Patrick Marshall answers your personal technology questions each week.

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Q: Scenario: You’re sitting at your desktop doing work of some sort. The disk light comes on and you can hear the disk drive going crazy. You may or may not be doing anything at that particular moment. (Yes, updates occur all the time, software calls home, etc.)

If I bring up Task Manager, whatever is running stops and the disk light goes out, so I can’t find out what was running.

I’ll be doing something (surfing, email, word processing, etc.) and my screen goes black and the disk drive goes crazy. A few seconds later, my screen comes back and everything is fine. I’ve looked online and all the explanations are for crashes, reboots, etc. This is neither.

I’m hoping there’s a log of some sort or a trace I can turn on that’ll allow me to track this using the clock time when this occurs.

— Jerry Kaleshefski

A: Curious. The next step for exploring events beyond the Task Manager — which reports what running programs and processes are consuming memory and accessing the CPU and the hard drive — is to go through Windows Event Viewer. To call up Event Viewer, go to the Control Panel and click on Administrative Tools, then select Event Viewer. It contains records of activities in five categories: Application, Security, Setup, System, Forwarded Events. I can’t, however, be very encouraging that you’ll be able to make sense out of what you find in those logs without taking a course in Windows programming.

It sounds to me like you’ve either got malware on that computer, a seriously misbehaving program or a malfunctioning drive. I recommend either taking the computer to a repair shop for diagnosis or reformatting the hard drive and reinstalling Windows and only the programs you want to use. If the problem persists, it’s most likely a hardware problem with that drive.


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Q: I have CC Cleaner and Defrag installed on my desktop and laptop. Is there any need or value in using Windows’ Disk Cleanup also?

— John Reeves

A: It depends. Among other tools, CC Cleaner offers the primary functionality of the Windows Disk Cleanup utility — that of helping you to delete storage-consuming but unneeded files. You certainly have nothing to lose by running Disk Cleanup and seeing what files CC Cleaner may have overlooked that you can dispose of.


Q: In a recent column you mentioned “I’ll order third-party cartridges.” What are third-party cartridges? Oh, and yes, we throw away our cartridges because there is no convenient place to take them.

— Danny, Anacortes

A: Third-party cartridges are ones that are manufactured by a company other than the printer manufacturer. You can generally find such third-party cartridges at a significant discount compared to those offered by the printer manufacturer.

Be aware, however, that printer manufacturers often warn that third-party cartridges may not offer the same performance as their own cartridges. That is, they may not deliver as true colors or may not last as long. In my experience, though, I’ve never had a problem printing with third-party cartridges.

That said, when printing high-quality images on my Epson P-800 printer I stick to Epson ink cartridges, which promise to resist fading and discoloration.

As for tossing those empty cartridges, by the way, why not just save them until you have a bagful and take them to Office Depot for recycling?