3 Excellent Defrag Utilities & Why You Still Need to Defragment In 2012

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defrag utilityAccessing files from the hard drive is a speed limiting step in operating a computer. Hard drives used to be a major bottle neck and fragmentation of data slowed them down even further. With the New Technology File System (NTFS), terabyte sized hard drives, and solid state drives setting new standards, fragmentation has become a non-issue and defrag utilities are almost obsolete. Almost!

If you are sporting a traditional (non-flash) hard drive that is nearing its storage capacity and/or is heavily fragmented, chances are defragging will significantly speed up your system. Read on to find out when you should defragment and what tools you can use.

Why Is Fragmentation Still An Issue

Regardless of which file system you are using or how big your hard drive is, fragmentation will happen. The more files you edit, delete, and write to your hard drive, the higher the chances that…

  1. a file will become bigger than the space available right next to it or
  2. a file will be too big to be stored in one piece anywhere on the hard drive.

In either of these situations, Windows will store the file in separate locations, i.e. in fragments. The more often this happens, the more fragmented your hard drive will become and the longer it will take Windows to open affected files. Hence, defragging can improve system speed.

When Should I Defrag My Hard Drive

You should defragment your hard drive if it is more than 5-10% fragmented.

Note that I am speaking of a magnetic hard drive (HDD). If you own a flash-based solid state drive (SSD), you should never defragment! Here are 3 Top Tips To Maintain Performance & Extend The Life Of Your SSD. Want to know more about SSDs? See our resources below.

Defrag Utilities for Windows

Windows Disk Defragmenter

For most people, the default Windows Disk Defragmenter will do a decent enough job. It will tell you how fragmented your hard drive is, it can defrag, you can configure a schedule, and you don’t have to install a third party application.

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You can launch Disk Defragmenter in three different ways:

  1. Go to Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter
  2. Go to Computer, right-click on your hard drive or a partition, select Properties, switch to Tools tab and click Defragment now… This will launch Disk Defragmenter and not start defragging right away.
  3. Click the key combination [WINDOWS] + [R] to launch the Run window. Type dfrgui and hit Enter.

Before you can defrag your hard drive or a partition, you need to select it and click Analyze disk to find out how fragmented it is.

defrag utility

The default Windows Defragmenter has some limitations. For example it has a very limited interface, you cannot control how many resources are allocated to the defragmentation process, and it does not access all files.

Defraggler

Defraggler is made by the same people who also created CCleaner. In addition to a drive fragmentation map, it offers a list of fragmented files and health data for your hard drive. You can choose to defragment selected files or search for files according to custom parameters. Interestingly, Defraggler sees a much higher fragmentation than Windows Disk Defragmenter, possibly because it evaluates more files than the Windows tool.

defrag utility free

We have previously reviewed Defraggler here: Defraggler: Better Defragmentation Software For Windows

Auslogics Disk Defrag Free

Auslogics Disk Defrag has an interface similar to Defraggler. The free utility not only defragments your entire drive or single files, it can also optimize your file system by placing system files to the faster part of your drive.

This tool saw a fragmentation of 8%, compared to 4% of the Windows tool and 21% of Defraggler. However, it saw slightly more defragmented files than Defraggler (1,867 vs. 1,820), meaning the main difference in the absolute percentage lies in the calculation, not necessarily in the amount of files scanned.

defrag utility

We had a Giveaway of the pro version earlier this year, which was accompanies by a more in-depth review, which also highlights the differences of the free and the paid version: Optimize Your Disk Performance With Auslogics Disk Defrag Pro [Giveaway]

When you install Auslogics Disk Defrag, be sure to deselect the optional Ask toolbar and homepage. When you launch the program for the first time, it will automatically analyze your system health, i.e. registry errors and junk files. Note that the aim of this feature is to make you download additional software, the tool itself cannot fix these (non-) issues. I recently wrote an article on why registry cleaning won’t make Windows faster.

Additional Reading

Looking for more ways to speed up your Windows computer? Check out the following material:

We also wrote specifically about hard drives:

And here are some SSD-related resources:

Do you regularly defragment your hard drive and have you ever seen significant improvements?

Image credits: Futuristic Human via Shutterstock

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Comments (38)
  • Jim Spencer

    Good Article, I use Defraggler and have for some time! It is fast, simple to use and of course free! Smart Defrag is an alternative, and can be run from a USB flash drive!

  • Tina

    Not sure for HDDs. Possibly yes, since the head doesn’t need to move around so much to read a single file. Or maybe not, as the head has to move around a ton to re-write defragmented files.

    For SSDs it does the opposite – it shortens the lifetime of the drive. Do not defragment SSDs!

  • James Edington

    Hmm, this should really mention something about how Linux systems don’t need to be defragmented.
    When I was a Noob, I completely panicked at the fact that Ubuntu didn’t come with a defrag utility. It wasn’t until later that I realized that the EXT4 filesystem sort of self-defrags.

    You may “Still Need to Defragment in 2012,” but not if you’re using Linux.

    • Tina Sieber

      Definitely a good point, James.

      I guess my ignorance results from the fact that – like the majority of computer users and our readers – I mainly use Windows.

      Anyhow, that’s what comments are for. One author can not know it all. So thank you very much for your contribution!

      Also see Robert’s comment above. Amazing information!

  • Robert Backlund

    Tina, what exactly did you mean when making the statement that fragmentation happens regardless of what file system you used? If you were only thinking of Windows file systems, FAT 32 or NTFS then I would have to agree. I personally feel that the reason you experience so many issues with this when running a Windows OS’s is because of a fundamentally failed approach to OS design as well as inferior file system design. I normally run Linux and have yet to find a defrag utility for the many file systems available for use with Linux. The only times I run Windowzzzzzzzzzzz’s is to play games and my home theater PC so I can play commercial blu ray movies without hassle. For everything else I find Linux to be superior and the best thing is it is free with most software to also be free, another major positive is that when running Linux I am not forced to pay what I refer to as an ongoing yearly Windows tax and that is having to purchase anti virus software. There is anti virus software for Linux but at this point is only really needed if the Linux box is acting as a mail server for a Windows environment. Here is a really interesting article dealing with this for Linux. http://www.ghacks.net/2010/06/07/does-linux-need-to-be-defragd/
    Just some food for thought. Most PC users out there are not even aware that there are alternatives for Windows and most do not need to constantly upgrade their hardware to be running a modern secure operating system. I invite all the Windows users out there to Google “Linux” and to check out the many different distros and download one of the live CD or DVD images, burn a copy of it to disk and reboot your system picking the optical drive as the boot drive, Linux will be read and loaded into memory and before long you will be presented with a very usable desktop all without touching any of the hard drives on your system and without affecting you Windows install. If you do not like it then simply reboot your system making sure that the disk is removed from your optical drive and your system will boot back into Window. However I suspect if given half a chance many will grow to like Linux and the modern versions are no more difficult to use than Windows just different.

    • Tina Sieber

      Robert,

      Yes, I am a Windows user and I wrote this article with Windows in mind. File systems, however, are used on any operating system and even on Linux you have to use FAT32 if you want your external hard drive to be compatible with a Mac or Windows system for example.

      To be honest, I don’t know about Linux file systems. But per my understanding of data storage and management, I don’t see how any file system could prevent fragmentation. What happens when you edit a file and it becomes larger, but there is no free space in its direct vicinity on the hard drive? Is the entire file moved? So does de-fragmentation happen on the spot?

      Of course, as someone else pointed out above, fragmentation is a non-issue when you have terabytes of storage space and never fully use it. But for many users, that is not the reality.

    • Robert Backlund

      Hi Tina,
      If you like learning new stuff and have a few extra minutes take the time to read the info in the link I put into my original post the article is not very long but informative. What determines a computer systems resilience to fragmentation is determined by two main things. It is controlled by file system design but also and mainly the design of the OS. Where and when it writes to the hard drive and also file permissions probably are the most important features that will determine how resilient it is to fragmentation. These things are core decisions the developers make about the very architecture and design of an OS and determine how susceptible it is to fragmentation issues. In Windows every program tries to write everything to the beginning of the hard drive including the OS (this is why the registry gets fragmented) so yes programs run out of contiguous space to write a file so it sticks it where ever it can. This is why you eventually get poor system performance and if not taken care of can actually be a cause of the dreaded BSOD that Windows is famous for because the OS or an application has a very difficult time finding a file that is being requested either by the user or more seriously an OS request. This is why I disagree with the point of view that fragmentation is not really relevant if you have terabytes of storage. IMHO fragmentation will always be an issue on any conventional hard drive when used under the Windows OS, the more free space you have may delay for a while the negative effects but not indefinitely. Linux on the other hand begins at the center of the disk and because of its use of a Swap space where it temporarily cashes things before writing them permanently to disk. Linux was derived from UNIX and its very architecture is not really a single user desktop OS but at its core like UNIX is a multi-user muliti-tasking OS. Every user is assigned a Home directory that is isolated from every other user but more importantly the core OS files, this is were all the work, downloads etc that the user preforms are stored and as a result is the only area that will become fragmented and even if it does it has no real impact on system performance because once the OS is installed its files are never moved so never become fragmented. To address your question about if de-fragmentation happen on the spot is yes sort of. Like I just mentioned all the user created files, downloads, web pages accessed etc all take place in that users Home directory. If you set up a Linux system correctly during installation one of the partitions that should be created is called SWAP and the size should be proportional to the hard drive size. Probably a few megs would be sufficient but since hard drive these days are huge I usually set my Swap partition to at least 2GB. SWAP under Linux is sort of like the Windows page file but much much better. In Windows if you run low on system ram to operate it then utilizes the page file as if it were an extension of system ram. SWAP will do the same thing if you run low on ram but it does much more, say you are working with a word processor that does periodic temp saves of a document you are working on all these temp saves are put into the SWAP partition and are not written to the regular drive space until a final file save occurs. I suppose another way to describe it would be that it is an extension of the HD cash.

      Also another very interesting read for you is about the ZFS http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZFS. Yes I agree that fragmentation issues can happen with most file systems however Fat and NTFS are the worst offenders and fragment very quickly in comparison to other file systems. The more I learn of the ZFS that was developed at Sun it appears that it is like a silver bullet that solves a lot of data storage issues. With respect to file system design ZFS is a truly revolutionary design. Its superiority really shines when used in a raid array because due to its design it is self healing and constantly on the lookout for data corruption and does a good job of preventing it from happening but since nothing is truly perfect if it detects corrupt data bits it is able to self heal it (if you are interested in exactly how do some Google searches about the ZFS) the how is too much info for this post. It also does the same thing with respect to fragmentation see http://www.datacenteracceleration.com/author.asp?section_id=2433&doc_id=253175
      Unfortunately due to licensing incompatibilities ZSF cannot be a part of the Linux kernel however because of its superior design and advantages it offers a lot of developers have been working on a workaround to enable the use of ZFS as your normal Linux file system. They just recently figured out how to load the ZFS using the fuse file system early enough in the boot process of Linux that the Linux OS can be installed on it and booted from a hard drive formatted using the ZFS. FUSE on Linux and I think on Mac OS X allows the use of a non native file system in user space, this is how Linux uses the NTFS file system and its implementation is robust enough to safely read and write to a NTFS formatted disk. A good use of this for me when I dual boot is with my choice of email clients. Because Linux can see and write to my Windows 7 install and Windows is not even aware that Linux exists I use the Thunderbird email client. The interface and how it works is identical under both OS’s and I have my default profile for both installs pointing to my profile on the Windows install of Thunderbird. That way all the email that I check and that is downloaded to my local system is put on the Windows profile so is readily accessible regardless of what OS I have booted into and I never experience email syncing issues between OS’s.
      Do not get me wrong I do not hate Windows, an OS is simply a tool, a piece of software that enables all the rest of your software tools to work with the hardware. I am however at a place now where Windows is too limiting for me personally. You are stuck only using their GUI, their file systems etc. All their talk at Microsoft about interoperability is nothing but smoke and mirrors, Windows works well if you are only using its file systems, it cannot see anything else. Linux on the other hand can probably see and work with every file system ever invented and most Linux distributions give the user at least 4 and some up to 8 choices of file systems out of the box more if you compile a custom kernel to format the install disk with. I use Linux most of the time for real work because you can tailor Linux so that it is optimized for the type of work you do and it starts by the choice of the file system you install during the install of the OS. If your work involves lots of small files then there are file systems that are really good at working with that and on the other hand say you do video work where you have lots of very large files then there are file systems that are better than others for this. At this stage the only reason I even boot into Windows is to play my many games on STEAM. I am on a medical retirement but when I can afford the hardware I plan on building a NAS for my home theater system using Free NAS or NAS for free (two similar but different projects) they both use FreeBSD OS that can use the ZFS natively. It can be a software raid but can also use hardware raid controllers. You can also easily set up the storage system to use LVM (logical volume manager), a volume in an LVM array can be a single hard drive or a raid array. The main advantage of using LVM is if you begin to run out of space it is very easy to add additional drives or raid arrays to the system. From what I have read it is superior to all previous raid setups because of the use of the ZFS and its unique capabilities. The best thing about it is that it is a free open source solution. I already have an older unused full tower server case that I will put an inexpensive mother board with lots of ram on it and when I can afford to buy enough hard drives I will build up a relativity inexpensive large capacity NAS array.
      If you have the time you might enjoy exploring the many other options that exist outside the Windows world. They do not need to replace the Windows OS but will certainly enhance your capabilities. There is also a very rich array of very useful cross platform applications that are open source and also free as in free beer. Photo editing, desktop publishing, drawing(similar to Corel Draw), web browsers (Fire Fox and Opera) video editing and 3D content creation and media players just to name a few categories and all have Linux, Mac OS X and Windows versions and most if not all function exactly the same regardless of OS. They usually have the UI tailored for each OS. Many people think that they have never used Linux however if you own an Android cell phone you use Linux every day. Android is nothing more than a Java over lay running on top of a customized Linux Kernel.
      Have a good day and thanks for your personalized feed back to many of the posters here.

    • Tina

      Thanks a lot for taking the time to explain all of this, Robert. That’s amazing!

      By the way, I am aware of all the free and partly open source alternatives to commercial software. I earn a living from writing about them. :)

  • Ron Cerojano™

    Auslogics Disk Defrag Free is good !

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.