I don't think the screaming "sky
is falling" headlines represent what goes on. Certainly disaster
sells (with the exception of movies about large lizards), but the
prospects of your computer catching on fire from opening email are
The reality is, however, that we are using complex
machines with complex operating environments. Any time you bring
together a complex system, you introduce the possibility of failure.
Forget everything else: When you have so many moving parts you're
going to run the risk that one of them will fail. My saying is that
the question isn't "if" it's going to fail, it's "when" it'll fail.
This, of course, applies equally to your television or your car, but
since you usually use your computer to store fragile and valuable
information, a computer failure can cause more trauma than a broken
Outside of outright hardware failures, there are
other dangers to data. While they may always strike, there are steps
you can take to prevent them, foremost among them, disk hygiene.
Without a doubt, your hard disk can get confused.
Files are "stored" in two areas: a directory area that points to a
certain area of the disk and that certain area of the disk where the
information is stored. This method works well most of the time, but
when a problem occurs, the two elements can get out of sync,
resulting in "lost clusters," or areas in the data file that
couldn't be linked with an area allocated to them in the directory
area. In addition, it's possible for "cross linking" to occur when a
single data area is claimed by two different entries in the
Fortunately this isn't an uncommon problem. It's
been going on since the early days of PC operating systems and every
version of the operating system has come with a utility to correct
it. The current version of this utility is the SCANDISK program that
comes with every version of Windows.
Many user guides will suggest you run SCANDISK
once a month. This would be frequent enough in my book—if you used
your computer once a month! I firmly believe that the couple of
minutes you take to run SCANDISK each day are a good investment. It
doesn't matter if you run SCANDISK when you start your computer, in
the middle of the day (perhaps fire it up before taking a break), or
before you quit. The important factor is to check your disk status
each day and then on restart if your computer crashes and you're not
using a version of Windows (officially dubbed "OEMSR2") that
automatically runs SCANDISK after a crash.
Running SCANDISK is easy. You can set it up to run
automatically, but I find that often intrudes right in the middle of
doing work so I like to run it manually. You can create a shortcut
for it on your desktop or travel the
start/programs/accessories/system tools menu or just click start/run
and type in SCANDISK and that'll start it up.
If you have multiple drives, SCANDISK will ask you
for the drive letter of the drive to test. In addition it provides
options for the type of test, either "standard" or "thorough."
Unless you've run into a situation with disk errors the "standard"
option will suffice. The other option is "Automatically fix errors."
I don't recommend that option; you want to be in control of what
By far, the most common error SCANDISK will detect
are lost clusters, the situation where the "data" has become
disconnected from the directory. When SCANDISK detects this
condition it will ask you if you want to convert the data into a
file or discard it.
I recommend that you discard the data. You can
save it and view it in Notepad or your word processor, but my
experience is that it's rare that it will contain any usable data.
If you do select the save option be sure to delete the file after
you view it. The file (or files) will be saved to the top most
folder of your primary hard disk (usually C:\) with the filename
FILEnnnn.CHK where nnnn starts with 0001 and increments by one with
Running SCANDISK daily won't keep you from
experiencing the eventual disk crash, but until that day it will
keep your disk data in top condition and put your mind at ease that
you've done everything you can (you are taking backups now, aren't
you?) to keep your data loss to a minimum.
Tip of the
Want to know what's going on behind the scenes when Windows starts?
Hit the ESC key when the Windows "splash" screen appears and you'll
see the action.