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October 19, 1998

SpinRite may be the solution to problems converting to FAT-32

I've recommended for several months now that people who have upgraded to Windows 98 should also convert their hard drives to the 32-bit file allocation table, or FAT-32, format. If your hard drive is 8GB or smaller, FAT-32 can give you back 20 percent to 25 percent of your space, which the older FAT file system wastes.

Another benefit occurs when you run the Disk Defragmenter in Win98 after converting to FAT-32. The defragmenter writes your applications back to your disk in the order in which the applications load their files. This can make some applications load in half the time. As of Win98's release, only Microsoft applications benefited from this, but other developers are expected to take advantage of this feature soon.

There are two cases in which you shouldn't convert. The first is if you have a hard drive that is compressed with Microsoft DriveSpace. FAT-32 isn't yet compatible with DriveSpace. The other case is if you have a laptop computer that uses a hibernate feature. Some laptops won't resume properly if the boot drive uses FAT-32. The Win98 FAT-32 converter warns you if it finds these cases.

You run the FAT-32 converter by clicking Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Drive Converter. One significant problem with switching to FAT-32 is that the Win98 converter won't run if you have disk errors on a hard drive. Because many hard drives have disk errors when they ship or develop disk errors during their lifetime, many Win98 users can't get the benefits of FAT-32.

I printed in my June 22 column a suggestion from a reader for a work-around. (See "You can regain wasted hard disk space by using a secret switch found in Windows 98.") If the FAT-32 converter won't run because of disk errors, you can run Scandisk from Windows or a DOS prompt with the "fix errors" option enabled. After this, you can run the FAT-32 converter from a DOS prompt with the command CVT X:/CVT32, where X: is the name of the drive you wish to convert. The /CVT32 switch is an undocumented feature that allows the converter to run in DOS mode.

Unfortunately, Scandisk doesn't fix many types of drive errors that may hamper the conversion to FAT-32. My Windows 98 Secrets co-author, Davis Straub, found an answer to this in SpinRite 5.0 by Steve Gibson.

Gibson, who wrote a popular column for InfoWorld for several years in the early '90s, is the president of the Gibson Research, in Laguna Hills, Calif. SpinRite 5.0 is the company's best-known product.

Running SpinRite not only corrects bad sectors on your hard drive, it can detect a drive that is getting close to a failure and warn you before it is too late to save your data.

SpinRite corrects many problems that Scandisk cannot. Tip: You should configure SpinRite to run at Level 5, the strongest level, rather than the default Level 4. Level 5 tests sectors of your hard drive and can recover sectors that had been previously marked as "bad" (usually by replacing them with good, spare sectors). You can then run Win98's FAT-32 converter in Windows or in DOS.

SpinRite is available at or by calling (949) 348-7100. SpinRite 5.0 costs $89 for new owners or $39 for owners of SpinRite 3.1 or SpinRite 4.0. SpinRite 5.0 does not analyze Windows NT disks formatted as NT File System (NTFS), but drives formatted as FAT or FAT-32 can be repaired by SpinRite and then reformatted as NTFS.

Brian Livingston's latest book is Windows 98 Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to He regrets that he cannot answer individual questions.

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