General Computer Maintenance: Data Storage

How you organize the data on your computer can be very important and warrants special attention. The two big reasons for this are: 1) it can impact your computer’s performance and 2) where you keep the data on your computer can determine if your data is being backed up or not. Here are some general tips for organizing the data on your computer.


Don’t Dump Files on the Desktop

It may seem like your Desktop is the easiest place to store your files, but this can cause some problems:

  • Your Desktop can quickly become cluttered and unmanageable leading to lost files and frustration.
  • If you have too many files and folders on your Desktop, when you go to add more the operating system (OS) will either save the file off the screen or stack it on top of another file, leading to the appearance that the file is lost.
  • The OS must render all of the visible icons on the Desktop almost all the time and having many of these can cause your computer to start up slower and run slower as more memory is consumed.

Knowing Your Backups

Not every file and folder on your computer is getting backed up by the backup software installed on it. It is important to know what is and what isn’t being backed up. Here is a list of common folders that are NOT backed up:

Macintosh/Windows

  • Movies/My Videos
  • Music/My Music
  • Applications/Program Files
  • Any folder titled “Do Not Backup” (any sub-folders under a folder with this title won’t be backed up either)
  • Any external drive (i.e. thumbdrives)

Some files are excluded based on file type regardless of where it is stored. Here is a list of file extensions (the letters after the period at the end of most file names) that are NOT backed up:

  • .gho
  • .iso
  • .vmdk
  • .dmg
  • .exe
  • .part
  • .tmp

Avoid storing data at the top level of your hard drive

On Windows computers the top level is the directory you first see when you go to My Computer and open the C:\ drive. For Macintosh computers this is the directory you first see when you double-click on the Macintosh HD icon on your Desktop.

Two reasons not to store data at the top level of your hard drive are:

  1. That directory is not backed up, and during the computer upgrade process (once every 3-4 years) the data in that location is not migrated to your new computer by default.
  2. Both Mac OS X and Windows don’t like data they aren’t expecting there (i.e. data other than what they put there) to be stored there. This can cause the OS to slow down and sometimes even crash if it runs into data at the top level that shouldn’t be there.

Data Storage Best Practices

In most cases you should store your data in your Documents/My Documents directory. The OS is expecting you to store most of your data there and our backup software backs up most of its contents. I would also recommend getting in the habit of creating folders and sub-folders that will allow you to easily organize and find your data. Here is an graphical representation of good data management using folders and sub-folders.