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Why should I defragment my hard drive?

By Liz Cornwell | August 16, 2010 |

greater than 3 minutes

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Defrags can be a pain in the neck! You have to find a time when your computer is on, but you aren’t using it; sometimes you have to free up disk space to be able to defragment, which means you need to save files to a removable drive. However, computer experts wouldn’t persist telling you that it needs to be done if it wasn’t so. In this article we are going to explain why it’s really important to defragment your hard drive and how often you should defrag to keep your files in order and not to damage your hard drive at the same time. Defragmenting your hard drives will also help you speed up computer performance.

What does defragging do?

To us, human beings, a file is something whole – a photo, a document, a song, or any other file. We would never-ever think of a file as of tiny little bits of information scattered all over the drive. But Windows thinks differently – to Windows a file is lots of small fragments that are kept in clusters on a hard drive. Windows knows exactly where each fragment is and which is the right order for reading them – that’s how you get your file as a whole. File fragmentation occurs when clusters of free disk space get reused over and over again when you delete old files and save new ones.

You might wonder why Windows goes through so much hassle whenever you open a file and why it doesn’t just put the files as whole blocks. The answer is pretty simple – because the system used by Windows is very space-efficient and doesn’t allow a single bit of hard drive space to be wasted.

The only downside of putting file fragments all over the drive is that the drive read head needs to do a lot of work to access all fragments of the file. As a result fragmented files can take quite a while to open.

Defragging is a simple process when file fragments are put together to speed up file access. File fragments are put together and quality defragmentation utilities also assemble the free space into a single block to prevent future fragmentation. That’s why you should defragment your hard drive on a regular basis.


Conflicting opinions about when to defragment your hard drive

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As with just about every issue in the world, there are differing opinions about running defragmentation programs on your computer. The main reasons against running defragmenters are:

  • If you defragment your hard drive too often you will shorten its lifespan because of the work it needs to do during a defrag process.
  • Files can become damaged during defragmentation (although this is rare).
  • There are few performance gains to be had if you defragment your hard drive more often than necessary.

A middle ground

Both sides of the argument have validity. So, it is both true that you need to defragment your hard drive, and true that doing so more than necessary could cause problems. Anyway, “how to make my computer faster” is something that all PC user are thinking about. Here are some points to keep in mind for optimal hard drive defragmentation:

  • Use a third-party defragmenter, such as Auslogics Disk Defrag, rather than the inbuilt Windows utility. It works much faster and more effectively, shortening the time that your hard drive is working at max capacity.
  • Let your level of computer usage guide the number of times per year that you defragment. If you create and delete a lot of files, if you spend a lot of time online, if you use resource-heavy programs, if you run a database server or a web server, or if you do a lot of video editing you’ll need to defragment more often.
  • If you have recently added more than one program, you may need to defrag.
  • Always defragment your hard drive properly – clean up any unwanted files first, run disk cleanup and Scandisk, make a system backup, and THEN run your defragmenter.
  • If you notice your computer becoming sluggish, running your defragmenter program should be one of the first corrective steps you take.

Yes, defragmenting is a pain – but because of the way computers are set up, it’s a job that won’t be going away any time soon. And there are plenty of tools and techniques you can use to ensure it goes safely, quickly and smoothly. Learn how to speed up your computer by using simple methods from our other articles.

Fed up with your slow PC? Tired of waiting for Windows to start up? Take a look at the most common reasons behind poor performance and the best ways to deal with them here.


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