Double your Hard Drive 

See below for pictures of one of the first hard drives

 I'm going to suggest a simple way of doubling your hard drive space, at least if your computer was originally set up by a major manufacturer... I'm afraid that unless your computer isn't in this category your only option might be to go and buy another hard drive...sorry.

The trick is possible because most manufacturers split your hard drive into two main partitions, allocating the operating system to Drive C and data to Drive D. Maybe this is to save your data such as photographs if your hard disk crashes? Alas, many hard disk crashes will lose both C and D, and if only C is lost it might cost a small fortune for the stuff on D to be recovered so I'd advocate backing up photos on an external drive, a large memory stick or DVDs.

It's a fact that most computer users haven't a clue about Drive D. Most of the computers that pass through my hands have a pretty full Drive C and a virtually empty Drive D. So how about just merging the two and benefiting from a larger Drive C?

Firstly you need to determine your operating system. If you're using Vista or later then all you need are built in tools. Just a handful of mouse clicks and you've doubled the size of Drive C. Do not read further if you're not computer literate, because if you bash on with limited experience you might come a cropper. Read on if you're familiar with computers and want to give a friend's computer (or a customer's computer; if you're into that stuff) an extra lease of life. For earlier systems like XP you'll need a proprietary application.

When Drive C gets full and it's already been cleaned up just add Drive D to it and you're good for another couple of years.

The next step is to see exactly what's on Drive D. If it's been used for storing stuff you'll need to back this up, but I'll describe a typical example I fixed today. Drive D was almost empty. It had some strange backed up information residing in two areas, one area was dated 2011 and the other 2012 (it's now well into 2015) so whatever was backed up was way out of date and possibly was the work of a now defunct program. If you're unsure just copy the data and keep it safe. To be certain you get it all you'll need to view hidden files and save these as well.

If you right click My Computer (or its newer name) and select Manage, then Disk Management, you should see the hard disks. Windows normally grabs a smallish area for admin called "System Reserved" or suchlike and it won't have a drive letter... Leave this alone. Drive C will have a name such as "System" and have appended descriptions such as "Boot", "Healthy", "Primary Partition" etc. Note an important point here. Some computers will have a different letter for their primary partition. There was a time when the installation of a new operating system tripped over devices such as camera card slots. For some odd reason one of these may have been given the letter "C" forcing the operating system to be allocated "H" or something different. This is fairly rare but did happen sometimes... just a warning and I'll assume your computer is normal and uses "C" for the operating system.

Some manufacturers use an area of the hard drive for restoring a crashed operating system and this is often given a drive letter. Unless you'd like to pinch this area to add to C this isn't the main object. If you'd like to bag this area just treat it like D.

If you select and right click the area labelled "C" or "D" you'll see, amongst others, two options "Extend Volume" and "Shrink Volume". The latter will be valid but the former may be greyed out (ie. not valid)

The rule for extending a volume is that there must be unallocated space immediately next to it, so if you applied Shrink Volume to D you'll end up with unallocated space but this will be after Drive D not Drive C so you cannot use this for extending C.

Right, we're finished with preliminaries. Select "D" and just apply Delete, which is further down the list. So, having established that D has nothing of interest stored on it, delete D.

This will provide unallocated space next to C and this is what we're going to use to add to C. If you right click C you'll now see that not only Shrink is possible, but Extend Volume will no longer be greyed out. Just apply Extend, letting it use the default space and there you go... Drive C will be doubled in size. If C had been pretty full the computer will have been rattling away trying to make best use of what little space had been available, but now with acres of new free space it will be a lot quieter and the computer will be a lot faster.

Do you want your computer to go like a rocket? This is a simple step. Most proprietary computers when new will have been pretty quick, but as they get older they get full of rubbish which slows them down. Getting rid of the rubbish is an art but there's a simpler way to regain most of the original speed. The penalty is to stop Windows using its bells and whistles. All those daft features added by software boffins using mainframe computers that are (speedwise) streets ahead of normal everyday laptops. I counted twenty such bells and whistles on my Windows 7 computer. Stuff like "Enable transparent glass". I contend that transparent glass is worth kicking into touch if it meant a 5 minute wait while your computer turns off. A slight exaggeration of course because you can't blame transparent glass for everything... add the other 19 frills and you probably can though.

Just right click My Computer (or whatever fancy name Microsoft has changed this to) and select Properties. Click on Advanced Settings and you'll see Performance. Click on Settings and select "Adjust for best performance" and there you go... unless you really can't do without Transparent Glass in which case just tick this (or any other frill you can't do without) but the more bells and whistles you add the bigger the ball at the end of the chain....

Selecting programs, booting up and turning off should now be almost as good as when the computer was born.

While you're at it why not get rid of the rubbish installed by the manufacturer? Sony, for example is one of the offenders. I call the stuff they install "Scrap". "S" for Sony.... but Acer, HP and all the rest do much the same. I have a nagging feeling that Microsoft is now joining in with their Windows 10 (a tip here is to do a custom install). Also offending are printer suppliers. Get rid of anything dubious by uninstalling via Control Panel. Another tip is to use your eyes when adding new programs. Keep an eye on ticks in boxes otherwise you'll be inadvertently adding McAfee or all sorts of stuff you can do without. When you need a new program, say Google Chrome, make sure you get this from the real site not a look-alike which may give you Chrome but might also supply you with Adware or even a virus... Always think hard about clicking "Download" because the thing you wanted might have a small box to click and that larger box is the one paying the supplier that installs something really weird. I could go on but I'll end here.. but first take a look at one of the very first hard drives below.

 I've been repairing personal computers for many years now and before that I used to design computers. In those distant years no-one had heard of a personal computer, in fact when the size of a computer was measured in seven foot stove enamelled racks it was impossible to visualise anything much smaller.

We now take data storage for granted but if we go back to the earliest PCs one had to put up with floppy disks. These originally were around 8 inches in diameter but rapidly shrunk, first to 5.25 inches, then 3.5 inches where they stuck, but gradually allowing for more and more data storage. Eventually came the hard drive which used an electric motor turning at high speed, then the solid state drive which as I write this is rapidly replacing even the largest motor driven drives. Below is an example of one of the first hard drives, the Seagate ST406. When it first arrived on the PC scene it was a revelation but nowadays its 5Mbyte capacity seems ridiculously small.

To put its capacity into perspective an ordinary DVD costing just a few pence can store about 4.7GByte which is equivalent to about 940 Seagate ST406 drives. A Seagate ST406 would cost a PC user thousands of pounds, in fact you could have bought a decent sized house for the same money.

 This huge lump is a £2000, 5Mbyte hard drive using an interface which pre-dates even the IDE type


Toshiba Laptop

Before finishing this topic I'll mention a laptop computer which I repaired yesterday. A friend had bought a new satnav which required one to install the latest maps via a program to be run during the download process, from the manufacturer's website, on a PC. The Windows 7 Toshiba laptop had the usual 50:50 split of its hard drive for C and D, and the C drive was full. It had finally reached this state half way through the download with a "Disk Full" message so the new maps were out of reach. Apart from this the machine was running very slowly and the download had been left running all night before failing. I imagined just the one problem, that of a full boot drive, but this wasn't to be the case. During the day I moved files from C to D and achieved plenty of room for the new maps, however the computer was still desperately slow. I opened Task Manager and looked at the performance graphs. To my surprise the processor was running at 100% load. Not just occasionally but permanently 100%. The process involved was Svchost.exe (netsvcs) and after some detective work I discovered the Windows Update routine was stuck in an endless loop. The answer is to load update KB3138612, however this will not work unless you've previously intalled update KB3050265. It seems an earlier Microsoft update had a bug and is fixed only by these two updates. To get this far meant trawling through masses and masses of explanations, some backed up with pictures and complicated changes. None were valid, although some had stumbled on the root cause. Initially I'd tried the simple expedient of turning off the rogue process. That obviously worked, but as it was resurrected by the operating system not long after it had been stopped, the relief was only short-lived.

Having installed the two Microsoft updates and got the computer into a usable state it turned out to be quite fast. It had been dumped a couple of years earlier because it was so sluggish and had only been brought back to life because the new satnav needed it. In fact, with a new SSD it will be an excellent machine. During my investigation I discovered that the anti-virus was scheduled to run every day which of course didn't help.. speedwise. I turned this feature off. I wonder why some anti-virus vendors set a schedule like this as default? No wonder these programs get a bad name.

My biggest grouse.. gone are the good old days when only computer nerds used help forums. Nowadays one has to sift through endless rubbish to help solve problems!

 Acer Laptop

I've added this laptop repair because it might give some hope to those people regarding the prospect of lost data. I guess the laptop had failed because it had been dropped rather than the usual upgrade versus loss of battery power at some crucial moment.

Nothing would persuade the thing to boot up. I tried everything but the thing failed every attempt leaving me the sensible option of detaching the hard drive for analysis in another computer. Removing such a hard drive is usually easy, just a few screws and the thing is free. One then needs to connect it to a computer. My day-to-day machine has a built-in USB-connected slot in the front which allows me to just push a laptop SATA drive into place where it is recognised and generally becomes visible as Drive G, H or similar. My workshop computer is less formal and has a couple of cables emerging from the front.. a SATA data plug and a SATA power feed. This data plug is labelled in the BIOS as "hot plug" which means that the computer doesn't need to be rebooted for the drive to be recognised.

Initially I tried the drive on my main computer. It showed up in Windows Explorer as Drives G and H. When I opened Disk Management I could see a third partition as well. To help fault diagnosis I allocated a letter to this and it duly appeared as Drive I. Drive G (the laptop boot drive C) was "Raw" and I was prompted to format it before I could use it. Clearly this is not an ideal thing to do otherwise any data would be lost, or at least more tricky to extract later. Drive H was OK and was the laptop's data drive D carrying lots of photographs. At least these could be copied. Finally, Drive I was the "Recovery Partition" and carried I imagine, the original laptop operating system, drivers and the like. I turned my attention to Drive G. This was roughly 45% of the 256GByte laptop hard drive, or around 115GByte. Whatever I tried to do resulted in an error message such as failed checksum and a further suggestion to format it.

The solution I adopted was straightforward but needed to be done on my workshop computer. This uses a solid state hard drive, runs Windows 7 and was able to see the laptop drive in the same way as my main computer. I selected the laptop's boot drive, which showed up as E on the workshop computer, but still as "Raw" and selected Properties, Tools, then Repair but including attempted recovery of bad sectors. This option can be mighty slow. Every time a bad sector is accessed the test will try several times before making the decision that the sector is really bad. I think of what's going on as this... the laptop was dropped and the spinning hard drive ended up with gouges around its platters. A deep gouge will result in bad sectors but a graze at the start and end of a gouge may enable a damaged sector to be read on maybe a second or third attempt. I'm not going to tell you how many sectors there are on a typical hard drive, but it can be a very very large number. When the error checking tool was first written it would have taken a few hours to check a hard drive but, even with a lightning fast modern computer faced with checking a damaged laptop drive, it would take ages. In fact it took over 36 hours before the bad sectors had been identified. What was the result? Well, pretty good... I think something like 20MByte of bad sectors were recorded and kicked into touch. The drive suddenly appeared, not as "Raw" but, with two thirds used and a third free and I could access it and see lots of data. Before refitting it I ran CHKDSK which seemed happy enough, however the laptop wasn't at all happy with what remained and stubornly failed to repair its copy of Vista so I installed Windows 7 over the top of it. This worked a treat and placed everything that pre-existed into a folder which was accessible later. The next step was to delete the old Vista recovery partition and to add this to the boot drive partition. This more than made up the shortfall from bad sectors. Accessing the saved folder showed all the lost photographs still in their desktop folders that hadn't been moved to the data drive. I guess the moral is to have patience and always wait until a computer has finished what it's doing.

 A Windows XP Computer

The customer complained of intermittent Internet access. I'd first built this computer many many years ago and since then updated and upgraded it beyond recognition. It now sports a solid state drive and a large data drive, but still uses Windows XP. Recently, another old customer asked me to "downgrade" his machine. I'd first built it with XP but his son had updated it to Windows 7 then to Windows 10. He now wanted XP restored, which I did and now he's happy again. When I tried this latest computer it worked a treat and was full of all sorts of programs, clearly used daily by the owner. What shall I do? Shifting to Windows 7 was fraught with problems. I'd need to install lots of new programs and figure out how to move his email. Rather than to risk an upgrade I decided to try a dual boot system. This meant he still has access to his old repertoire of programs and email, but could sample Windows 7. The Internet access problems would either disappear or continue depending on exactly what they were.

The boot drive was a solid state drive of only 128GByte but very little was being used so I decided to turn it into two partitions each of about 60Gbytes. To do this meant installing a proprietary program to split the drive. Although Windows 7 has this feature, Windows XP does not. Once I'd split the SSD I installed Windows 7. Interestingly, although XP was 32 bit, I was able to add the 64 bit version of Win 7. This all worked well and the bootup screen has the option for both XP and 7. The customer can now decide which he prefers and if he wishes, can add his favourite programs. He can also check out his intermittent Internet problem to see if was due to XP or a line problem.


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