Make Your PC Safe For Tomorrow

by Stephen M. Pribut, D.P.M., F.A.C.F.A.S.

 

The saying goes there are two types of hard disks: those that have crashed and those that will. Since the New Year has just started it is time to think about the maintenance of your brand new Pentium 200 PC with that large 3 gigabyte hard drive. This is a great time to develop a methodical approach to keeping it running fast, virus free, and crash resistant. Regular maintenance procedures are key. The principles we are discussing apply to all PC operating systems, but we will focus on the Windows 95 system.

The utilities that we are reviewing are primarily disk utilities which provide the vital means to both defragment your hard disk and to check for a variety of disk errors such as loose clusters and cross linked files. Loose clusters take up valuable disk space and serve no function while cross linked files are a potentially dangerous cause of data loss. Cross linked files occur when two files share some of the same disk segments. This leads to very confused file structures and can cause the loss of data. If this occurs to key startup files required by your computer, you could have a disk crash. It is important to scan your disk regularly to clear it of disk and file errors that develop.

 

Another part of routine maintenance should be defragmenting your hard disk. Fragmentation of a hard disk will occur most often as your disk gets crowded, but can also occur on a disk that has much empty space remaining. Fragmentation of a hard disk means that your files are split up and not contiguous. This slows file access speed. Database files and their related indexes are frequent culprits. This occurs when a file that is added to repeatedly such as when you keep adding patients and billing records to your practice files which then also updates a variety of index files.

 

Letís get started. Today is the first day of the rest of your hard diskís life. The first thing to do is to make that vital Start-Up Disk that you were probably prompted to make but didnít when Windows 95 installed itself. Windows 95 is less forgiving of startup errors than DOS. If ever there is a problem with your disk or computer, you may have no other way to obtain access to the files on your PC other than by using the start-up disk.

 

The next step in making your computer crash resistant is to decide what utilities you need. One of the most convenient Windows 95 utility packages is the Microsoft Plus Companion for Windows 95. This package adds Internet support via an Internet Setup Wizard, a scripting tool for dial-up networking, a scheduler for maintenance programs called "System Agent", attractive Desktop themes, a great Pinball game and dramatically improved compression. If you have a large hard drive do not create a compressed disk. The drivers that are needed use a significant amount of memory, the compressed disk runs slower and it may be more prone to data loss. In practice I have not found the compressed drives to increase data loss, but they are slower than uncompressed drives. The most important part of the Plus Pack, besides the pretty desktop themes, is the System Agent. This allows you to schedule your routine maintenance at regular intervals.

 

Letís take a look at some of the routine maintenance that you should be doing on your computer. When you install the System Agent it will schedule a series of routine maintenance programs. On a daily basis you should be using Scandisk to scan your hard disk. This checks the files and folders to make sure that there are no cross linked files, lost clusters or other problems with the disk. We have already discussed the most frequently found problem, the cross linked file. The Scandisk program that comes with Windows 95 truncates the file. A better alternative is Norton Utilities for Windows 95. The "Norton Disk Doctor" will examine the entire length of the cross linked files and try to split them using a more complex algorithm.

 

Norton Utilities was the first utility program designed for the PC. It was originally known for its "unerase" feature. It now comes with similar features in both a Windows 95 version and a Macintosh version. Additional features include a Registry Tracker, Registry Editor, a built in virus scanner and a series of performance measuring utilities. Norton Utilities will automatically update itself using the Internet. The free updates include the program utilities and the anti-virus files. Norton Utilities, now published by Symantec Corporation, is also known for its "Speed Disk" program. The one that comes with Norton Utilities has a few more bells and whistles and is superior to that which comes with Windows 95. Norton Utilities also includes a "Space Wizard" which checks your disk for duplicated and unnecessary files. I found over 30 megabytes of essentially useless files using this program that were in my Netscape Browser cache subdirectory.

 

Both Norton Utilities and the Windows 95 Plus Pack System Agent provide automatic tuning of your computer system. Running them automatically will keep things optimized without having to depend on being motivated to use them. If you are using the System Agent, you can have it configured to run a separate Virus Checking program such as McAfee AntiVirus or Norton Anti-Virus. This should also be done regularly. The newest antivirus programs integrate with Microsoft Word to protect against "macro" viruses. The virus scan that comes with Norton Utilities will detect but not eliminate the virus. To eliminate the virus you will need a full package such as the Norton anti-virus or Mcaffee anti-virus program. More information on all of these programs both for Macintosh and Windows 95 systems may be found at the manufacturerís web sites. Symantec: "http://www.symantec.com/" and for McAffee: "htp://www.mcaffee.com/". Make sure that disk scanning, disk defragmenting and virus scanning become part of your regular maintenance operations.

 

Stephen M. Pribut, D.P.M., F.A.C.F.A.S. maintains a popular Sportís Medicine Web site at https://www.drpribut.com/sports/spsport.html. He may be reached via e-mail at pribut@yahoo.com.

From APMA News - January 1999