It took a lot of effort, and trying different combinations of parms over the course of a couple of weeks, but I'm happy now that I'm done.
Maybe you can make your hard disk happier. Some suggestions, from stuff I learned.
Note: this is for Windows systems only, and probably a lot of this stuff only works for EIDE/ATA disks. If you don't know what kind of disk you have, it's probably EIDE/ATA.
Download WinTune from http://wintune.winmag.com/. This is a utility which will test your hard disk -- and graphics systems and memory -- and create an html file that you can then upload to the WinTune site, which will compare it against those of people with similar systems, so you can tell whether you're getting the same performance as everyone else. When I did this, I found I was getting only 1/2 to 2/3 the hard disk performance of others with similar systems. Eek! (Most other scores, such as CPU, floating point, graphics, and memory access were about average.)
If you run WinTune and find your hard disk performance is fine, stop.
If your performance sux0rs, try this:
1. Make sure your HD has DMA enabled. This is a check-off box in Control Panel->System->Device Manager->Disk Drives->(whatever your hard disk is called)->Settings. For that matter, make sure your CD-ROM also has DMA enabled.
2. Run Sysedit from the Run command. Check the system.ini file. There should be a section that looks this:
'NNNNN' is a number. Make sure these numbers are the same, and that they are 1/4 of your total system RAM, and a multiple of 1024. For example, I have 256 meg of RAM, so my NNNNN is 65536. I think this step was the most important one for me in improving hard disk performance. Before doing this, NNNNN had been set at 16384, which is far too low.
3. Don't let Windows double buffer. Look for a file called 'msdos.sys' in your boot drive root directory. For most of you this will be C:\. This is a read-only file, and you will have to change its attributes: right click on it, pick properties, and un-check the Read Only box. Now edit it. If there is a line that reads DoubleBuffer=N, make sure the 'N' is 0. Save the file, close it, make it read-only again.
4. Make sure you are using 32-bit file access. Go to Control Panel->System->Performance. The entries for 'File System' and 'Virtual Memory' should be '32-bit'. If not, fix them. For the file system, this involves converting your HD to FAT-32. Back up your important file first.
5. Virtual memory. Go to Control Panel->System->Performance->Virtual Memory. Probably the most reliable option is to select the radio button marked 'Let Windows manage my virtual memory settings'. It's been said that you can speed up virtual memory by picking an appropriate number under 'Let me specify my own virtual memory settings.', and setting both 'Minimum' and 'Maximum' to this number. This is supposed to prevent Windows from having to waste time expanding and contracting virtual memory as it needs more or less. I tried this, and it actually produced (slightly) worse hard disk scores, so I'm using the first option. ABUNAI! If you set virtual memory yourself, and pick too low a number, you can make Windows unable to run at all! ^_^;; I did this once, and had to run in Safe Mode to fix things. That was annoying. Be careful.
6. Go to Control Panel->System->Performance->File System->Hard Disk. If you have a desktop system, most people find the best setting for 'Typical Role of this computer' is not 'Desktop computer', but 'Network server'. Apparently the 'Desktop computer' setting allocates too little memory for file activities. (But why would anyone use a Win98 box as a network server, anyway?) I wish Microsoft would actually tell the user what these settings do, instead of providing only these silly meaningless labels.
7. Go to Control Panel->System->Performance->File System->Hard Disk. I find that setting 'Read-ahead optimization' to 'None' actually produces better scores than setting it to 'Full'. You should probably try it both ways yourself, and run WinTune to see which is actually faster for you.
8. Maybe Genesis One's DataQuick hard disk performance tool will help. You can find it at http://www.genesis-one.com/. It seems to help me a good bit. You can download it for a 7 day trial for free. Be sure to Run msconfig to turn off the annoying nag screen that will come up every time you boot, telling you to buy it. It supposed to stop working after 7 days. It costs $19.95 to buy, not a bad deal. However: ABUNAI! The webpage says that after you order, you will get an e-mail confirming your order. I never did, and have received no information about how to convert the trial version to a permanent version. I worry that the company may be out of business. I'm going to e-mail them and find out what the score is, and I'll post the result here. In the meantime, I suggest you do not send them your credit card number (as I did ^_^;;). BTW, this is a reputable company, Dell used to use their product routinely.
That's it. Good luck!