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ScanDisk and Defrag

Keeping your hard drive healthy is an important part of using any computer. Two utility programs, ScanDisk and Disk Defragmenter (Defrag), are part of Windows. By using them regularly, you can keep your hard drive humming!

You can find both programs by clicking Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools, then selecting either ScanDisk or Disk Defragmenter.

Ideally, both programs will run smoothly and complete successfully. We can dream, canít we? But what do you do if ScanDisk and Disk Defragmenter decide to become uncooperative and ruin your day? You may start ScanDisk just fine, but after a few minutes see the message:
"ScanDisk has restarted 10 times because Windows or another program has been writing to this drive." Youíll probably receive a semi-helpful suggestion to close any other programs running -- something weíll talk about in a few minutes.

On rare occasion you may manage to make it all the way through ScanDisk, only to have Disk Defragmenter get hinky on you -- sorry for the technical talk. As you watch the progress dialog box and you think everything is humming right along, suddenly you see that it stops before it hits 10%, and the following message appears over and over:
"Drive's contents changed; restarting..." Itís enough to make you scream!

Getting ScanDisk and Defrag to work properly can sometimes take a little extra effort, but like anything, itís fairly easy once you know what to do. Problems with both ScanDisk and Disk Defragmenter generally occur when you have a program that's running in the background, with or without your knowledge.

As Windows tries to check your disk or rearrange the data stored on it to make it run more efficiently, a program running in the background changes the contents of your hard drive. When that happens, Windows starts the ScanDisk checking or defragmenting all over again from the beginning. Unless you know how to step in and interrupt this endless loop, neither program, ScanDisk nor Disk Defragmenter, will ever finish! Now thereís a scary thought!


Scan First, Defrag Later

If you're planning to run both programs, it's important to run ScanDisk first, followed by Disk Defragmenter. Itís also a good idea to run both on a regular basis. "Regular" varies depending how much you use your computer, but at least once a month should keep your hard drive in tip-top shape.

When running ScanDisk, I recommend using the Thorough scan. You'll see the Thorough option when you launch ScanDisk. Also check the "Automatically Fix Errors" box. This will examine your hard drive for surface errors and resolve any errors encountered by isolating "bad" sectors, etc.

Fair warning: Running ScanDisk (and Disk Defragmenter) can take hours, depending on the size and condition of your hard drive.

Once ScanDisk has run successfully, however, then it's time to use the Disk Defragmenter and "defrag" your hard drive. This program will organize the data on your hard drive so it will run more efficiently.


Fretting Over Freeze-Ups

If you're not able to run these programs without your system freezing up or either program stalling at a certain percentage completed, there are a number of things you can do to force Windows to run ScanDisk and Defrag properly by shutting down all programs running in the background. Here are three approaches, one of which should overcome the frustration of freeze-ups.


Approach I: Disable Startup Group

Click Start > Run and type "msconfig" (without the quotes), then click OK.

In the Microsoft Configuration Editor click "Selective Startup."

Uncheck the box "Load Startup Group," then reboot your computer and try running Scandisk again. Unchecking the
"Load Startup Group" disables programs from running in the background which is probably preventing Scandisk from completing its work.

Afterwards you can go back and put MSCONFIG back to "Normal Startup."

Note: Neither Windows 95 nor Windows 2000 include the MSCONFIG utility Ė though nobody seems to know why it was omitted from Windows 2000. Conventional wisdom believes its omission fall within the "oops" category. It can be easily added, however. If you would like to add it to your Windows 95 or Windows 2000 operating system, click HERE to download the MSCONFIG.EXE file.

Windows 95 users should download the file to the C:\Windows\System folder. Windows 2000 users should download it to C:\WINNT\system32. To use it, click Start > Run and type "msconfig" (without the quotes) and click OK.



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Approach II: Manually Disable Selected Programs

1. Click the Taskbar button (at the bottom of your screen, generally) for each running program and close it. Continue closing programs until there are no remaining Taskbar buttons for running programs.

2. Open the Control Panel by clicking My Computer > Control Panel. Next, double-click the Display icon, select the Screen Saver tab, and set your screen saver to None. Close the Display dialog box.
3. If you have never installed Microsoft Office, you can skip this step: Open Control Panel again and look for a Find Fast icon. If you find it, double-click it, pull down the Index menu, and choose Pause Indexing. Close Find Fast and close the Control Panel.

4. Shut down any anti-virus or security software utilities (such as a firewall) you have installed. You can usually do this by right-clicking the program's icon in the lower right side of the taskbar and selecting Exit or Close or whatever the appropriate language is for that program.

5. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del to display the Close Program dialog box. For every program listed EXCEPT Explorer and Systray, select the program's name from the list and click the End Task button. Repeat until the only entries left are Explorer and Systray. These two programs MUST remain running for Windows to function do donít even think about shutting them down. Click Cancel to close the Close Program dialog box.

NOTE: The programs youíre shutting down will automatically start running again the next time you reboot (restart) your computer. So donít be concerned about shutting them down -- well, all except which two? Thatís right, Explorer and Systray. Do not shut down Explorer and Systray.

BONUS NOTE: If you want to permanently prevent certain programs from automatically launching when you reboot, use Windowsí System Configuration Utility to accomplish this. Follow these multiple clicks to get there:

Click Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Information > Tools > System Configuration Utility > Startup.

Check marks appear next to programs that launch automatically during your computer boot-up. Remove checkmarks from programs you donít want to launch automatically -- but remember, you do NOT want to disable Explorer or Systray.

Once youíve made your selections, click Apply, followed by OK. Restart your computer for these changes to take effect.

6. Lastly, check your Windows task scheduler to determine if you have any other Ďmysteryí programs scheduled or running in the background. Click Start > Programs > Accessories > Scheduled Tasks to check it out. Disable anything that runs automatically just to get it out of the way to prevent it from interfering with your ScanDisk and Disk Defragmenter.

Approach III: Disable Startup Group

Arguably, the easiest approach for most users is the "Safe Mode" approach, which involves restarting your computer in what is called, not surprisingly, Safe Mode. When you start your system in Safe Mode, only the bare minimum components Windows needs to function are loaded, so any other programs such as anti-virus software or screen savers, etc., will not be loaded. The result isn't pretty -- and that's not just a figure of speech. In this case, Windows will display at a very low resolution, making it appear a bit on the anemic side. Have no fear, though.

Once you start in Safe Mode, then run the defrag program. Once the defrag has completed its work, restart your computer and it will automatically restart in its normal mode.


Getting into Safe Mode

Launching Windows in Safe Mode is easy and varies slilghtly depending if you're running Windows 95 or Windows 98, ME, 2000, and XP. If you're running Windows 95, just keep pressing the F5 key during the start-up process until the Safe Mode menu appears.

Use the same technique with Windows 98, ME, 2000 and XP, but instead of repeatedly pressing F5, make it F8, and keep tapping away until the Safe Mode menu appears.


Let the Games Begin!

With all programs previously running in the background shut down, now run ScanDisk, and follow up by running Disk Defragmenter. It may take you a while to get through the 10% mark when defragmenting your drive; but don't worry, this is normal.

Some people go into a technological tizzy when Disk Defragmenter appears to stop moving at the 10% or 15% point on the progress meter. Don't be concerned. This is the point at which Defrag optimizes a number of system files and it may take a while to get past this point. If you haven't defragged in months -- and shame on you if you havenít -- don't be surprised if it takes hours for this process to complete. But itís all perfectly normal.

After running ScanDisk and Disk Defragmenter successfully, remember to restore your screen saver and anti-virus program to normal operation, then reboot to finish things up.


Third-Party Option

I haven't tried this little utility myself, but a number of readers have reported good results using the Abexo Defragmenter Utility. Several versions are available, though the Defragmenter Lite ($15) should be adequate for most individuals. Complete information, including screen shots, are available on the Web site.

When All Else Fails

If, despite following all the above instructions, tips and tricks, you still cannot successfully run ScanDisk and/or Disk Defragmenter to successful completion, then it's time to consider taking your computer into a reputable computer repair facility to let them run some diagnostic programs and figure out what's preventing these programs from running successfully. Once they alleviate the problem, it's a good idea to get in the habit of running ScanDisk and Disk Defragmenter regularly which will help prevent future problems of this type.

Happy scanning or defragging!

Mr. Modem


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