Computer Guide

Unable to fully defragment

by George Skarbek - 21 October 2008

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Q: I have a computer that will not complete defrag. I leave it for days and it is still defraging.  Computer is about 9 years old, not sure when the last successful defrag was completed. I asked someone they say it is probably caught in a loop that is some file/s are blocking the defrag.  Is this right? If so, how do I resolve? If not what other solutions would you recommend?

A: Open files can prevent a full defrag. However, this is of no concern if a few fragments remain in a few files because in almost all cases you will never see a difference in performance even when using a stopwatch. There are usually a few files that will not be defragmented in some cases. When your disk is reasonably full then this number will increase. Using Safe Mode can help to reduce the number of open files.

Look at the files that still have some fragmentation. If they are files that you are not likely to use very often then it will not make any difference to normal performance. One example may be the System Restore files. Unless you are performing the very frequent system restores, no time is being lost.

Disk defragmentation is mainly used to improve performance by speeding up the reading from the hard drive. Let us do an example of an important file, say your mail, has 10 fragments. Then assuming that your old and slow hard disk that has an average seek time to 10 ms (milli-seconds). Therefore to read in the entire file will take 10 x 10 ms which equals 100 ms or one tenth of a second which is about the limit someone with fast reflexes can measure. However, opening your mail will not be delayed by one tenth of a second as the mail will start being displayed while the remainder of the files are being read. Your delay will be a lot less than one tenth of a second. Furthermore, if you close your mail program and then open it later there is a high probability that the caching software will be able to restore it from RAM rather than from disk. This is about 1000 times faster than reading it from the hard disk.

For normal use I recommend that you defragment every couple of months or so and don't worry too much about the odd fragments. Even spending a few seconds looking into this matter is unlikely to be recouped unless your disk is very badly fragmented.

However there is one other good reason for having fewer fragments and this is that in case of hard disk failure where it is easier to recover files from a cleaner hard disk.


64 bit XP

Q: Is there such a thing as a 64 bit version of XP?  I have an Intel Dual Core motherboard which will accept 8G of RAM but I have been told I need a 64 bit version of XP.

A: There certainly is a 64 bit version of XP but in my opinion you need a really good reason to change. If you MUST use 8 GB then you have no choice, but few applications need that amount. Most benchmarks show that there is little performance after 2 GB with a very slight improvement going to 3 GB and some benchmarks actually slow down with 4 GB or RAM installed.

There most likely be significant problems associated with going to 64 bit. The main one is that only 64-bit kernel mode drivers are supported. This means that devices for which there are no 64-bit Windows XP drivers available cannot be used. Many 32-bit installers will not run.

I strongly recommend that you do a lot of research to find out what problems you will have if you decide to upgrade as in my opinion it is not worth the cost and effort. I un-installed my 64-bit XP from my test computer as it showed no benefits with 2 GB of RAM over the 32-bit version.



Stop the annoying notification

Q: I am often nagged by XP wanting to clean up my unused icons. I know there are some that I seldom use but I want them on my desktop because occasionally I do want use them and if they are gone I can forget where to find these programs. How can I turn this nag off or do I have to live with it?

A: You don’t have to live with it. I found it annoying and turned it off.  To disable unused icon notification in XP right-click on a clear part of the desktop and click on Properties then on the Desktop Tab, Customize Desktop and in the General Tab Remove the tick from "Run Desktop Cleanup Wizard Every 60 Days”.


To look at the e-book in PDF format, Computer Guide, based on these columns click here