backup.com). Open the program and select ‘Tools | Settings | Backup image options’. Check the option ‘Enable image splitting’ and set the maximum split size as ‘50 MB’ and press 'OK'. In the main application window, click on ‘BackUp’, this opens up the BackUp Wizard. Select the desired drive to backup and follow the steps in the wizard. Once the backup process is complete, it’s time to save the Windows partition on the Internet drive. Open up your personal folder in SkyDrive and start uploading the 50 MB sized files to the online storage space. Note that the upload time and speed depends on the Internet connection available, and it’s a good idea to let the uploading process happen throughout the whole night.

UP TO 100 GB:

A removable external hard drive is best suited as the storage medium for partitions sized larger than 10 GB. Now, reinstall Paragon Drive Backup and in the main application window open up the BackUp Wizard. Before you move on remember to uncheck the ‘Enable image splitting’ option, if the external storage device can hold the entire backup image.


The only thing to remember while creating a backup of a drive sized at 1 TB and above is to have an equally large sized external storage device handy to hold the backup image file. Otherwise, the steps to follow while creating the backup image file are similar to that for medium sized hard disks.

Installing partitions

A lighter sized XP or Vista will start and load faster than a heavy one. So the next step in the hard disk check-up process is to install three partitions and separate the Windows system files from personal data and junk files. How you do this depends on the condition of your hard disk. If there is still enough disk space, then you may remove the existing infrastructure. But if you don’t have an organized file system structure and have lost track of things, then it’s better to reset the system completely. Don’t worry, though resetting the system may sound complex, it’s not.


Install and start Paragon Partition Manager and select ‘Advanced partitioning and hard disk management’ on the welcome screen. This will bring up the division of your hard disk. Most of the users are likely to have a main disk drive ‘C:’ in which the operating system is stored, which has been sub-divided into ‘Expanded partition’. It is possible to accommodate up to 24 logical partitions in the main physical drive, each associated with its own drive letter.

Now install the hard disk as follows, allocate 50 GB for Windows XP and applications and 10 GB for junk data. The remaining space can be used for documents, videos, music and other files. In the case of a dual boot system, install an additional partition for the second Window, around 80 GB for Vista plus programs. Linux is a special case, as it stores its Swap file in its own main partition and thus requires more space.

In order to expand an existing Windows partition, click it and select ‘Redistribute free disk space’. A wizard guides you through the next steps. To create a new partition, click ‘Advanced partitioning’ and select ‘Create partition’. Select a drive letter and specify the size in the dialog that follows. The partition manager automatically takes over the correct setting for ‘Logical disk drive’.


Once you have installed your partitions, first remove your personal data. Open up the folder that contains all your personal files, which might just be the ‘My Documents’ folder. Right click on ‘My Documents’ on your desktop and select ‘Properties’ from the context menu. Press the ‘Move’ button in the ‘Target’ tab and specify the destination folder as the partition and press ‘OK’ to start the transfer process.

Similarly, delete the Swap file and the bloated temporary and junk data. Create a new ‘Temp’ folder on the junk partition drive. Then right click ‘My Computer’ and select ‘Properties’. Click ‘Environment variables’ in the ‘Advanced’ tab. Change the file path for both the user variables ‘TEMP’ and ‘TMP’ as well as for the system variables ‘TEMP’ and ‘TMP’ such that it refers to the folder created a while back. After confirming with ‘OK’, click ‘Settings’ under ‘Advanced | Performance’ in the ‘System properties’ window, to get rid of the Swap file. Click on ‘Change’ in the ‘Advanced’ tab, select the junk partition and enter ‘1024 MB’ in both the minimum and maximum fields as ‘Custom size’. If you need a larger swap file size, then input a bigger number. By formatting the junk partition, you can henceforth remove all unnecessary files in one go.


If you use both the Windows operating systems XP and Vista together on one hard disk, it's possible that XP might delete the recovery points captured by Vista during the boot-up process. This is because both systems ‘see’ the main partitions and thus access each other through a bug in the Vista boot manager, using which you select the operating system that is to be started. Paragon has integrated its own Boot Manager in the Partition Manager program that should solve this problem. Unfortunately, this program works too well. Once activated, one of the two systems is hidden such that it can no longer be found by its own Boot Manager. This causes a situation where you can always start only the operating system on the currently active partition. We didn’t like the idea of installing Partition Manager on both the operating systems, especially since disk space is, after all, precious.

Automatic switch-on

After following the instructions laid out in the previous two steps, you now have a Windows system that runs perfectly well, thanks to sound hard disk partitioning and junk data removal. But there’s still one problem—creating backups remains a nerve-wracking and boring process. Here, we tell you how to automate this entire process using Drive Backup, so you can be spared from this torture in the future. Installing a checkup utility is also practical, since it continuously monitors the hard disk and sounds an alarm as soon as there is a threat of a system crash.


Start Drive Backup and select ‘Schedule Backup’ under the ‘Backup/Restore Tasks’ on the left panel. In the wizard’s first step, select the ‘Master Boot Record’ of the ‘Base hard disk 0’ and the Windows partition drive and check the option ‘Change backup settings’ before pressing ‘Next’. Specify the data partition drive as the target location. If it is located on the same disk as that of the Windows operating system, then select a different partition as the target partition, maybe even an external hard drive. Otherwise, not only will you lose the operating system but also the backup file in the event of a disk crash. Next, specify how and when you would want the backup process to run, for instance on the fifth day of every month. If you don’t want to be disturbed when working, specify a time around bedtime. This will, however, give rise to power costs as the PC has to run all night long.

If you want to take a back-up during the day, make sure that the ‘Hot Processing’ option is activated. This facilitates taking a backup in the background while you work on the PC. If ‘Hot Processing’ is not activated, you may access the advanced backup settings from the main application window before taking a backup for the first time, accessible via ‘Tools | Settings | Hot Processing options | Enable Hot Processing | Always Use Hot Processing’.


If you want to use another tool instead of Drive Backup, you can use the backup utility Z-Cron Scheduler, available on this month’s CHIP DVD, or the official website (www.z-cron.com). While the installation process is in the German language, the program’s user interface is in English. It is to be used in conjunction with Z-Cron Data Backup, but can also be used to start and stop other programs installed on your PC. To schedule a run, either input the desired program’s name in the ‘Parameters’ field on the ‘Z-Cron Task’ tab by pressing ‘Tools’ or enter the batchfile name.


Now we will set up a continuous security system for the PC. Install HDDHealth from this month’s CHIP DVD or download the installation file from the official website (www.panterasoft.com). On opening the program, the status of the hard disk is displayed immediately under the bar graph ‘Health’. If the percentage value is a hundred percent, your system is perfectly healthy. The present operating temperature of the hard disk is also visible. Most PC manufacturers suggest 40 to 50 degrees Celsius as the optimal temperature value. If the temperature is higher, check the ventilation of the PC. Other values monitored by the tool can be viewed by going to ‘Drive | SMART Attributes’. The details displayed here depend on the manufacturer of the hard disk. In the best case scenario, all the values displayed will be lower than the ‘Threshold’ value. If the value is larger than this ‘Threshold’ then your PC is at risk, and HDDHealth will sound an alarm. The values under ‘Worst’ indicate the maximum possible load of the hard disk. It must be noted that the service life of the disk decreases rapidly if this value is frequently exceeded.

To deactivate the automatic mechanism go to ‘File | Options’ in the main application window and uncheck the option ‘Open HDD Health window at startup’ in the dialog box. Select ‘Show popup message’ under ‘Notification methods’. It is a good idea to switch off the sound since we do not want to be distracted as this feature can be highly annoying. With this, the alarm system for the hard disk is now activated. If hardware break down is in store, back-up your data immediately, get yourself a new data carrier and partition it as described

Source : Chip magazine.
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