Windows users are often told to defragment the disk drive to speed up their PC. This was once true, but is it still true today? Do you still need to defrag the disk? Will your PC run any faster?
Is defragging dead?
The answer to the question in the headline depends on the type of drive in your computer. Solid state disks (SSDs) are becoming increasingly popular and these do not need defragmenting.
In fact, defragmenting is actually bad for them. The reason is that they are only good for a certain number of write operations. A defragmenter produces a lot of write operations when it runs and the drive will reach the end of its life sooner.
An SSD has no physical moving parts and so fetching data from widely separated areas of the storage is just as fast as fetching data from adjacent parts. Consequently, there is no benefit to defragging an SSD.
Don’t do it!
Any decent disk defragmenter should detect the presence of an SSD and not defrag it anyway.
Why you should defrag your disk
Old style mechanical disk drives are cheaper than SSDs and have a high storage capacity for the price, so they are built into many PCs in order to keep the cost down. The chances are that your PC has a mechanical disk.
A file can become fragmented and split into several parts. These can be stored in areas of the disk that are widely separated. When a fragmented file is accessed, the disk must physcally move the read/write head around in order to fetch each part, and this takes longer than if the file was stored in one piece.
Everyone with a mechanical disk drive should defragment the disk. Modern drives are much faster than they were 10 or 15 years ago, so the benefits are not as great as they used to be, but there are still noticeable speed improvements to be had.
Defragging is automatic, so forget it
For several versions Windows has had a built in disk defragmenter that runs in the background and quietly defrags the disk without you knowing, and without you having to do anything.
Disk defragmenting is automatic and is built into Windows. You don’t need to manually run a disk defragmenter and you don’t need to stop using the PC while the disk defragmenter does its work.
You won’t notice it running because it runs when the PC is idle.
Disk Defragmenter runs on a schedule and it is normally triggered once a week. You can check the schedule by opening the program.
It is on the Start menu and in Windows 10 expand Windows Administrative Tools and then click Defragment and Optimise Drives. In Windows 7 go to Start, All Programs, Accessors, System Tools, Disk Defragmenter.
At the bottom of the window in the Scheduled optimisation section it should say that it is On and that Drives are being optimised automatically. The Frequency is set to Weekly, but if you want to defrag more often, click the Change button and select Daily in the list.
You can also select a disk and click Optimise to defragment it immediately.
Alternative disk defragmenters
Windows Disk Defragmenter is not the best that is possible and there are alternative defragmenters that can improve upon it.
The benefits are much less than they used to be before Windows started automatically defragmenting the disk, but if you want to squeeze every last drop of performance out of a drive, they are worth using.
IObit Smart Defrag
Smart Defrag is a free app and it is an excellent disk defragmenter. You can turn off Windows built in tool and use this one instead.
The disk can be analysed to see the degree of fragmentation, and there is a choice of defrag methods - fast defrag, defrag and optimise, large files defrag, free space defrag, and the best, but slowest method, defrag and prioritise files.
Some files are always in use when Windows is running, but there is a boot time defrag option that runs the app the next time the PC is started. It defrags those files before Windows runs. It adds a minute or two to the startup time, but you don’t need to run it very often.
Defragmenting is automatic in the paid Pro version, but you can schedule defrags in the free version, which is almost as good. This app is recommended.
Piriform is best known for the Ccleaner cleanup utility, but the company has a great disk defragmenter called Defraggler too. It is available in free and paid Pro versions.
A drive can be analysed to see the level of defragmentation and there is a nice display that shows a fragmentation map, a pie chart showing used and free space, and a brief text report showing the number of fragments, percentage fragmentation and so on.
There are quick and normal defrag options. However, the File List tab in the lower half of the screen lists fragmented files and they can be sorted by fragments, size, or last used date. You can then select files to be defragmented.
This is great for defragging your most used files or most fragmented. By selecting just the files that need defragmenting the most, the task can be reduced to a couple of minutes. This app is recommended and the free version is pretty good.
Ultra Defra is an open source free disk defragmenter that is worth considering. The interface does not look as attractive as Smart Defrag or Defraggler, but the app can analyse a disk and show a defragmentation map.
You can choose Defragment, Quick Optimisation, Full Optimisation, or Optimise MFT (Master File Table, a key part of the filing system). The disk can also be defragged on boot up before Windows starts so that files that are normally in use can be defragged.
When defragging, files can be sorted by different attributes, such as by size, last access time, creation date and so on. This is interesting and putting recently accessed files first could provide speed benefits.
O&O Defrag 20
O&O Defrag is a commercial application and for your money, you get more features. For example, the defragger can place files in zones, so frequently accessed files come first where they are quick to access and rarely used files are put furthest away.
It has automatic background defragmentation and multiple drives can be defragmented simultaneously. That is useful if you have external disks that need optimising.
The app has a built in disk cleaner, so junk files can be removed automatically before defragging. It also recognises SSDs and optimises them (it does not defrag them, it uses a special command for SSDs to tune them). It can erase the free space on a disk for security so that no-one can recover deleted files.
O&O Defrag costs UK £19.99, but discounts are sometimes available and there is a free trial.
Do you need to defrag?
So what is the answer to the question posed at the start? If you have a solid state drive then you definitely do not need to defragment it.
If you have a mechanical disk then you don't need to defrag it because Windows will do it automatically. However, you might be able to get a tiny bit more performance from the drive if you use an alternative defragmenting tool.