Computer Basics – Keeping Your Computer Clean and Efficient, Part 2

As we talked about recently, one of the most basic things you can do with a computer is just general maintenance – like getting regular oil changes for your car, maintenance keeps your computer running more efficiently, and often faster.

We first discussed getting rid of unnecessary files. They are just clutter on your computer, similar to clutter in your house. Similar to clutter in your house, these files may be just a few things you don’t need, but they have the potential to pile up to problematic proportions.

We’ve now gotten rid of those unnecessary files, so let’s straighten things out a bit, shall we?

Fragmented Files

All your files and folders are stores in tiny fragments of data on your hard drive. When you have a fresh, clean hard drive with just the basic system files, everything is organized and tidy on the drive. The fragments are generally in consecutive order according to the files they create.

Let’s think of this like… a filing system. Technically, your hard drive actually does use a filing system already, but for the sake of understanding think of a filing cabinet full of folders and papers.

While we’re at it, let’s think about that cluttered house. We have a house (the hard drive) that was full of clutter. Maybe it was a little, maybe it was a lot, but now all that clutter has been cleaned out and we’re left with only stuff we need or want.

If you’ve ever done a massive “spring cleaning” project in your home (or in anyone else’s, for that matter), think about what was left when everything was sorted through and all the “junk” was gotten rid of. You knew that everything left was “a keeper” but it was still kind of strewn about. In all that “keeper” stuff there were some drawers and boxes where you’d shoved a bunch of paperwork.

While cleaning, you found all these papers that had been shoved in various places. Maybe there are some important documents that had been shoved in a drawer and forgotten about. Over on the shelf, some mail had been set down after a busy day at work. Someone threw some forms on the table that needed to be filled out.

You know all these documents are keepers, but everything is scattered. If you had to find anything, you certainly could but you’d have to flip through several papers to find any one document.

This is sort of how files get scattered in bits and pieces around the hard drive. The computer can find things and group them all together in order to present you with the finished file, but it might take a little extra effort since everything is scattered about.

Disk Defragmenter (aka “Disk Defrag”)

Once you rounded up all those important papers, you’d organize them all and then place them in corresponding folders and in some particular order in a filing cabinet – just like Disk Defrag.

Disk Defrag takes all those little fragments and puts them back in consecutive order on the drive, so everything runs a little more efficiently.

You don’t have to run Disk Defrag very often (maybe once a month or so) but it can help. You should run Disk Cleanup first so your computer has fewer files to sort through and piece together.

Disk Defrag is easy to find on Windows 7, but they sort of hid it on Windows XP.

Windows 7

  1. Click the “Start” button (the orb in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, with the Windows flag icon on it).
  2. Click “Accessories”.
  3. Click “System Tools”.
  4. Click on “Disk Defragmenter”.

Windows XP

  1. Click the “Start” button (in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen).
  2. Click “My Computer”.
  3. Right-Click “C:” (it may have a name in front of it, but it will have a “C:” at the end).
  4. Click “Properties”.

    Windows Hard Drive Properties

    My C Drive is named "Acer" but it also shows the "C:".

  5. Click “Tools”.
  6. Click “Defragment Now”.
    Windows Drive Properties, Tools, Disk Defrag

Running Disk Defrag

The screenshots below are from Windows 7, but Disk Defrag in Windows XP looks fairly similar. The main difference is that Windows XP actually shows you visual representations (bar graphs) of the level of fragmentation, Windows 7 just gives you percentages.

Close all other programs before starting Disk Defragmenter.

Disk Defrag in Windows

I miss the bar graph.

  1. With Disk Defrag open, click “Analyze Disk”.
  2. When it’s finished, click “Defragment Disk”.
  3. When defragmentation is complete, click “Close”.

That’s really all there is to it. Take note that this is definitely another process where you will want to just let it run and go do something else for awhile. Not just because it will take longer, but because the computer can’t defragment the hard drive very well if you’re still trying to write files to it.

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