Increasing Hard Drives Speed

Ordering the files is an effective method of increasing the speed of the hard drive. As you use your computer, you are constantly saving, deleting, and editing files, thus changing their size. The repetition of these actions causes a good number of files to become fragmented and scattered arbitrarily around the disk.

This process of file fragmentation takes place because new files that you save on the hard drive are physically stored using the free space created by the deletion of other files. Also, the files often become fragmented as you edit them, thus increasing their size.

While accessing files that are stored in fragments throughout the hard drive, the read/write head of the hard drive must mechanically shift and reposition itself many times. This takes up a significantly longer amount of time than finding and reading an unfragmented (contiguous) file.

The operation of the hard drive is often complicated by electronic or mechanical malfunctions, or by errors in the file system. As a result, damaged and lost areas appear, known as bad clusters and lost clusters.

The presence of such areas leads to the degradation of the hard drive performance, decreases the amount of available space, and degrades the storage reliability. Bad clusters can appear as a result of a mechanic impact on the physical surface of the hard drive (such as vibrations, banging, etc.) or can be caused by certain viruses.

Lost clusters generally develop as a result of errors caused by improper opening and closing files. They can be caused by hardware malfunctions or by errors and bugs in the programs or the operating systems (and in complex systems there are always errors), by incorrectly exiting a program, by turning the power supply off without closing the operating system, and so on.

Sometimes you'll be able to get rid of bad clusters by reformatting the hard drive (logical drive). Fighting lost clusters and other errors in the file system can be done with the help of special programs such as ScanDisk, which is included in, for example, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Vista.

It's advised that you occasionally run the scan not only in the Standard mode, but also in the Thorough mode, which tests the entire accessible area of the logical drive. This gives you the opportunity to perform a more thorough scan and to exclude the use of problem areas of the hard drive that don't show up when running the scan in the Standard mode.

To ensure control of the scan, avoid running it in the Correct Errors Automatically mode. Increasing the speed at which fragmented files are read can be done after a preliminary disk defragmentation. It's advised to run this operation periodically with the help of special software such as defrag.exe in the MS-DOS 6.xx package, or speedisk.exe in Norton Utilities.

In Windows 9x systems there is a special program for this — Disk Defragmenter. Note that before defragmentation it's recommended that you run ScanDisk. Windows NT and Windows 2000 also have built-in programs for scanning hard disks for errors, repairing the errors found in the course of scanning, and defragmenting.

To start the built-in Windows NT/2000/XP tool for scanning disks, proceed as follows:

  1. Open the My Computer folder.

  2. Right-click the disk you are going to scan for errors and select the Properties command from the right-click menu.

  3. The Properties window will open.

  4. To scan disk immediately, click the Check Now button.

  5. A dialog will open. To start the program, click the Start button. If necessary, set the Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors checkbox. The program will then make an attempt to recover bad sectors.

Note that the problem of fragmentation is characteristic not only for Windows 9.x, but also for Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000. There is a generally accepted opinion, according to which the NTFS file system is implemented in such a way that files stored on NTFS disks become fragmented almost never.

However, the fragmentation problem exists even for NTFS, although it is not as pressing when compared to the similar problems with FAT16 and FAT32. Unfortunately, Windows NT 4.0 has no built-in defragmentation utility. Therefore, Windows NT 4.0 users must run third party defragmentation utilities developed specially for this operating system.

The most popular program of this type is Norton Speed Disk utility. For example, Norton Speed Disk v. 5.1 is suitable for defragmenting NTFS-formatted drives. The following advantages are characteristic for this program:

  • MFT optimization

  • The capability of placing any file at the start or at the end of a (or the if this is only done with one partition) partition; the capability to place any file after all other files

  • The capability of folder and swap file defragmentation (for NTFS drives only)

  • Scheduling functionality

  • Simultaneous defragmentation of several partition

  • Disk diagnostics and error correction using the built-in error-checking tool

  • Detailed reports on disk fragmentation and on the defragmentation results

  • Fragmentation analysis

It should be noted that Norton Speed Disk is not the only defragmentation utility developed for Windows NT. There are other defragmentation tools on the software market, specially developed for Windows NT and Windows 2000. These include such programs as Diskeeper, O&O Defrag, Contig, PerfectDisk, etc.

Windows 2000 and Windows XP, in contrast to Windows NT, have a built-in defragmentation utility created on the basis of the well-known Diskeeper program. This utility has user-friendly interface and characteristics similar to that of Norton Speed Disk.

However, the Diskeeper utility uses API calls and this can't be considered an optimum solution, especially for an NTFS file system. There is a generally accepted point of view, which holds that the Norton Speed Disk utility, based on different principles, is more efficient and reliable.

Besides file defragmentation, there are other ways of speeding up your hard drives by taking their working principles into consideration. For instance, file access time depends on the file physical location on the hard disk. The files to which you would like to provide the fastest access should be placed at the starting cylinders of the hard disk.

The further away programs and data are from the starting cylinders, the longer it will take to access them (3 to 5 times longer). You can achieve this if you load the files to the hard disk in a predefined order. The first files loaded onto the hard drive are placed at the start of the data-storage area, which will provide the fastest access time.

Sometimes, it is possible to improve the computer performance by means of regrouping certain files, which should speed up the hard drive. To rearrange the files on a hard drive already filled with data, you'll need special utilities. For example, you can rearrange MS-DOS/Windows 3.xx files using the speedisk.exe defragmentation utility included with Norton Utilities.

To do so, launch this program, choose the commands Directory Order, File Sort, and Files to Place First from the Configure menu, and set the necessary parameters. Besides file defragmentation, these settings will rearrange the files stored on the disk, thus providing a faster access time for the most frequently accessed files.

Newer hard drives use different ways of hardware/software management that guarantee high-speed reading and writing of data. This is maintained by the appropriate hardware/software facilities of the computer, including software and hardware caching methods, block transfer mode, etc.

Generally, you set the appropriate options using BIOS Setup. There are also several software tools available that can accomplish similar tasks. Often a modern operating system will be endowed with these built-in capabilities. Hard drive manufacturers are constantly improving the construction and technical parameters of their products.

Besides development of new models, they continue to provide support for the older ones. Web sites of the largest hard drive manufacturers often provide new drivers, both for recently released models and for older ones. In most cases, a new driver will allow you to greatly increase the performance of your hard drive.

There are many software tools, such as accelerator programs, that you can use to increase your hard drive speed. As an example, take the Drive Rocket Date Accelerator v.1.14 program from Ontrack Computer Systems, Inc.

This program is often used alongside Disk Manager (also from Ontrack) to manage, for instance, drives from the company Western Digital. Another example of an accelerator program is XStore Pro (busmaster drivers for Windows 9x, recommended by Chaintech) from HighPoint Technologies.

Depending on the available RAM and system configuration, these tools may allow you to increase the hard disk performance up to 60% and the overall performance of the whole computer system up to 10% as opposed to using standard drivers from Intel/Microsoft.

The XStore Pro software optimizes system performance by read ahead caching after seeking with large block sizes on the hard disk. To obtain best results it's recommended that you use it in computers with at least 64 MB RAM. The functioning of a modern operating system is hard to imagine without such a thing as the virtual memory.

The virtual memory allows you to simultaneously run more programs than the physical memory of the computer (the RAM) alone. However, the virtual memory consumes much more disk space, and swapping significantly slows down all the programs.

Virtual memory was developed for computers with microprocessors of 80386 or higher, and is the space on the hard drive with which modern systems (from Windows 3.xx on) work. This space is used as if it were physical memory RAM.

It is able to function this way thanks to a special file, a swap file, to which information from the RAM is periodically moved (swapped). At the same time, consider the fact that read/write operations using the fastest possible hard drive are more than 10,000 times slower than the same operations using the slowest RAM .

Therefore, increasing your RAM is the most effective way of lightening the workload of the hard drive and increasing the overall performance of the computer. This is because the frequency of accessing the virtual memory is diminished, which allows you to decrease the time delays required by the hard drive to process queries from application and system programs.

Increasing the hard disk performance (and also, if necessary, that of the CD-ROM and floppy disks) can be accomplished by introducing a procedure such as programcaching. There are several tools providing this capability, including built-in programs supplied with MS DOS and Windows 9x or third-party tools (such as the ones from Norton Utilities).