Understanding Computers
 
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In the same way that your home can become un-manageable with things scattered all over, your home computer hard drive can also get disorganized. When the Lego blocks are spread all over the house, it takes longer to build that plastic castle. Sometimes pieces even get lost.
In my home this is called "normal." In your computer, it's called "fragmentation." It is an unavoidable part of using your computer.
Computers store every single piece of data in files of one kind or another. Files are stored in the computer's hard drive in clusters. Clusters are actual physical locations on the hard drive.
Think of your hard drive as a large set of cubbyhole mailboxes. Each cluster is like one cubbyhole. Think of files as letters and parcels. The clusters are all the same size, but, the files, like letters and parcels, are all different sizes. When a file is too big to fit in a cluster, the computer just tears it into cluster-sized pieces and puts them into adjacent clusters. I used to do this when I was a letter carrier, but the customers complained too much. Computers get away with it because they can remember where all the pieces are and put them back together.
Almost everything you do on the computer changes one or more files. Adding or removing a program can change hundreds of files at a time. The computer puts the files in the first available clusters. Whenever you delete a file or remove an application those clusters are cleared out. Technically speaking, the clusters just get marked as empty, but that's another column.
Over time, you end up with a random mixture of full and empty clusters. Eventually, the empty clusters get farther apart from each other. The computer begins to "fragment" the files by scattering the files, and more importantly, the pieces of files, into whatever empty clusters it can find.
Your computer slows down as it takes longer and longer to find the pieces of files and re-assemble them. The hard drive works more but produces less. If one piece of a file gets lost, it can crash the whole system. Fortunately, this isn't the case with Canada Post.
You can clean up this mess using a defragmentation utility. In Windows parlance, you defrag the hard drive. The easiest way to defrag your hard drive is: click on the start button, select run, type the word defrag in the text box and press the ENTER key. From the list box (drop down menu) select: "All hard drives" and click OK.
Unfortunately, the defrag process can take hours. The Windows defrag utility is notoriously slow, though more recent versions have addressed this problem with varied success. Many commercial defrag utilities are available, most of which are more sophisticated than the Windows application.
Happily there are also many free defragmentation utilities available on the Internet.
  • Find out more about defragmentation utilities.
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