[ Go to 2,001 Tips Table of Contents ]

2,001 Tips
Hard Drives

Learn Who's Master

When adding a second IDE drive into your system, take care to make sure that each drive knows its place. In a two-drive situation, one drive must be designated the "master" and the other the "slave." Generally, your bootable drive will be the master drive. The status of the drives is determined by setting small jumpers, usually located next to the IDE connector on the drive itself. Often, a label on the drive will illustrate the settings; if not, check the drive's manual. While the issue isn't the same with SCSI drives, they do need to have unique SCSI ID numbers, from 0 to 7. These are also determined by jumpers on internal hard drives.

Be a Scan Fan

Over time, drives can end up with bad sectors, or misplaced data fragments, that-at best-will slow things down and may even lead to a disk crash. As a preventive measure, run ScanDisk about once a week. Access it through the Properties page for any disk drive, or in the Accessories/System Tools group in your Start menu (if it wasn't installed, use your Win95 setup disks to install it). Windows 95 will even keep track of the last time you inspected the disk. A standard inspection is usually sufficient if you're not experiencing any problems, but you should periodically run a thorough inspection, which will map out any bad areas of the disk and attempt to recover data located in the trouble spots.

SCSI Stuff

Like IDE, some SCSI drives are more equal than others. Several standards in SCSI have evolved over the years; the most basic is 16-bit SCSI standard. Newer SCSI adapters support SCSI-2 (also known as Fast/Wide), which provides higher bandwidth. The top of the heap is SCSI-3 (also known as Ultra Fast/Wide), which has a physically different connector and is generally overkill, except for high-end applications. Make sure the drive you purchase lives up to what your system can do-or consider giving your system a boost by picking up a new SCSI controller at the same time.

Beware the IDEs Of March

If your system has more than one IDE connection on the motherboard, check the label; one IDE controller is usually on the system's PCI bus, and the other (known as the secondary controller) is on the ISA bus. The PCI bus is always faster, so make sure your primary hard disk is hooked up to the PCI IDE connector. If you're attaching a second disk, it's better to chain it off the first one rather than to the second controller. Also, it's generally a bad idea to put a CD-ROM drive on the same IDE chain as a hard disk.

Too Many Gigs

If you're upgrading an older system with a large, new hard drive, you may run into some difficulty. Many old PCs have a system BIOS that won't recognize hard disks larger than 2.1GB. This is a hold-over from MS-DOS days, when the operating system couldn't recognize larger drives. Fortunately, many PCs can get around this problem through flash BIOS upgrades. Often, it's as simple as downloading an upgrade file and running an installation program. Call your system manufacturer or check their Web site or BBS for information.

Good IDE Is a Good Idea

If you're buying a new IDE drive, make sure it's at least fast enough to take full advantage of your system's capabilities. Many of today's PCs support Mode 4 EIDE, the fastest IDE interface currently available. Slower Mode 3 or Mode 2 drives will work in your system, but you'll be wasting bandwidth and time. Even if your system doesn't have the latest stuff, you may still want to shoot high on a new hard drive purchase. You may be able to use it with your next system.

Definitely Defrag

One of the easiest things you can do to keep your system running at its peak is to defragment your hard drive on a regular basis. When your hard drive tries to store a file and can't find enough contiguous space on the disk, it has to break up the file across different parts of the disk. Defragmenting essentially "unshuffles" the data, reassembling files and consolidating free space. To access Windows 95's built-in Disk Defragmenter utility, look in your Start menu under Programs/Accessories/System Tools, or just look in the Properties for the disk under the Tools tab. Win95 will keep track of how often you defragment your drive. You should do it at least once a month, if not more often.

Spec It Out

If you're shopping for a new hard disk and are befuddled by the specs, the key number is average access time. Also consider the physical speed of the drive, measured in revolutions per minute (rpm), usually listed in the manufacturer specs. The faster the rpm, the faster the drive.

Too Fast to Keep Cooped Up

If you're about to lay out some serious cash for a lightning-fast hard disk, use caution. The high-end of hard disks can operate at 7,200rpm, providing the speed needed for audio/video applications. But while these drives can be purchased as internal units, they may generate too much heat to function reliably within your system. Unless your PC is designed for A/V use, you'd be better off purchasing 7,200rpm drives in external, self-ventilated units. If you don't need the extra power, 5,400rpm drives are a safer bet for your desktop.

Partitioning Power

You may think that you have all the space in the world because you just installed a 4GB hard disk on your system. Instead, you may be losing space if you haven't partitioned it. Under the FAT file system, cluster sizes are based on the overall size of a disk volume, and every file you put on the disk uses at least one cluster. A disk with one huge volume will have larger file clusters, which can get grabbed up by small files, resulting in a huge waste of space. If you've got a drive that's 1GB or larger, creating partitions of about 500MB each will result in more efficient use of space. You can create partitions by using FDISK on a system running in MS-DOS mode, or by using a third-party disk utility. Remember: Partitioning will destroy any information on the drive, so back up any data on the drive first.

[ Go to 2,001 Tips Table of Contents ]