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What is Scandisk?

Scandisk has two main functions. One is to check the integrity of the file system and correct (or gloss over) any errors found. The most common problem occurs when the computer is stopped while a program is in the process of writing to a file (stopped usually by a power failure, or by a program or the operating system crashing). This can cause space to be allocated as used, even though it is not assigned to any particular file; Scandisk can return that space for use. Another problem is cross-linked files, where two files are using the same physical space on the hard drive. This is a bad thing because clearly one (or both!) of the files will contain the wrong data. The second function is to check the hard drive for defective sectors, which is done by writing to every sector and reading the data back to check for errors. That takes quite a while. [Note: Scandisk is called Chkdsk in Windows 2000. It is not located under System Tools, but instead you right-click on a drive in My Computer, select Properties, and it's under the Tools tab. Just thought you'd like to know, even though these instructions aren't for Win2000.]


Why run Scandisk?

You should run Scandisk occasionally to free any lost space, and to check for cross-linked files. You can also do the surface scan to check for problems in the hard drive, but because that takes so long, most people only do this if they suspect a problem.


What is Defrag?

When Win98 (or DOS) writes a file to the hard drive, it may either write over the existing data (if you're updating an existing file), or it will write blocks of data using whatever blocks are free for use. The free blocks may located anywhere on the hard drive. So a large program or file may wind up scattered all over the place. Hard drives can read adjacent blocks faster than they can read blocks that are scattered around. Defrag has two main functions, although they are very similar. One is to place each program or file so it occupies a contiguous section on the hard drive, which allows the program or file to be read into memory faster. The other is to arrange programs and files on the hard drive in groups based on their likelihood of being accessed or changed. For example, system program files may all be put in one area on the hard drive because they are unlikely to be changed. The idea is to keep the more volatile stuff in one area and the unchanging stuff in another.

Defrag does not change what data is on your hard drive, it only changes where on the hard drive it is physically located. Other than changing the speed at which your programs and files are accessed, it has no effect on your system. Unlike Scandisk, it will not solve or detect any problems. However, because defragging a drive that has cross-linked files or other problems could result in a major disaster, Defrag actually runs part of Scandisk before it begins moving any files. So if you haven't run Scandisk lately, Defrag may detect a problem when it runs Scandisk.


Why run Defrag?

You may want to run Defrag occasionally to speed up file/program access. You will get the most benefit from running Defrag after you install or update the operating system and/or one or more major programs. Once all the programs have been placed in contiguous areas, they will tend to stay contiguous until you reinstall or upgrade them, so there's little benefit to running Defrag frequently. This applies to data files that you reference without changing as well. On the other hand, data files that you frequently update (say, your Quicken files for example) can become fragmented as they are changed. This is especially true if you have several data files that get larger each time you change them. Running Defrag again can improve access time to those files, so if this situation applies to you, you may want to run Defrag on a regular basis.


Why are these programs so hard to run that we need instructions?

Because they're written by Microsoft? Actually, the problem is that both these programs have to start over if any file is changed on your hard drive. And there are a lot of things that can change files. So the trick to running either program is to minimize activity on your computer while they run. Which is easier said than done.


OK, how do I go about it?

As mentioned above, you'll probably want to run Scandisk and perform the “standard test” (as opposed to the “surface test”) on a regular basis. Generally, it's a good idea to run the Scandisk “standard test” just prior to running Defrag as well, since although Defrag runs a portion of Scandisk it does not perform all the functions of Scandisk.

You can run either program by closing every window that's open on your system, then clicking on Start | Run, typing the name of the program (Scandisk or Defrag) in the text box, and clicking on OK. If that works for you, fine. Most likely, though, you'll have programs or processes running that you can't close simply by closing all open windows, and these will cause Scandisk or Defrag to repeatedly start over. There are two popular methods for getting around this.


Method One

1. Close everything on task bar and system tray. This can be done by right-clicking on the program name or icon in the task bar (the bar that contains Start) or in the system tray (usually a seemingly-indented area in the task bar opposite Start) and choosing Close or Exit or whatever has a make-this-go-away look to it.

2. Physically disconnect your Internet connection. If you have DSL or a cable modem, either turn off the modem or disconnect the wire between the modem and your computer (or between the modem and the wall jack). If you have dial-up, you probably don't need to disconnect it, but you can turn off an external modem or disconnect the phone cord if you wish.

3. Disable your anti-virus scanner, if that's easy.

4. To close everything else, hold down the Ctrl key and the Alt key, and press the Delete key (then release all three keys). [Often called the “three-fingered Gates salute”, although sometimes it seems like one finger would be more appropriate.] This will bring up the Task Manager (the window will be called Close Program). You close a program by clicking on its name to highlight it, and then clicking on End Task. Close all programs except for Explorer and Systray. When only Explorer and Systray remain, close the Task Manger by clicking on Cancel.

5. Now you can run Scandisk or Defrag (or both, but not at the same time!). Either: click on Start | Run, type Scandisk or Defrag in the text box, and click OK — or: click on Start | Programs | Accessories | System Tools, and then ScanDisk or Disk Defragmenter.

6. When finished, click on Start | Shut Down to shut your system down.

7. Reconnect or turn back on your Internet modem if you disconnected or turned it off in step 2.

8. When you boot your computer up again, remember to enable your anti-virus scanner if you disabled it in step 3.

9. Do the happy-dance now that your system is reinvigorated.


Method Two

1. Check to see if you have your desktop set for Auto Arrange (right-click an empty spot on the desktop, put the mouse over Arrange Icons, and see if there's a check-mark next to Auto Arrange). If Auto Arrange is on (the check-mark is present), turn it off.

2. If your system is on, click on Start | Shut Down to shut your system down.

3. Physically disconnect your Internet connection. If you have DSL or a cable modem, either turn off the modem or disconnect the wire between the modem and your computer (or between the modem and the wall jack). If you have dial-up, you probably don't need to disconnect it, but you can turn off an external modem or disconnect the phone cord if you wish.

4. Turn your system on, with your finger poised over the F8 key.

5. At the strategic moment, press the F8 key. It may take some experimentation to find the strategic moment for your particular computer. Generally, if you press it right after powering on, you'll get a “key stuck down” error — which is not what you want. Many systems show a message like “Press <some key> to enter setup”; if so, you definitely don't want to press F8 before this appears. On many systems, the strategic moment is immediately after the little “beep” sound it does during power-up. On some systems, the strategic moment is immediately after the Num Lock light comes on. Once you hit F8, you can keep hitting it a few times a second if that helps get it at the right moment.

6. “The Windows 98 Startup Menu” will appear. If it doesn't, you missed the strategic moment, shut down and go back to step 4.

7. Type 3 and press Enter to select “Safe mode” startup.

8. Now you can run Scandisk or Defrag (or both, but not at the same time!). Either: click on Start | Run, type Scandisk or Defrag in the text box, and click OK — or: click on Start | Programs | Accessories | System Tools, and then ScanDisk or Disk Defragmenter.

9. When finished, click on Start | Shut Down to shut your system down.

10. Reconnect or turn back on your Internet modem if you disconnected or turned it off in step 3.

11. If you turned off Auto Arrange in step 1, you can turn it back on next time you boot up.

12. Do the happy-dance now that your system is reinvigorated.
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