Upgrading Ubuntu from 17.04 to 17.10

In June of 2017 I upgraded my Ubuntu 16.10 (Yakkety Yak) LTS install to Ubuntu 17.04 (Zesty Zapus). In October of 2017 Ubuntu released 17.10. (Artful Aardvark). I had not needed to upgrade my Ubuntu 17.04 installation for a while, but I felt it was best to keep it up-to-date. I was also experiencing issues with it from day-to-day. I decided an upgrade might work to fix some of the issues I was having.

Continue reading…

Checking Disks in Linux

To provide a little background: a few months back I accidentally washed a 32 GB flash drive. I waited a few weeks for it to completely dry out and then did not use it for almost four months. I formatted it recently in Windows and it did not seem to exhibit any issues, but I wanted to know with more assurance that it was reliable. Continue reading…

How to Speed Up a Slow External Drive

Old, spinning disk drive, inside.

Problem

A while back a user reached out to me describing a problem of slow access to an external, bus-powered hard drive they had purchased only half a year ago. They said it was a USB 3.0 hard drive and they had also made sure to plug the drive into a USB 3.0 compatible port on their recently purchased laptop. The user also mentioned that the anti-virus solution they were using had unusually long scan times, sometimes running for over 10 hours.

They also described an issue of not being able to properly eject this same external hard drive after using it at the end of the day, but that was a separate issue that will also be covered.

Troubleshooting Methodology

After gaining remote access to this system, so I could see what they were seeing, I checked the configuration of the laptop. They were right, the laptop was powerful with a nice quad-core Intel process, 8 GB of RAM, and a SSD hard drive. But, all of this had little to do with why this external hard drive enclosure, which was a spinning disk, was performing poorly. I loaded the contents of the drive in Windows File Explorer and found multiple folders at the root of the drive. The user began navigating into the the folders and subfolders to find some files they were having issues working with. We navigated down five and six levels deep, and at each level I saw many other folders within each directory. I thought I had spotted the first issue, an index that was far too large to be accessed quickly.

Navigating back out to the root of the external drive, I checked the properties of the folder in which we had just explored and found that while it was not large in size, it had tens of thousands of files and folders within the folder. We checked a few more folders together at the root of the drive and they were the same way, tens of thousands of files and folders within each one. I explained that the drive was formatted as NTFS and that this type of file system kept a Master File Table which was basically an index of every folder and file on the disk. As this Master File Table became larger and larger as times went on, it can also became fragmented. This fragmentation could drastically slowdown the load times of folders and files within folders, because the actuator that controlled the read/write heads would have to constantly bounce around the disk to enumerate the files and folders with all their attributes within a specified directory.

Resolution

We set about resolving this issue by lowering the overall number of files and folders on the disk. We used an application called 7-Zip to compress one of the folders at the root of the external drive and then deleted the original folder from the drive. This lowered the number of entires in the Master File Table, increasing performance almost immediately. Since the user had mentioned that they were seeing incredibly long scan times with their anti-virus solution, I also recommended we password protect the zipped files, which would keep their anti-virus solution from being able to scan the contents of the file.

Over the course of a few days the user managed to compress and password protect many unused folders at the root of the external drive. They reported back much faster performance of the external drive and the anti-virus scans were no longer taking unacceptable periods of time to complete.

Bonus: Cannot Safely Eject External Drive

We had one last issue to tackle. The user was still having an issue ejecting the disk safely after each use. We plugged in the external drive and were immediately able to safely eject the external drive. We systematically opened files on the external drive with each application they used to perform their work, saved the file, and then tried to eject the drive. Everything went smoothly until the user opened an AutoCAD application file, saved the file, and exited the program. The drive would no longer safely eject. We closed a “helper” program for AutoCAD we found in Task Manager and the drive safely ejected. I showed the user this workaround method and also mentioned that a reboot would allow them to safely eject the drive, too.

 

New Upcoming Feature in Windows: Controlled Folder Access and More…

Controlled Folder Access Dialog

This fall, just a few short months from the time of this writing, Microsoft will be releasing a minor update to follow the most recent Windows 10 Creators Update from earlier this year. It will include some new features, including a few that revolve around their built-in Windows Defender suite. With these changes to Windows Defender, Microsoft hopes to make their latest operating system more resistant to ransomware attacks which have become prolific over the last several years.

One of the features coming with the update is called Controlled Folder Access. Microsoft touts the feature as a direct response to ransomware. It will work via a whitelist approach, with Windows Defender only granting certain applications the privilege to access the data of a protected user account; otherwise, the application is not allowed to read, write, or modify any data a user might own such as documents, pictures, or videos.

The default folder list includes Documents, Pictures, Movies, and Desktop and are hard-coded into the feature with no option for removal, but additional folders can be added manually through the Windows Defender Security Center. There will also be an option to add custom software to the whitelist, but Microsoft states that most software should already be pre-whitelisted. If an application is not whitelisted and attempts to alter data within a protected folder it will be automatically blacklisted and the user will be notified. Although this feature has many benefits, Microsoft will have the feature disabled by default. It can also be enabled in the Windows Defender Security Center under Virus & threat protection settings, as seen below.

How to enable Controlled Folder Access in Windows Defender Security Center Diagram

Controlled Folder Access settings window, courtesy of Microsoft Blog.

Other features coming with the Fall Creators Update include a Cloud Clipboard which will allow copy and pasting between multiple Windows 10 devices; a Timeline feature, which will be similar to the app switcher found on many mobile phone operating systems; Pick Up Where You Left Off, which will be an application synchronization service that developers can use much like the Cloud Clipboard; and OneDrive Files On-Demand, which will allow access to files, even if they are only stored in the cloud and not locally.

Windows 10 is also getting a design language refresh. Microsoft is moving away from the Metro UI to offer a more consistent, depth-enabled interface with lighting and motion effects. It is being likened to Google’s own Material Design. Overall, a welcome change, but one that may be more resource demanding.

Will you be upgrading? What feature do you look forward to most? Leave a comment below!