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

By Jason Fitzpatrick on July 11th, 2011

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

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 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.

  • Published 07/11/11
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