Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Hard disks, floppy disks, usb disks, encrypted disks, solid state disks, flash drives and more.

Are hard drives getting more reliable?

Drives are getting bigger, but are they more reliable? That's a hard question.

Are there alternatives to CCleaner's free space wipe function?

Wiping free space on your hard drive with CCleaner will clean your drive with a few wipes; you may need to first clean up temporary files, caches, and deleted files.

Can I combine two hard disk drives into a single logical drive?

It is possible, but the result has a hidden danger to consider. In this case, it's best to go with the supported option.

Can I defrag or reformat my thumbdrives?

Don't defrag your SSDs or your USB thumb drives. Reformat them appropriately if you need to.

Can I just copy an install CD to a USB device and use it that way?

It's tempting to think that simply copying a bootable install CD to a USB device would work. Sadly, it's not that simple.

Can I just keep adding data to my external drive?

External hard drives are great ways to provide additional storage space. I'll review one approach as well as clarify why it still needs to be backed up.

Can I move a hard drive from a computer using an Intel CPU to one using an AMD CPU?

You can move a hard drive from one computer to another... but it may take a re-install of Windows for the software to work with the new hardware.

Can I run two hard disks with different operating systems on one computer?

You certainly can run two hard disks with different operating systems on one computer, but I actually recommend setting up a virtual machine instead.

Can I safely remove update files and folders that are taking up disk space?

Updates are important for the security of your computer, but removing those files may open you up to malware.

Can I trust a failed flash drive if I reformat it?

Failing flash drives can be compensated for with regular backups. But you can avoid the issue entirely if it's inexpensive and easy to replace.

Can magnets cause problems for external hard drives?

Magnets damaging hard drives is not something you and I need to worry about on a day-to-day basis, as long as you are not putting bulk-erasers next to your disks!

Chkdsk runs on every boot, but fails, and my system is unstable. What can I do?

Chkdsk will run on boot if the system has detected problems with your hard disk. If it fails the problem may be serious and can result in instability.

Dban didn't erase my hard disk and neither did Windows 7 setup. How do I wipe the drive?

There are choices that you can make when booting from CD that will tell Windows to not just install Windows, but actually format the entire hard disk first.

Defragging my hard disk blue screens, what do I do?

The big risk is that this kind of a blue screen (when you're defragging) indicates a physical problem with the hard disk. Backup right away!

Do I need a file shredder for my USB Flash Drive?

Shredders or Secure Delete tools actually address two distinct problems, only one of which applies to Flash. Addressing the other could be harmful.

Do I need both disk cleanup and CCleaner?

Disk cleanup and CCleaner can both be run on your computer - but do you need to keep them both?

Do SSD drives have a limited life expectancy because they are flash memory?

USB drives are made with different longevity requirements than Solid State Drives (SSD). Life expectancy is now well managed.

Do external drives commonly fail?

Hard drives fail, and external drives are no different. I'll look at the implications of external hard drive failure, and what you should do.

Does DBAN really erase everything?

Technological nit-picking aside, I feel very confident that running DBan erases the hard drive, but it's important to use DBan properly and make sure it erases the entire hard drive.

Does archiving compressed files increase the chance of corruption?

Compressing files prior to archiving to CD or DVD doesn't increase the chance of corruption, but could dramatically increase the impact, if it happens.

Does repartitioning and reformatting a hard drive clean it?

Reformatting does not completely erase all traces of files from a hard drive but, so far, no viruses are known to be able to recover from a reformat. Repartitioning does something all together different.

How can I get data off of some very old 10MB and 20MB drives?

I would start by getting a hard drive connector cable, which is essentially a USB enclosure without a box. They're usually multi-connected at the drive end and can plug into old drives.

How can I retrieve some photos on a failed hard drive?

This disk is definitely on the verge... in fact, it's probably over the verge. Clearly, you can't get your data off of it and recovery options are limited.

How can I reuse or erase a "dead" hard drive?

Your options for what to do with a dead hard drive depend on the cause of death, and the possibility of resuscitation.

How can I safely wipe and dispose of old hard drives?

You can safely wipe old hard drives using a USB connector and free software. Giving them away will require a local solution.

How do I backup to DVD? How can I copy video DVDs?

Backing up to DVD is easy with a backup program or a DVD burner. Copying a video DVD, however, requires a different tool, and may be illegal.

How do I burn an audio CD?

Audio CDs use a completely different format than the data CDs or DVDs you might use in your computer. As a result, they require a different approach to create.

How do I burn something to CD?

Burning files to CD is a great way to back up or to easily transfer files elsewhere. There are several burning options including Windows itself.

How do I convert to NTFS?

Converting a disk drive or partition from FAT32 to NTFS is fairly easy. We'll look at when you might want to, and the few options for converting back.

How do I do a computer defrag if I have no "My Computer" icon?

A computer defrag is most often accessed by hard disk drive properties on My Computer. We can recover My Computer, and defrag without it too.

How do I find out what's filling up my external drive?

Two things to try are to analyze your backup program and the allocation of your disk space.

How do I fix bad sectors on a flash drive?

Once a flash drive starts to show wear by having errors, you shouldn't treat it like a hard disk. You'll be much safer replacing it.

How do I format a drive that's showing up as unformatted?

Formatting a drive that is showing as unformatted can be done directly in a USB enclosure.

How do I get data off of DVDs containing my photos that won't read?

There are several options for recovering your data, but the big problem is that these important photos were only in one place!

How do I load my floppy-based backups if I have no floppy drive?

A USB floppy drive is a simple answer to getting your data off old disks.

How do I use a solid state drive in my PC?

It is possible to set a new, faster, SSD drive as the main drive in your computer. Many of the steps are the same as reformatting, so you'll start by backing up...

How do you burn a CD?

Burning a CD or DVD is complicated by the fact that there are three distinct types of thing you might want to burn. I'll look at what that means.

How easy is it to add an SSD?

It is trivial to install an SSD as another drive, but typically, people want the faster drive for their operating system. That involves swapping around your operating system from one drive to the other.

How often should I defragment my hard disk?

Periodically defragmenting a hard drive can significantly improve its performance. I'll review how often makes sense and when you shouldn't.

How often should I wipe my disks free space?

Free space wiping removes the ability to undelete files. Whether or not you need it, or how often, depends on how interesting your data might be.

How should I keep my hard drive clean and working at its best?

Hard drives can last a long time if properly cared for. More often than not issues result not from hardware, but from easily managed data and software.

I dropped my external hard disk, how do I recover the data?

Backed up means your data is in more than one place... then a broken drive won't matter as much. There are a few options to try.

I dropped my laptop and my hard drive now seems flaky. Should I replace it?

Intermittent hard drive failure is not a good sign. First, backup, and then we'll go through some steps to get it fixed.

If I empty the contents of a file and then save it, is the data really deleted?

What looks like overwriting a file's data often is not. I'll look at how files are updated and what that implies for their recoverability.

If flash memory is being used in solid state drives, isn't it going to wear out?

Solid state drives with flash memory will wear out much slower than their very cheap counterparts in thumbdrives and dongles.

Is it faster to write to a drive that has lots of space than to one with less space?

Surprisingly, it just might be faster to copy to an empty disk. But the reason for this is a little more complex than simply the amount of data on a drive.

Is it safe to leave a flash drive plugged in all the time?

Leaving a flash drive or USB thumbdrive plugged in all the time can run a risk of prematurely wearing it out. We'll look at why, and what to do.

Is it safe to multitask while burning a CD?

Originally CD burners and PCs were slow, and it was a bad idea to try to do anything else while a CD was being burned. I'll look at the situation today.

Is it safe to perform maintenance on a recovery partition?

Many machines come with a portion of their hard disk set aside as a recovery partition. When visible as a drive, some maintenance operations are safe.

Is there a difference between a USB Flash Drive and USB External Hard Disk?

USB Flash Drives and USB External Hard Disks can be used on your computer in much the same way. There may be a few formatting requirements.

Is there a limit to what a single folder or directory can hold?

Hard disks continue to increase in size, as does what we're storing on them. There are limits, but not limits that most people need to worry about.

Is there a way to run a DVD disc off my hard drive?

There is a free recipe of programs available online, which can help you run a DVD directly from your computer's hard drive.

Is using a flash drive directly for heavy read/write operations safe?

Constant writing to a thumb drive is going to wear it out. I suggest a few alternatives for keeping your files safe.

My flash drive suddenly stopped working, how do I recover the data on it?

Flash drives are popular, convenient and extremely useful. But they can fail, and knowing that means you need to take preventative measures right away.

My hard drive is overheating, how should I fix it?

An overheating hard drive is serious. Before replacing it, it's best to solve the heat issue. Oh yes, and are you backed up?

Replacing An Old Hard Disk With a Solid State Drive (SSD)

I recently replaced the primary hard drive on my primary machine with an SSD. I'll walk you through the steps I took that made the process relatively pain-free.

Should I convert my FAT32 drives to NTFS?

FAT32 and NTFS are two different file systems or ways of storing data on hard disks. Each have pros and cons. I tend to prefer NTFS, and explain why.

Should I defragment my USB Flash drive?

We've all been told that defragmenting a hard disk is a good thing for performance, but the same is most definitely not true for flash drives.

Should I maintain my external drive the same way I do my internal?

External hard drives are a great convenience, but they're often used in different ways. As a result, maintenance needs may also be different.

Should I use "quick" format, and what is quick format anyway?

When formatting a disk you have the option for a "quick" format. We'll look at what's quick about it, and when you should and should not choose it.

Speeding up my CD/DVD-ROM: what are PIO and DMA, and how do I change the setting?

CD/DVD drives and even hard disks can suddenly slow down if the system elects to change a setting from DMA to PIO. I'll look at why, and where.

What are these "no media", "removable" drives on my system?

Flash memory card readers connected to your computer often appear in disk management, taking up drive letters even though they're not currently in use.

What causes my computer to fail a Smart Short Self Test, and do I have to reformat?

SMART, or Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology, could be indicating a failing hard drive. You may have to take further steps.

What does "Cannot copy - the request could not be performed because of an I/O device error" mean, and what do I do?

I/O device errors indicate a problem with storage media you're attempting to read from or write to. I/O device errors should not be ignored.

What does "Pri Master HDD Error" mean on boot?

Your computer's BIOS is often the source of cryptic error messages on boot. "Pri Master HDD Error" is an example of an apparent hard disk failure.

What does it mean if you get a warning that your hard drive is about to fail?

Most hard drives include technology to self monitor and warn of potential problems. The warnings are worth paying attention to.

What does the 'X' in a 48X speed CD-ROM mean?

CD-ROMs and now DVDs have become common components in computer equipment. But what does it mean when someone says the speed is 48X? We'll explain.

What is "RAID" and why is "RAID 0" such a bad, bad idea?

RAID uses multiple hard drives to "look like" a single drive increasing either speed, reliability or both. RAID 0 is a configuration with serious risk.

What is disk slack space and how do I reduce it?

Slack space is unused, inaccessible space on a hard drive. I'll look at where it comes from, what you can do, and why it usually doesn't matter much.

What media should I use for long term archives?

Keeping digital data for a long time, say over 10 or 20 years, presents several unique problems that you'll want to plan on addressing.

What's NAS? How do I go about setting one up?

NAS, for Network Attached Storage, is a device that provides shared disk space on your network. You may already have one of a sort: your PC.

What's a 'UDF' formatted CD?

UDF format is simply just another way that CDs can be written.

What's the best long-term storage media?

How can you protect your data long term from media degradation to loss and theft? We'll look at hard drives and a variety of media types and discuss revisiting your storage periodically.

When I use DBan will it nuke USB drives and all my partitions?

DBan has a user interface that allows you to select drives to be nuked. Be sure to look at your options as you move through the process.

When does installing a hard drive into an external enclosure make sense?

Sometimes, hard drives just go bad and the data is lost; and sometimes, it is recoverable. I talk about the signs of a physically damaged drive.

Where can I purchase a replacement DVD laser?

I'm not sure that replacing the laser is going to solve the problem, or that you'll end up with a working DVD drive after installing and aligning it.

Why am I getting "Windows delayed write failed" error on my computer?

This is a typical error for a hard drive failure... and another example of just how critical it is to have a full backup of your system.

Why am I seeing these odd defragmenting results and why is it taking so long?

What you're really going for with defragging is speed. It doesn't have to be perfect to get the lion's share of speed improvement from defragging a disk.

Why can't I burn an ISO to this blank DVD?

If you can't burn to a blank DVD, you'll need to narrow down exactly what's causing the problem. The failure may be in the media or the drive.

Why can't I open a certain file that's on a CD?

CD's are great for backup and storage. However CD-R's are not so good for files that you need to directly access from certain programs.

Why can't my DVD drive read a data CD?

Sometimes media on a disc is incompatible with a particular drive causing it to not work properly. Unfortunately, there are limited options for solving this.

Why do I get an I/O device error when I try to create a system image?

The error message is literally telling you exactly what's wrong: there was an input/output error on the device.

Why do I have constant disk activity from Chrome?

Constant disk activity could be caused by Chrome updating in the background. There are a few steps that can be done with Process Explorer to help further diagnose the problem.

Why do file timestamps compare differently every time change?

Twice a year when daylight saving time or summertime begins and ends, file time comparisons can be off if you're using differing file systems.

Why do some drives not read CDs or DVDs that others will?

There are a lot of differences in the quality of CD/DVD drives and their ability to recover data from a disc.

Why does copying a large file sometimes slow down or fail?

Issues copying files are most often traceable to hard disk issues, but there are many other potential causes as well.

Why does my hard drive just spin and then shut off?

Spinning and freezing is not a good sign for this hard drive. There is usually only one easy way to get on with your life in a case like this.

Why does my laptop hard drive keep failing?

Laptop hard drives are made to be fairly rugged but there are limits. Here are some things to help make your laptop hard disk last as long as possible.

Why does my program report "Disk Full" when saving a file to a disk with lots of room?

Error messages don't always give enough clues as to what might be going on, but they often point the way to start digging for the answer.

Why is my "generic volume in use" when removing my external hard drive?

Before you can remove a removable device, Windows needs to make sure no programs are still accessing it. If one or more are, you can't "safely remove".

Why won't my newly purchased game CD read in my DVD drive?

Problems reading CDs in a DVD drive could be because the CD is faulty, or your drive is incompatible. There is an easy way to tell which it is.

Why, or how, do files become corrupt?

File corruption happens most commonly when there's a hardware issue or bad sector on your hard drive. I'll look at implications and preventative steps.

Will deleting games free up more space on my hard drive?

Deleting games will definitely free up some disk space, but perhaps there is more you could do.

Will drilling my hard drive wipe it of all data so I can donate it?

Drilling a hard drive will certainly destroy it! Your data should be safe from most recovery efforts.

Will my system be faster if I make my C: drive a flash drive?

USB Flash drives are useful for many things, but not for running your system from them long term. We'll look at why, and a Windows Vista alternative.

Will putting a label on a CD hurt it?

Putting a label on a CD or DVD you've burned yourself seems like a good way to identify it later, but you do need to be careful in how you label it.

Will replacing my C: drive with an SSD speed up my overloaded system?

We need to focus in on what is causing your machine to be overloaded and see what we can do about that before we start throwing hardware at the problem.

Will securely deleting recoverable files leave my actual files intact?

Deleting recovered files can be done with several utilities to clean up free space and make the old files completely unrecoverable.

Would simply writing a large file overwrite deleted data?

Creating a large file and then deleting it overwrites anything on your computer's free space: but that's still not enough to protect yourself when giving away a computer.