Rantz Hoseley has been working in the world of telling stories, through comics, prose, and videogames, for over 25 years working on brands such as Star Trek and Disney’s Aladdin. He’s currently forging new territories in the world of digital narratives with his company LongBox, Inc.
I’ve worked in the videogame and software development industry for 17 years now, and have been working with “high-end” computers in layout and graphics production for 5 years prior to that. This, in a nutshell, makes me the person that friends, in-laws, my kids’ teachers and random people ask about “How to fix their computer.” This plea for help is almost always prefaced with “I don’t know much about computers” or its companion statement, “I’m not interested in playing those Warcrafty games, I just want my system to not be so slow all the time.” I’ve explained many times to them, and now dear reader, to you, that there are some key steps that “gamers” use on running a smooth operating system that will ensure that even the most taxing of Excel spreadsheets will not bog down their system.
Russ Pitts has already covered some important information on keeping your PC “clean,” which can be found here (insert link), and if you haven’t already read them, I would urge you to do so. Go ahead, I’ll be here when you get back.
Now, let’s talk about Hard Drives, your Important Content, and You.
Russ already covered the technical benefits of SSD vs. disc drives, and the importance of making a copy of all your important files and preferences before inserting a new hard drive or reformatting your existing one, but (and I cannot emphasize this enough) having a constant, multi-computer accessible location for your critical files that does NOT reside on your computer’s HD can mean the difference between productivity and letting out a banshee-level wail of agony as you look for the nearest heavy object to smash your computer with. The frequent response to this is, “Well, I only have one computer, so I don’t need to have access to my files using a different machine.” The key to this is understanding, and preparing for the fact that computers (and their related components) break. All. The. Time. That TRS-37 Year-end report you’ve been slaving on for 2 months straight? The one that you’ve been working on the one computer you have? What happens if that computer’s HD fails? Or it becomes corrupted, and you have to reformat (at best) the entire thing? Luckily, there are a number of great (and, more importantly, very affordable options) to keep this from happening to you.
(And yes, I speak from experience here. Painful, sackcloth and ashes grief-type experience. Learn from my pain.)
When I first started working in the Software business, I discovered the “joy” of backups. This was back in 1994, and at the time doing an external backup of your files and content meant having a central server that accessed very expensive software on your computer at a designated time, taking over the machine to copy all of the content, and rendering the computer incapable of doing anything else for the next few hours while the backups occurred. Thankfully, we’ve moved past that. Any PC OS later than Windows XP has a “backup” utility built into it, which allows you to set up an external backup of designated files and directories at a specified time, to an external HD. Things to keep in mind when doing backups:
By having your files set in criteria-oriented directories, it makes the material not only easier to find when working on it, but also allows you the ability to easily replicate the structure on your external backup. My external backups look identical to my “D” drive, with directories for “Documents”, “Pictures”, “Entertainment”, and the like. This allows me to very easily set up an automatic back up (using the system tools) or to simply drag and drop the entire structure on to an external USB-attached HD.
Coming back to “D”. As mentioned earlier, all of my files, working material, and content is on “D”, not “C”. This is not a secondary HD that I have in my computer. Instead, it is a one terabyte HD that was partitioned into two sections when I did my install of Windows 7 Pro (although you can do the same with Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 Home as well, during install). “C” is 200 Gigs, and contains ONLY applications. The “D” partition, the remaining 800 Gigs, contains all of my files, documents and anything I am working on. Now, I know it is very tempting when you get that new 1 terabyte drive to look at it as “One terabyte! That is SO MANY LOLCat pictures I can save!”, but resist. If you want your system to run well, you must remember you do not have 1 terabyte of space.
Those 200 Gigs dedicated to the OS and applications isn’t just to make it easier to back up material I don’t want lost in case of a HW failure. It also ensures that I have “scratch disk” space (open, unallocated memory on disk) to allow the various applications to perform the tasks they need to, writing and deleting temporary data, without ever running up against the limitations imposed by having 100 Gigs of LOLCat pictures on the same partition or drive. Additionally, some applications such as Photoshop prefer to have a “secondary scratch disk” and will complain (as well as operate in a less-than-stellar manner) if you only have one drive or partition. This is because Photoshop (and many graphics and movie applications) need open HD to be able to run free and dance among the flowers. (Or, create the large temporary image files, which can take up multiple gigabytes of space very quickly)
Even with two partitions (or separate HDs), it is critical to the health and operation of your PC to not fill it up to the top. A good general rule of thumb is to a.) keep 25% of your “content” HD or Partition open at all times. And b.) “Defrag” your HD at least every three months using either the system defragmentation utility or a third party application such as Disk Keeper. The best analogy for this is that you can think of your computer as a restless sleeper, who tosses and turns frequently. The “tighter” the sheets the more constricted the sleeper is, and the more tangled up they become. By managing your content, and your HDs, your PC will be much more likely to “get a good night’s sleep.” Which means it won’t keep you up at night.