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June 22, 1998

You can regain wasted hard disk space by using a secret switch found in Windows 98

This week we continue our series of helpful hints on installing Windows 98. If you don't yet have a copy of Windows 98, keep this column anyway -- you'll want to have it around when the time comes.

Last week's column dealt with a way to edit the Windows 98 Registry so that you can use the new Update Wizard regardless of whether you submit your name and address information to Microsoft through its Registration Wizard.

This week, we'll learn an undocumented feature that allows you to regain wasted harddisk space using Windows 98's 32-bit file allocation table (FAT-32) Drive Converter.

FAT-32 is a new, more efficient format for storing files on hard drives. The 32-bit FAT in Windows 98 can handle drive letters much larger than 2GB, which is the limit under the older FAT-16. Even better, a 1-byte file consumes only a single, 4KB cluster under FAT-32. Under FAT-16, the same small file consumes a 32KB cluster. (These figures assume you are using drives that are 1GB to 8GB in size.)

FAT-16 wastes so much hard disk space that you can expect to free as much as 25 percent of your hard drive by converting it to FAT-32, depending on your hard disk and file sizes.

FAT-32 was introduced by Microsoft in Windows 95B. But Windows 95B included no way to convert your hard disk from FAT-16 to FAT-32. If your hard drive wasn't formatted at the factory as FAT-32, you needed a third-party utility to make the conversion without losing your data.

Windows 98 corrects this limitation. The Drive Converter is reliable and can change your hard disk for you without any data loss. I recommend that you make the conversion to get the full benefits of Win98, as we'll discuss in future columns.

Windows 98 doesn't convert your disk automatically, however; you need to launch the process yourself. That's where Windows users may need help. It isn't exactly obvious how to launch the Drive Converter. And early users of Win98 have found that the converter will refuse to run if your hard drive has any bad sectors -- a common feature of many large hard disks.

Fortunately, there is an undocumented work-around. The following steps should work regardless of whether you have a few bad sectors.

  • Step 1. Before you run any utility that changes your hard drive, you should perform a full backup (or at least a backup of your important files). Seriously.

  • Step 2. To run the converter, click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Drive Converter. Once you start the process, it may take several hours to complete, so don't launch it just before you're supposed to print out a major presentation.

  • Step 3. If the converter refuses to run because it detects bad sectors, run Scandisk by clicking Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Scandisk. Select a "Thorough" scan and "Automatically Fix Errors." Use the defaults for all other choices.

  • Step 4. After Scandisk marks all bad sectors, you can run the Drive Converter from a DOS prompt with an undocumented switch. Click Start, Shut Down, MS-DOS Mode. Then type cvt x: /cvt32 where x: is the drive you wish to convert. The /cvt switch gives the converter your OK to proceed.

I'd like to thank reader Brian Wells for this information. He discovered it in a Microsoft course on upgrading to Windows 98 and will receive a free copy of Windows 98 Secrets for being the first to share it with me.

Thirty years of computing

I'm pleased to help InfoWorld celebrate 20 years of publication this year. This month also marks the seventh anniversary of my Window Manager column, which began in June 1991, and my 30th year as a computer programmer.

Thirty years ago, just after the invention of movable type, I began my first class in Fortran IV on an IBM mainframe.

There have been a lot of changes in computing since the 80-column keypunch that I typed my first chess program on. I'm looking forward to seeing the changes in the next 30 years.

Brian Livingston is the co-author of several best-selling Windows books, including the most recent Windows 95 Secrets (IDG Books). Send comments to Unfortunately, he cannot answer individual questions.

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