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Hard Disk Management in Windows XP- the Drive Context Menu

There are many features in Windows XP that may be familiar to those conversant with Windows NT/2000 systems but which will be foreign territory to those used to the 9X/Me family. One area with a number of new concepts is in the management of hard disks. In particular, use of the file system NTFS allows for a new array of tools and actions. Also, there is the new concept of “dynamic disks.” In this article, we will discuss some of these new aspects. On this page we look at the right-click context menu and the Properties Sheet.

The right-click context menu

Many of the actions and properties for hard disks can be reached by going to "My Computer" and right-clicking on the icon for a drive of interest. This opens a context menu as illustrated in Figure 1. Among the entries is "Format", which may on occasion be of concern, but most often the "Properties" entry will be where one is interested. Some of the most commonly used tools and features can be accessed here.
Figure 1. Right-click context menu for a hard drive

Context menu for hard disk

Properties sheet for hard drives

Click “Properties” and a sheet with a number of options will open. The sheet is similar to that for a FAT32 system but with an added tab “Quota”. Also at the bottom of the box for the “general” tab are two additional entries “Compress drive…” and “Allow Indexing…” (Figure 3). In NTFS systems a procedure for compressing files and folders to save space is available. In my opinion, today’s large hard drives make this less useful than it may have been once. Compression also slows down the computer. Indexing is for the purpose of keeping track of the files on the disk for search purposes. Many PC users prefer to turn this service off because it can result in unexpected disk activity and can sometimes slow down the machine. Unless you wish to do rather sophisticated searches, it probably isn't needed. This article explains how to turn it off. Note that the “General” tab shows a pie chart showing the used space on the drive just as in Windows 98/Me. Also the “Disk Cleanup” button is present as before. Use of this button is a convenient way to keep too many temporary files from accumulating and for emptying the Recycle Bin.

Figure 3. General tab of properties sheet for NTFS disk

The “Tools” tab contains error-checking and defragmentation tools (Figure 3). If it is installed, the dialog box also contains a back-up facility. Systems with the Home edition of XP may have to install the backup accessory separately. Whether it is FAT32 or NTFS that they are using in Windows XP, those who look for the disk utility Scandisk will find it missing. The disk error-checking procedure in Windows XP replaces it with Chkdsk, the same name (but different program) that was used for the old DOS utility. More details about Chkdsk are on another page.

Figure 3. Tools tab

Error-checking the disk is done by clicking “Check Now”. This will bring up the dialog shown in Figure 4. If either box in Figure 4 is checked, Chkdsk will not run until the next boot since it cannot fix errors while Windows is running. Otherwise, it will check but not repair any errors it finds.

Clicking "Defragment Now" in Figure 3 will run the defragmentation tool. This tool can also be accessed through the Run line or in other ways. The defragmentation procedure in XP is a little different from the version in Windows 9X/Me and is described in more detail on another page.

Figure 4. Running Chkdsk

If Backup is installed (by default in the Pro version but not in Home) clicking “Backup Now” in Figure 3 will open a wizard (Figure 5) which will take you through the steps for either a backup or a restore process.

Figure 5. Backup or Restore Wizard

The remaining tabs on the properties sheet are "Hardware", "Sharing" and "Quota". Normally, an average PC user would not be involved with these functions.  

Next: the Disk Management Console >>

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