Should I defrag my hard disk drive?

Everything you ever wanted to know about defragging disks

If your PC is performing well below par, then defragging your hard drive is certainly something you should consider. A successful defrag can potentially improve the overall speed and performance of your system, in addition to hardware longevity.

hard disk drive

The purpose of the defragmentation process is to correct the fragmentation of your hard drives data. The hard drive is basically the device that is used to store all your personal data. So when a user saves a file, that data is stored on a free location on the hard drive.

However, it’s not uncommon for files to be broken up into smaller pieces, for example when a user reopens a file and makes modifications to it, the resulting changes may prevent the file from fitting back into the same physical location. As a result, the computer will fragment the file and save it in several pieces in different locations across the hard drive.

Why Defrag Your Hard Drive?

A fragmented hard drive adversely affects system performance, which a defragmentation is designed to fix. A successful defrag could potentially optimise hard drive, RAM and OS performance.

A fragmented file slows down system performance, because of the additional resources required to locate and load those files. Applications will also take more time to load. The head, (which is a component inside the hard drive) may become stressed and worn out, as a result of the additional work it is required to do. Which is why, defragging your hard drive can potentially extend its life.

Once a hard drive starts to fragment, the process tends to fester, adversely affecting the speed in which common tasks are carried out. Opening, closing, modifying, installing and uninstalling applications also contribute to it.

How Does It Work?

The simplest way of describing it would be to say, a fragmented file is like a book with all its pages scattered around a home. When a hard drive is defragged, it’s the equivalent of all those pages being found and put back into the book in the appropriate order. The defragmentation process locates all of the files and stores them sequentially on the hard drive.

When Should You Defrag?

The defragmentation process can be very time consuming. The time it will take to defragment your hard drive, depends on a number of different factors, such as the size of your hard drive, the amount of system resources (RAM + swap file + processing power), and the number of files fragmented on the hard drive.

The best time to defrag your hard drive is when you’re not using it, for example, at night or during the early hours of the day. Closing all programs prior to running the defragmentation process, helps speed up the process.

Using an SSD Drive

If you have an SSD (Solid State Drive) installed inside your computer, then you should refrain from defragging your hard drive, this is to avoid any excess wear and tear on the drive. Fortunately, Windows 7 and 8 are already designed with this information and thus will automatically disable defrag on such drives.

If you’re running a much older operating system such as Windows Vista, then you will need to disable any scheduled defrags, for those using Windows XP with an SSD, my immediate recommendation would be to upgrade to at least Windows 7.

How to Defrag Your Hard Drive

To defrag your hard drive, you will need to use a specialised defragmentation tool. Fortunately, Microsoft Windows comes with its own preinstalled defrag tool. To use it, simply do the following:

  1. First, boot into your computer with the appropriate administrative privileges - an admin account, not a standard user.
  2. When the OS finishes loading up, click on Windows Key + R, then type dfrgui (Windows XP: dfrg.msc) and click on OK.

 Windows Disk Defragmenter

  1. This will load up Disk Defragmenter, from here click on one of your Drives, then click on Defragment Disk (Windows XP: Defragment].

 Windows Disk Defragmenter

Note: The Disk Defragmenter tool will indicate to you whether or not your hard drive(s) are heavily fragmented and in need of a defrag. However, this information can also be acquired by clicking on your drive, then Analyze Disk.

Using Windows 7/8/8.1/10

If you’re using one of the latest operating systems, such as Windows 7 and up, then your system will already be configured to run the Disk Defragmenter tool on a regular basis. You can check whether or not a schedule has been set on your computer by doing the following:

  1. First, follow steps 1 – 2 of How to Defrag Your Hard Drive.
  2. Once the Disk Defragmenter tool loads up, under Schedule, you should be able to see the time and day the program is configured to automatically run.

 Windows Disk Defragmenter

  1. Click on Configure Schedule, if you would like to change the time and day Disk Defragmenter runs.

 Windows Disk Defragmenter

Note: The primary drawback of the scheduler is that, if you turn your computer off immediately after each session of use, if you never leave your system in an idle state, then the disk defragmenter will never get a chance to run. So, for best practice purposes, you may want to check up every now and then, just to make sure the tool is actually being run.

Third-party defragmenter tools

This article would lose all credibility if I didn’t spend at least some time mentioning the various third-party disk defragmenter tools out there. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to determine whether or not they actually perform better than Microsoft’s built-in tool.

However, from personal experience, I can confirm that the commercial disk defragmenter tools do tend to work a little better, they also tend to come with additional features, such as SMART defrag, boot-time defrag, registry defrag and boot speed optimisation.

You will find that they tend to be a little more efficient and proficient at defragging hard drives, making them worthwhile alternatives.

However, one thing many computer pros tend to refrain from saying is that over the years, hard drives have become increasingly more proficient at both reading and writing data; this in turn as decreased the effectiveness disk defragmenter has on the system.

Hard drives of old need only be partially fragmented to adversely affect system performance, but nowadays, a hard drive needs to be heavily fragmented before the performance decrease becomes noticeable.

Another important factor is the fact that hard drives today are considerably larger in volume, which means files are less likely to become fragmented due to available free space.

With that said, if you would like to ensure your system is always performing optimally then I’d have to recommend a third-party disk defragmenter tool, over Microsoft, or if you have the money, you should take it one step further and purchase an SSD.


About the author: Uchenna Ani-Okoye is a former IT Manager who now runs his own computer support website. Find solutions to a plethora of computer problems on his site here: www.compuchenna.co.uk



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