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Optimizing Disk Performance in Windows XP Professional

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The disk drive is the most critical component of your system. Within Windows XP, there are several steps you can take to maximize performance (defragmenting a disk drive significantly decreases disk access and caching times, for example). This article by Louis Columbus provides step-by-step directions for increasing disk drive performance on your Windows XP system.
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Apart from the processors in your Windows XP system, the disk drives are by far the most important components for increasing overall system performance. Part of any effort to get the highest possible performance from your disk drives is to get any errors discovered and resolved. That's the goal of the first part of this article—to give you the steps needed to troubleshoot any aspects of your disk drives that could hinder overall performance. The second part of the article details steps for defragmenting disk drives for greater overall performance.

When you defragment your disk drives, you're actually streamlining the process the processor will complete when it looks for data. Often, data is scattered throughout the physical locations of a disk drive over time, whereas the logical structure of the drive tracks the location of the data through tables. The greater the disconnect between logical and physical file locations, the greater the access time. Getting a greater consistency and predictability to the way your system finds data decreases the access time.

Getting Your Disk Drives In Shape

To get the best possible performance from your system, you need to make sure to get a virtual memory partition created first. This was detailed in the first article of this series, which explained how to create the PAGEFILE.SYS file that is used as virtual memory. You'll want to be sure to have that first defined before going through the steps mentioned in this article. If you don't have enough disk space to create the virtual memory partition on your disk drives, then use the steps defined here to clean up your disk drive so you can create a virtual memory partition.

If you're like many other users, you first start to uninstall applications to get the necessary disk space you need. Great idea if you never need to use the app again, but what about that project you first installed the app for? You can use the Disk Cleanup Utility, which can be configured from the Help and Support Center, as shown below.

There's a great tool to assess the specifics of your system located in the Help and Support Center. You can find this in Windows XP by selecting Help and Support from the Start Menu. Figure 1 shows the introductory screen of the Help and Support Center.

Figure 1 Using the Help and Support Center for configuring the Disk Cleanup Utility to run unassisted.

  1. Under the Tasks option, select Use Tools to view your computer information and diagnose problems.

  2. The Help and Support Center's appearance changes to list all available tools along the left side of the screen.

  3. Click once on the Disk Cleanup option. Instructions on how to locate the utility are also provided on the right side of the screen.

  4. To launch Disk Cleanup, click on the hypertext with the upper arrow in the right portion of the dialog box. The Disk Cleanup Utility begins working. Following the series of prompts, you can define which files you want compressed or deleted from your system.

  5. Click OK to exit out of the utility.

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