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Ask HTG: Vanishing Battery Meters, Repairing VirtualBox, and Spinning Down Hard Drives

Every week we dip into our mailbag to answer your pressing tech questions. This week we’re finding your lost battery meter, repairing your broken VirtualBox install, and how and why you’d want to spin down your hard drives.

Replacing Your Missing Battery Meter

Dear How-To Geek,

At some point in the past month the battery meter vanished from the system tray on my Windows 7 laptop. I’ve hunted for a way to turn it back on but I’ve had no luck! On every laptop I’ve ever owned the meter has just been there. This is the first time I’ve had to actually locate the setting and turn it on.

Sincerely,
Missing Meter in Mississippi

The culprit is almost always a disconnection between how the computer sees the battery state and how the battery state actually is. To test whether or not your Windows 7 laptop is detecting the battery properly, navigate to Control Panel -> All Control Panel Items -> Notification Area Icons. Look for the Power entry. If by some random chance it got turned off by accident, it will say Off but you will be able to toggle it back on. If it says Off but the toggle is grayed out and you cannot change it you need to turn your computer off, physically remove the laptop battery, insert the battery again, and then reboot. The battery icon should reappear automatically (if not, return to the Notification section and toggle it back on).

Repairing Your VirtualBox Hard Drives After an Improper Move

Dear How-To Geek,

Last week I decided to move my VirtualBox hard drives from a small internal drive to a bigger one I had just installed. I thought I was being really clever moving the VDI and associated files and then editing the XML file in the VirtualBox folder. I tried just copying all the files back and returning the XML file to it’s prior state but now VirtualBox insists all the drives are missing. How can I get my VirtualBox drives operational again?

Sincerely,
VirtualBoxing in Vermont

It sounds like what happened was that you fired up VirtualBox after the improper move/edit and it freaked out because it had two virtual hard drives with identical IDs (the original VDI which no longer existed and the new VDI). Here’s what you need to do to get things back in order. First read our tutorial to properly moving VirtualBox disks. It will show you the proper way to move them in the future and get you up to speed on a lot of the terms related to moving drives.

Once you’ve read over it, fire up VirtualBox. Per your letter you’ve put the VDI files back where they were originally and edited the XML file to match. Thus getting things back in order is pretty straight forward. In VirtualBox navigate to File -> Virtual Media Manager. Within Virtual Media Manager click Add. Navigate to your VDI file and add the image. Go back to the main GUI. Right click on the Virtual Machine you wish to repair and click Settings. In the settings select Hard Disks and then click Add. Select the same VDI you added in the Virtual Media Manager. Click OK and restart your virtual machine to access the new (technically the old) image file.

Understanding Hard Drive Spin Downs

There's an option in the Windows 7 dialog preferences that allows my hard drive to spin down after a determined amount of inactivity time on my computer. My question is, is this in anyway beneficial performance-wise or could it shorten my HDD's lifespan?

Also, by enabling this feature, does it mean ALL my disks (internal AND external drives) will be forced to spin down?

If in fact, spinning down my hard drive doesn't shorten its lifespan and doesn't cause any major decrease in performance, how do I enable this feature effectively and is there a way to select which disks will benefit from this?

If not, please, tell me there's a way to disable this completely, as I'm a heavy user of my internal HDD and I'm afraid I've worn it out quite a lot in the last 2 years with constant formats, installs and data intensive tasks.

Sincerely,
Hard Driving in Hanover

Dear Hard Driving,

First, don’t stress about the situation. Hard drives are durable and designed to operate for thousands and thousands of hours in machines that aren’t being tended by hardware experts.

Second, whether or not you choose to spin down the drive is dependent on quite a few factors and involves trade offs at every step. The most power intensive activity the drive undertakes is spinning up (once the drive is spun up it’s largely an effortless affair to keep the drive spinning on its bearings). The spin up is also the time when the drive is most prone to failure. We’re talking statistically prone here, not cross your fingers and pray every time you boot the computer prone–don’t worry! Alternatively you can never spin the drives down and they’ll be spinning at their full RPM from the first spin up until the computer powers down.

Windows doesn’t allow for drive-by-drive customization of drive idle and spin down characteristics, unfortunately. None the less you can safely set all drives to spin down after X number of minutes of activity without much worry. On a Windows 7 system in frequent use in our office, for example, we have the drives set to spin down after 30 minutes of inactivity. The OS drive is never idle for 30 minutes and so it never spins down. The machine has three additional drives inside. One is a scratch disk and is accessed enough during the workday that it also never spins down. The last two drives are data storage drives that spin down whenever they aren’t actively being written to (no applications run off these disks and only when reading or writing data that is effectively in “deep storage” are they active). It’s a good compromise because we save money and decrease the temperature inside the case by not running those two storage drives all the time but the OS and scratch disks stay active. You can change the settings by navigating to Control Panel -> System and Security -> Power Options -> Edit Plan Settings. Go to Advanced Power Settings -> Hard Disk and set the spin down time there (or change it to never if you’d prefer to keep things spinning at all times).

All of that said, don’t stress about it. You’re not drastically altering the lifespan of your drives by tweaking things in one direction or the other. Make sure your data is backed up and save electricity by spinning down those secondary disks.


Have a question? Shoot us an email at ask@howtogeek.com and we’ll do our best to answer it.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 07/11/11

Comments (17)

  1. Demonkunga

    Does this setting for spinning down drives in Win7 work for external USB hard drives, too? What about Solid State Drives (internal)?

  2. afuhnk

    SSDs do not spin at all.

  3. Juergen

    SSDs do noy spin, therefor they can not spin down.USB drives are essentially the same as internal HDs. So they can be spun down.

  4. Demonkunga

    Okay awesome. :) Thank you.

  5. trashmem

    @ Juergen “Huh” USB does not have any spinning parts. I think you may have overlooked that one.

  6. RacerMaster

    @ Juergen: USB external hard drives are just hard drives with a USB interface. USB flash drives are not the same as a USB external hard drive.

  7. Pezo

    In my experience, Windows does not spin down external USB hard drives, at least not in the cases I have used. Although using the same case with eSATA, the disks get spun down indeed.

  8. jimmyTheSnake

    For those still on XP, I recently found an app called HotSwap! By Kazuyuki Nakayama that will spin down and safely eject your eSata drives.

    It appears as a red version of the Safely Remove Hardware icon in the system tray. Just click, and select the drive.

  9. brojer

    Most enclosures for external USB HD have a switch to turn off. Jimmy; Do you have a link for Hot Swap?

  10. Les

    This is the link for HotSwap http://mt-naka.com/hotswap/index_enu.htm

  11. Lady Fitzgerald

    My WD external drive has an app for spinning down the drive. I’m also interested in a linlk for Hot Swap.

  12. Bessie Ball

    I paid $32.67 for a XBOX 360 and my mom got a 17 inch Toshiba laptop for $94.83 being delivered to our house tomorrow by FedEX. I will never again pay expensive retail prices at stores. I even sold a 46 inch HDTV to my boss for $650 and it only cost me $52.78 to get. Here is the website we using to get all this stuff, BidsGe t.com

  13. jimmyTheSnake

    HotSwap! Can be found here:
    http://mt-naka.com/hotswap/index_enu.htm

    I didn’t like the sound my eSata drive made when I simply turned it off without ‘ejecting’ it first. I wondered where the heads ended up on the disk when you just cut the power to the drive.

  14. Ushindi

    @Jason:

    Ms. Bessie Ball is attempting a little spam for one of those sleazy bidding sites.

    Otherwise, thanks for the article – it was interesting.

  15. nonosh

    I believe in a net benefit from spinning down “deep storage” hard drives. Recalling my past experience with failed internal & external hard drives, the majority of failures were due to heat. Only once did I see a hard drive fail from improper spins.

  16. Ian

    Referring to the missing battery meter, you wrote a previous article entitled “Fix for When Clock, Volume, Power or Network Icons are Missing and Grayed Out in Windows Vista” on 5/1/08, and this is always the solution that works for me when those particular notifications act up. If the icon is “grayed out” this is the fix I have to use.

  17. richdf

    @jimmyTheSnake:

    Loving the posts requesting the link to Hotswap! Good of you to come back to them, but it’s a shame some people cannot be bothered to even consider looking themselves:

    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=+HotSwap!+By+Kazuyuki+Nakayama

    :-)

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