Accessing 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…
- a file will become bigger than the space available right next to it or
- 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.
You can launch Disk Defragmenter in three different ways:
- Go to Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter
- 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.
- 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.
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 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.
We have previously reviewed Defraggler here: Defraggler: Better Defragmentation Software For Windows
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.
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.
Looking for more ways to speed up your Windows computer? Check out the following material:
- Windows on Speed: Ultimate PC Acceleration Manual
- Speeding Up Windows 7: Everything You Need to Know
- A Spring Cleaning Checklist For Your PC Part 1: Hardware Cleaning
- A Spring Cleaning Checklist For Your PC Part 2: Delete Junk & Free Wasted Space
We also wrote specifically about hard drives:
- How Does A Hard Drive Work? [Technology Explained]
- 5 Signs Your Hard Drive Lifetime is Ending & What To Do
- Why It Is Impossible To Recover Data From An Overwritten Hard Drive [Technology Explained]
And here are some SSD-related resources:
- Should You Get A Solid State Drive (SSD)? [Opinion]
- How Do Solid-State Drives Work? [MakeUseOf Explains]
Do you regularly defragment your hard drive and have you ever seen significant improvements?
Image credits: Futuristic Human via Shutterstock