Call me old-fashioned, but I like to know when my hard drive is active.
That's partly so I know when Windows has more or less finished its boot activity (which, on one aging machine, takes 7-8 minutes), and partly so I can troubleshoot problems.
For example, if my mouse is suddenly non-responsive, I can check to see if there's still drive activity--and know whether or not I need to force a shutdown.
In the old days, I could hear a drive thrashing inside my desktop. Indeed, that was one sure-fire way to diagnose the insidious "click of death." But now that I'm mostly on laptops, which incorporate much quieter drives (or, in the case of SSDs, totally silent drives), I have to rely on LEDs.
Just one problem: They're an endangered species. On my last laptop, an HP Pavilion dm1z, there was a tiny white drive-status LED--but it was inconveniently located on the side of the system, meaning I had to crane my head way over to see if it was flashing.
On my newer Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook, there's no LED at all. And because it has an SSD, I can't even listen for cues. Put simply, there's no way to know if and when there's drive activity.
Thankfully, I found Activity Indicator. True to its name, this freeware utility adds a simple drive-activity "LED" to the Windows System Tray, thus allowing you to keep tabs on your drive's read/write doings.
This is a surprisingly versatile little tool. For starters, in addition to providing basic drive info (total space, space consumed, etc.), it can save a customizable log of all disk activity, which might prove helpful if you're trying to troubleshoot a problem. In fact, you can review that log right inside the program's settings window, saving it to a file only as needed.
Activity Indicator also provides 18 different icon sets to show drive activity/inactivity, everything from a simple LED-style rectangle (in your choice of six colors) to a little Geiger counter-style meter.
You can even configure it to interact with various keyboard LEDs (if your system has them), lighting up, say, the NumLock key whenever there's drive activity. However, when I tried this on my Samsung, pairing it with the CapsLock key, it triggered the actual Caps Lock every time there was activity. That made for interesting typing. (I had to disable that option, natch.)
To make the most of Activity Indicator, you'll need to do two things. First, modify your System Tray so the indicator stays visible at all times. (Specifically, set it to "Show icon and notifications.")
Second, because the utility lacks a "run at startup" option, you'll have to load it manually each time you start Windows--or not, if you add it to your Startup folder. (In a future post I'll explain how Windows 8 users can do that.)
Even with that minor annoyance, Activity Indicator is a handy little problem-solver.
Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at email@example.com, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.