Ask How-To Geek: Allocation Sizes, Tweaking the Right-Click Context Menu, Changing the Taskbar Color

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You’ve got questions and we’ve got answers. This week we take a look at understanding allocation sizes, tweaking your right-click context menu, and changing the taskbar color.

Understanding Allocation Sizes

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Dear How-To Geek,

While formatting some USB flash drives, I was prompted to select an allocation size. What is this? What should I set it to and should I change it from the default in the first place?

Sincerely,

Staring at the Format Window

Dear Staring,

The allocation size refers to the size of the data clusters you’re instructing your operating system to use. Think of data clusters like a baskets on a shelf. When you need to put data away, you pull off a basket and put it in. The smaller the baskets the smaller the little bundles of data you can store in each one. The larger the basket the larger the bundles of data. The size of the shelf itself is what determines how much total data you store, but the size of the baskets on it (the cluster size) determines how efficiently that data is stored. If, for example, you have one tiny little left over piece of something you need to store, that item is going to get a whole big basket all by itself. Having smaller baskets decreases that wasted space and packs in the data chunks (big and small) into the space you have more effectively.

Now how does this apply to your flash drive? The benefit of having larger clusters is reduced seek time. This really only helps with traditional hard drives as you want to minimize the times the head needs to move across the drive. Flash drives (and Solid State Drives) have nearly instant seek time. Increasing the cluster size to decrease the seek time doesn’t benefit you, it just makes your storage more inefficient. Because the flash drive affords you nearly instant seeking, you want to select the smallest allocation size possible in order to maximize your storage efficiency.

Tweaking the Right-Click Context Menu

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Dear How-To Geek,

Is there any way to customize the right-click context menu in Windows so that I can select a folder I want to copy the highlighted files to?  The default options are pretty useless to me. I just want to be able to selectively copy files!

Sincerely,

Right-Click Rage

Dear Right-Click Rage,

We understand your frustration. You can add in the functionality you seek can be added with a simple registry hack. Check out our guide to adding a customizable copy/move menu to the Windows 7/Vista right-click context menu here. Now you can stop waiting around for Microsoft to finally include this simple function.

Changing the Windows Taskbar Color

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Dear How-To Geek,

I have a really simple request. I want to change the color of the Windows taskbar but I don’t want to install bloated add-ons or special programs for doing any sort of interface tweaking. I just want to change the taskbar and leave everything else about the Windows Aero interface the same. What can I do?

Sincerely,

Task Bar Tweaker

Dear Task Bar,

What you’re asking for is actually super simple to accomplish, assuming you’re willing to get your hands dirty in an image editing application and approach the problem in a unique way. Rather than try to change the color of the taskbar from within the Areo settings, we’re just going to create a wallpaper with a colored band at the bottom that shines through the color you want. Check out our round-about but clever solution here.


Have a question you want to put before the How-To Geek staff? Shoot us an email at ask@howtogeek.com and then keep an eye out for a solution in the Ask How-To Geek column.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.