Here's the info you need to ensure long, safe, trouble-free computing whether you're starting the year with a brand-new PC, or with an older, used PC that's new to you.
Update: System Setup Secrets
Richard's right that we haven't specifically updated the classic System Setup Secrets For Windows XP article, but there's a very good reason: Many other articles have separately expanded on and enhanced the topics of the original article in far more depth than we could otherwise present in a single new article. In total, it amounts to an entire minilibrary of tips, techniques, and best-practice information on perfecting your PC setup:
In themselves, the above will go a long way to getting any PC in great shape, but there's more you can do, too, as Richard's other questions suggest.
With today's huge hard drives, it makes a lot of sense to partition a physical drive into two or more virtual drives, each with its own drive letter. That way, you can organize your files in a logical way instead of just tossing everything into a gigantic C: drive. It also simplifies backups, because your partitions can be sized to "fit" your backup method so you never have to face trying to back up the entire contents of, say, an 80-Gbyte hard drive. Instead, your backups can be smaller, faster, and far more conveniently sized.
Richard's suggested method of a three-way partition is a popular one; placing the operating system files on the C drive, the applications and data on D and everything else on E. But, as he says, there can be problems, not least of which is the inability to move installed files in a system that only ships with an all-or-nothing "Restore" CD, instead of program-by-program setup CDs.
I recommend a slightly different partitioning scheme: Rather than organizing files by type (operating system, app, miscellaneous ...) I suggest you organize them by backup priority. By placing files with similar backup priorities on the same logical drives; each logical drive can have its own backup set and schedule, which hugely simplifies backups--and restores! Most times, your most important, most-changeable files will go on the C: drive, so you can just focus on that for your day-to-day backups. All less-important files will go on other partitions--D:, E:, F:, and so on--where they're out of the way of the high-priority files.
In my systems, that means I use the C: drive for the operating system, for my most-important (or hardest-to-reinstall) apps and utilities, and for my most-current data files. The copy of XP Pro I'm using right now to write this article, for example, currently occupies about 5 Gbytes of an 8-Gbyte partition. This 5 Gbytes is a self-contained whole, comprising my essential, must-back-up user files, my operating system, and my most essential applications and utilities. I have many, many static files and less-essential stuff out of the way on other partitions, separate from the files that need regular and routine backup. Thus, in routine use, I can concentrate my backups just on the C: partition, and be well-protected against data loss. The rest of the drive--multiple dozens of gigabytes--does *not* need daily backup, and so doesn't get in the way.
So, the first step in partitioning your hard drive is to think about your files, and come up with an organizational plan that will work for you. In Richard's specific case, using the method I suggest--placing the operating system, essential software, and data files on C--also helps avoid problems with vendor-installed software that cannot be moved to another location on the drive: They can be left on C, where the vendor originally placed them. For more suggestions, see A More Rational Organization For Your Files
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