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Issue #738: September 12-18, 2021

Q: I recently added a hard drive to a refurbished computer. The drive had Windows 10 on it and was working fine. The motherboard failed in the old computer. The drive works fine in the refurbished computer except for one annoying problem: at least twice a day, sometimes more, the drive goes through about 20 – 30 minutes of cycling itself. I can hear it “accessing” or “indexing”. It continues to function, but this is annoying. Any idea why it would do this?

– Larry T.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A:  Any idea?  Sure, I have any idea why, Larry.  The short answer is that in general, you cannot just replace the boot drive on a computer with one from another computer and expect it to work seamlessly.  Now, let’s discuss the long answer.

It’s important to understand that you didn’t just move a hard drive. The Windows configuration on that drive contained all the minute little details of the configuration of the old computer.  These data include drivers, and a huge amount of information on everything from the CPU and RAM to devices that were plugged into the old motherboard, both internally and externally.  It includes information on the system BIOS, and every chip on the motherboard.  This configuration is different for every model of computer.

Have you ever wondered why it takes Windows so long to perform an installation on a PC?  Part of it is because the installer is scanning the PC, identifying every chip and component it finds, obtaining drivers where necessary, and putting it all together into a customized operating system for that specific computer.  Moving the drive to a different PC is something akin to doing a personality transplant between two people.  Windows is capable of running the new system at a basic level, but it is configured and optimized for the old one.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that Windows popped up at least one, and possibly multiple notification boxes on the first boot to inform you that things weren’t quite right.  It then began the process of repairing the system to put in-place all the correct drivers, configurations, registry entries, and so forth that it requires to efficiently run all the hardware in the new system.  That process is non-trivial, involving a lot of what you described in your question: seemingly endless accessing of the hard drive, although I wouldn’t expect it to do it twice a day for 20 or 30 minutes.

This problem might have been avoided entirely if you had installed the hard drive as a secondary drive instead of as the primary.  It very likely would have installed as a data drive, and instead of being a boot device with a questionable Windows configuration, it would have been a drive D: with a folder named Windows that you could delete to recover the drive space.

It’s possible that Windows is working perfectly fine with the new drive, and the thrashing is being caused by something else.  For example, Windows periodically indexes files on a hard disk, and it could simply be updating its drive indices.  You can learn more about this function by pressing [WinKey]+S and entering “Indexing.”  Click on “Indexing Options” to bring up an applet of the same name.  You can view what areas of the drive Windows is indexing, and what data it’s gathering.  I don’t recommend making any changes, as Indexing is a feature designed to increase the efficiency of file accessing, and you can easily mess it up if you don’t know what you’re doing.

The last thing that I can think of is that it could be a virus scanner, or even some disk maintenance utility performing routine work on the drive.  This kind of work is supposed to be done in the background, preferably when you’re not using the computer.  However, if Windows is unable to find a time, but the task must be done, it’s going to do its best to work around you.  Hopefully the incessant drive accessing isn’t too terribly annoying.

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