Enormous Files == Pure Evil

Video games these days have ballooned to what would have been, a few short years ago, downright mind-boggling sizes. Grand Theft Auto 4 takes up around sixteen gigabytes of space, for example – larger than the entire Half-Life series to date – and it’s not even close to the largest game out there. That wouldn’t be a problem, though, except that the trend for some time has been towards these games comprising only a relatively few actual files on the hard drive… files that are sometimes ridiculously enormous.

GTA IV has a couple files that are larger than a CD – more than 700MB; the largest is one of the audio files, at just under 1.5 gigabytes. It’s hardly the worst example I can come up with, either – if you happen to have the old classic Counter-Strike: Source installed on your PC, you’ve got three files between one and 1.7 gigs.

Why does this matter? Why am I bothered by this?

Because, in a nutshell, Windows can be amazingly stupid with regard to disk-space management, and my experience is that if you’ve got gigabyte-plus files heavily fragmented on a drive with less than a third of its space free, no amount of defragging is going to ever get them back together again. Sure, sure, there are ways around this, but they’re a fantastic pain in the butt.

My guess is that the reason game designers have gone to a small number of very enormous data files would be to actually improve performance by reducing drive seek times, and I’m sure this actually works as intended – up to a point; a single 100MB file producing better overall performance than twenty 5MB files, and so on. Once you start getting up beyond a few hundred megabytes, though, my gut feeling is that this approach has the potential to do more harm than good.

In an ideal world, we’d only ever fill our hard drives up to about 45% of capacity, and fragmentation wouldn’t be an issue. In the real world, data somehow expands to fill most of the available space, and never mind those dozens of gigabytes of contiguous, empty disk space, the operating system is going to scatter your big game or video files across a couple hundred blocks all over the disk. There’s no practical way to reduce the size of big ISO files, for example… but game designers are the only ones to blame for the huge data files they inflict on an unsuspecting public.

File fragmentation: it’s not just a bad idea, it’s Murphy’s law!

Published in: Geekiness, General | on July 6th, 2009| Comments Off on Enormous Files == Pure Evil

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