Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : July 2007

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 TECHNOLOGY TALK:

BY JOHN ANDERSON  

Well, here we are again. In our last episode we talked about physically cleaning your computer to extend its life and performance. Did everyone complete their homework? Good.

Now we are going to talk about a couple of ways to boost your computer’s performance even more with some simple clean-up chores. There are a number of programs out there that will be happy to take care of many of these tasks and more, but if you want to save yourself a couple of bucks and a trip to the store, these simple steps will be more than enough to ensure your PC is running smoothly.

Hard Drive Cleanup
One of the most effective ways to speed up your Windows computer systems (short of upgrading to a super fast hard drive or more memory) is for you to optimize your current hard drive. It can be hard to find what you’re looking for if your hard drive is full of unneeded files. Just like with your paper filing cabinet, do yourself a big favor and weed out all the unnecessary stuff. Here are the steps needed to help you clean up and free up your systems hard drive and reclaim lost hard drive space.

First, visit the Control Panel and click on the Add/Remove Programs icon. Take a look at the list and remove any programs you are no longer using. Alternatively, you can find the program listed on the Start Menu and click on the Uninstall icon normally included when the program is first installed.

This might take care of most of the files, but you might want to do a quick review using Windows Explorer. Take a look at the ‘c:/Programs Files’ folder and look for those folders associated with the program you just uninstalled. If you see one, click on the folder to ensure that there aren’t any other programs sharing the folder. Once you are satisfied that the files inside are no longer needed, go ahead and delete the folder.

Next step: everything else. While you have Windows Explorer open, go ahead and click on My Documents and take a look at the files inside. First off, create a new folder called “Archive”. Go ahead and delete any files that are obviously old or unused. If you see any files that you want to keep but don’t use very often, move them to the Archive folder you just created. Don’t worry about opening every file; just take care of the obvious offenders. There will be time to go back later and be more thorough, but for now this will help. Also look for large files and ZIP files. ZIP files are files containing many other files compressed into a single file. Often you will have the original ZIP file and the extracted files, basically leaving you with two of everything. Choose which you want to keep, and either delete the extracted files or the ZIP file, or move it to the archive folder.

For those of you with a CD burner, now is the time to move all the files in your archive folder to a CD. With that accomplished (and verified), go ahead and delete the items inside the archive folder, but leave the folder there. You can add to it later and archive your data when the folder reaches a certain amount.

Don’t empty the Recycle Bin just yet. Reboot your computer to make sure you haven’t deleted any necessary system files. Then open your applications to make sure they boot properly, in case you accidentally deleted any files from their folders. Now, if you have no problems starting Windows and your programs, you can empty the Recycle Bin/Trash. Otherwise, return files to their original places.

Using Disk Cleanup
As time passes, your computer’s hard disk gathers many unneeded files. Windows slows down and may act strangely if too many of these unneeded files have accumulated. The Disk Cleanup utility deletes these troublesome files.

  1. Choose Start> All Programs> Accessories> System Tools> Disk Cleanup.
  2. The Disk Cleanup program runs and asks which disk you want to clean up. Choose a disk drive and click OK. The Disk Cleanup window tells you how much disk space you can reclaim by deleting temporary files right now.
  3. Click the box for each type of temporary file you want Disk Cleanup to delete.
  4. To begin deleting files, click OK. The program asks whether you are sure you want to delete files. Click Yes.

Defragmenting Your Hard Drive
The most important Windows tuning program is the Disk Defragmenter. As it defragments your disk, this program can also rearrange your executable programs so they can start and run faster.

Defragmentation is something that is required from time to time on your hard disk drive (HDD). When a drive is empty it is easy to find space to store files anywhere on the disk. As files are erased, they leave empty spaces between the files next to them. As you write and erase files over time, many of these empty spaces are created. If a file being written is bigger than the largest free space, then it must broken up into smaller pieces and stored in a number of these empty spaces.

The process of files being broken up and stored in a number of smaller pieces is called fragmentation. Eventually a condition exists where there are many fragmented files and empty spaces scattered all over the disk. When this happens, the HDD is said to be very fragmented and your PC has to work very hard to manage these chopped-up files.

Running a defragmentation program on your PC reorganizes the files on the HDD so that each file is located in one contiguous space. All the free space is grouped together on the disk as well.
To defragment your drive, click ‘My Computer’, right-click the drive you want to defragment, click ‘Properties’ from the drop down menu, click the ‘Tools’ tab in the dialog box that appears and select ‘Defragment Now’.

The next step is to leave. No, really – let it do its thing. Honestly, it’s only slightly more amusing than watching paint dry and can easily take a couple of hours on a large, fragmented drive. The end of the day is a great time to kick this maintenance routine off.

When you are done, you will wake up to a lean, clean PC machine.

UPDATE: Stuart Levine has written in to clarify a few points which I’d like to post here —

You advise archiving files on a CD-Rom. I think that this is a mistake for two reasons.

  • First, CD-Roms tend to get lost.
  • Second, and more important, there is some question as to the useful life of material archived on CD-Roms. The useful life is dependent on a number of variables (quality of the CD-Rom, temperature and humidity conditions in which it is stored, etc.). Given the vicissitudes of real practice (lawyers will usually buy cheap CD-Roms, they will be slipshod in how they store the CD-Roms, etc.), I believe that it is far better practice to invest in, at least, a couple of hard drives, one in the office and one offsite, to store ALL client work in electronic format. Storage on CD-Roms is only an invitation to disaster.
Other Defrag Comments:
  • If you have your computer set to hibernate and you are concerned that this might happen during the defrag process do not worry. Your Computer will not go into hibernation while the defrag is running.
  • If any data chanes on the hard drive while the Defrag process is running the process will restart. This can occur if you have items running in the System Tray (near the clock on the Start Bar). To prevent this, shutdown your computer and restart it in safe mode. You can do this by pressing the F8 key during start up before the windows loading screen appears.
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Publications : Bar Bulletin: July  2007