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Issue #204: June 19, 2011

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Q: I have Vista OS and the hard drive is divided into “C” and “D”.  It appears that Vista sends any file I make to “D” drive as backup. The “D” drive is almost full and I would like to delete those backup files. The following is what appears when I click on “D” partition: [Recovery partition Warning! This area of your hard drive (or partition) contains files used for your PC Recovery. Do not delete or alter these files. Any change to this partition could prevent recovery later.]

I was taught to never save documents to my hard drive permanently. I only save files temporarily and then transfer the files to CD or flash drives.  Why can I not delete those files on “D” drive?

– Sarah N.
Fort Walton Beach, Fla

A: You are being misled, Sarah.  It is my pleasure to try and help correct that.  I think you are drawing an incorrect conclusion from the information your computer is presenting.  It appears to me that because it says that the files on D: are used “for your PC Recovery” that you think it is copying every file you make over there.  I assure you that it is NOT.  What it means is that the computer manufacturer has reserved some disk space in which it maintains copies of files used to repair your operating system if that should become necessary.  The reason it appears the drive is almost full is because the manufacturer only reserved the amount of space necessary to hold these files.  If you look at how much free space the drive has, then create some files on the C: drive, and look again, you’ll find that the amount of free space on D: has not changed.  I’ve had mixed luck with actually using these recovery partitions.  In your case, I imagine you get a little prompt during your computer’s power-up that says something like “Press ‘R’ to start Recovery”.  If you do that, the system goes to this reserved area and depending on how your PC’s manufacturer implemented their flavor of PC Recovery; it might do anything from repairing damaged operating system files to wiping your C: drive and completely restoring it to the state it was in when you first removed your computer from the box.  But this partition does not, and cannot repair or restore files that you created.

I’m curious why anyone would teach you that you should never save files to your hard drive.  As I said in last week’s column, the hard drive is where you store programs when they aren’t running, AND the data files that programs create.  The only thing I can think is that the person who taught you that was worried about you losing your files as a result of a hard disk failure.  Ironically, both CDs and flash drives are less reliable than a hard drive for long-term storage — their only advantage is portability.  I’m going to re-teach you, and say you go right ahead and store all the files to your hard drive that you want, with the caveat that you be aware that eventually, your hard drive WILL wear out and fail.  This is not a “maybe” it is a “will” – it WILL happen, it’s just a question of when. So, long before then, you need to have backed-up your critical files.  The problem is trying to guess when “then” will happen.  Hard drive manufacturers gauge the life of their products using a “mean-time-between-failure” or MBTF that ranges from hundreds of thousands of hours to over a million hours.  A 2007 study by Carnegie Mellon University concluded that their numbers are wildly optimistic, and drives fail at a rate 15 times higher than manufacturer estimates.  Other real-world tests showed a consistent average failure of about six years.  My point is, you need to back-up your data.  Use the hard drive, but also have a good back-up plan that will protect you from the inevitable.  And hands-off the files in the recovery partition.  They’re for the PC to use.

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