Free Hard Drive Tune-up Tools

Category: Hard-Drives

Keeping your hard drive in tip-top shape is one of the best things you can do to maintain or improve the performance of any device that has a hard drive. When things go wrong, the source of the problem is often in the hard drive. Here are some of the most common tasks that must be done with hard drives and free software utilities that make them a breeze...

Tune Up Your Hard Drive With Free Software

Clean-up of unnecessary files and folders helps to keep your Master File Table nice and lean; with fewer files and folders to index, it’s easier for the system to find what it needs at any given moment. File inventory reporting utilities such as JDiskReport can find duplicate files so one can be deleted, or sort files in order of size to help you figure out where all that disk space is going. I use JDiskReport several times a year, and I always find gobs of files that can be deleted. Backups will also be faster if unnecessary files are eliminated. Another option is WinDirStat, if you prefer a tool that's not Java-based.

Optionally, clean-up can include deleting traces of your computing and online activity to preserve your privacy. In Windows, “recent files” history lists are kept by default, and every Web browser maintains histories of the URLs you have visited. If your computer is shared or you’re worried about spies, enabling this clean-up option will cover your tracks. Privazer is my favorite utility for clean-up and privacy purposes; it leaves a computer running like it’s fresh out of the box.

If you want to get rid of everything on a drive, in order to donate, sell, or safely dispose of it, try Eraser, a free utility for securely erasing data from a Windows hard drive. It works with all versions of Windows, from Windows 95 through Windows 10. Eraser has a simple name but it erases files completely in several complex ways. It's a good alternative to using a 16-lb steel sledge hammer and a drill (both of which I have gleefully employed on occasion).

Free Hard Drive tools

Defragmenting (defragging) and file optimization are related functions that keep data on your hard drive physically organized for the most efficient reading and writing. Generally, the less distance the drive’s read/write head has to move, the faster data will be read and written. Optimization finds the pieces of fragmented files on your hard drive, re-assembles them, and places the most frequently used files in places where they can be more efficiently accessed.

Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 10 include a defragger which runs automatically. But word on the street is that it's not exactly best of breed. I recommend Defraggler from Piriform, which can defrag entire hard drives, individual files and folders, or the free space on your drive. Defraggler will report on the health of your hard drive, and is SSD-compatible.

It's been widely reported that SSDs (solid state drives) should not be defragged, because they do not have mechanical moving parts accessing files on a spinning magnetic platter. The concern was that SSDs may wear out due to the high level of write activity that defrag operations require. However, Windows 8 and 10 both perform defrags on SSDs, and my understanding is that modern SSDs are not prone to wearing out like some older models did.

Data Recovery and Other Utilities

So-called “undelete” utilities can find and restore files even after the Recycle Bin has been emptied, or recover usable parts of files that have been partially overwritten. Undeletion is a simple example of “data recovery,” a term reserved for major catastrophes such as a hard drive that will not boot, or even one that has suffered physical damage. Recuva can find and undelete files on hard drives, SD cards, MP3 players, and other devices.

TestDisk is an open-source partition recovery tool intended for situations where a drive cannot be booted. Testdisk saved my bacon once when other tools reported zero files on my C: drive. It scanned the disk, found the partitions and file access table, and patched things back together.

Catching minor read/write errors and “weak spots” on a hard drive before they turn into major disasters is the province of error-checking and testing software. Early warnings of such flaws include a hard drive the “takes forever” to open or close a file, and an unusually hard-working cooling fan that is trying to chill the drive motor. HD Tune is a free utility that checks for errors, measures drive performance, securely erases data, and much more.

A good benchmark utility can tell you how well your drive performs compared to its factory specs, or even against drives of identical make and model in use on other computers worldwide. Running benchmarks before and after maintenance chores can show how well a maintenance tool does its job. Novabench has been the leading free benchmark package since 2007.

Dividing one physical drive into two or more logical drives (denoted by letters, i. e. C:, D:, etc.) is called drive partitioning. One use for partitions is to install all of your application software on one partition and use the other to hold ever-changing data. Some users swear by this approach, but I find it simpler to put everything in one large partition. Of course, there's an exception. If you want to run two different operating systems on one computer, each will need its own drive partition. Paragon Partition Manager Free is a well-established, reliable partitioning tool.

Disk cloning is the process of making an exact, bit-by-bit copy of everything on a hard drive, including hidden system files, boot records, and all else. You should be able to swap a cloned drive for its original and never see any difference. Cloning is a straightforward backup strategy used by many home and business users. Macrium Reflect Free is a popular cloning utility. It also does disk imaging, which stores the entire or selected contents of a disk in a compressed file that cannot be booted, as a cloned drive can, but is easier to maintain for incremental backups.

How many of these tools have you used? Do you have an alternative you like? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Free Hard Drive Tune-up Tools"

(See all 24 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Pete Greenwood
14 Mar 2017

Very useful article, Bob. Been using Defraggler for years, but not defragged my SSD. So now I'm doing just that! Also use Recuva occasionally, and Paragon Partition Manager, which does the job brilliantly. Will be updating my maintenance software with some of your other suggestions. Keep up the good work!


Posted by:

Clairvaux
14 Mar 2017

Fun fact I have recently learned from Piriform, Recuva (and C-Cleaner) publisher : Recuva's aim is to recover accidentally deleted files, but it can also... securely erase them. Once you've scanned your disk for "erased" files which still happen to be there, you are offered the option to really wipe them off.

Piriform actually presents that as a more secure, complementary method to C-Cleaner : use C-Cleaner to wipe free space (or custom files and folders), and then, scan and wipe again with Recuva for more security.

I'm unable to say whether this is sound advice, or just something that might be true in theory.

Be aware that neither Recuva nor C-Cleaner are good tools to securely erase specific files and folders occasionally (as opposed to regularly wiping the same file or folder for privacy, which is what C-Cleaner is really made for) : while it can be done, it's not practical.


Posted by:

Frank
14 Mar 2017

How do I know whether or not my computer is running Java? Sorry. This is probably basic stuff to know, but I don't. Thanks.


Posted by:

Dave P.
14 Mar 2017

HD Tune doesn't appear to be free


Posted by:

BobD
14 Mar 2017

Has any reader here ever measured the actual time savings from defragging?


Posted by:

Fran
14 Mar 2017

I regularly use Eusing Cleaner to clean up the Registry, Driver Booster to keep my drivers up-to-date, and Patch my PC which does a ton of cleanup stuff.


Posted by:

bb
14 Mar 2017

The Windows 8 and 10 defrag doesn't defrag SSDs, it "Optimizes" them using a process called 'Trim.' Trim is safe on SSDs, defrag is (reportedly) not.


Posted by:

Narada
14 Mar 2017

Dave P: HD Tune Pro has a free trial, while HD Tune is indeed free (I just downloaded it). Of course they make you look around for the free one...under Downloads.


Posted by:

Chuck
14 Mar 2017

Bob,

I took your suggestion on Macrium Reflect and used the disk imaging feature. It really looks like just what I need. I'll be dumping my old backup utility now.

Thanks for all you do!!


Posted by:

john brumett
15 Mar 2017

thank you I used the free hard drive cleaner and do like to read your publications thank you john


Posted by:

Therrito
15 Mar 2017

Very nice article, Bob.

I use Privazer once a month to keep my PC running in top shape. I used to use CCleaner until I found Privazer.

I also use Perfect Disk 12 for my defragging needs. It can Consolidate Free Space, Defrag Only, or arrange by SMARTPlacement for optimal disk performance.

I have never heard of Paragon Partition Manager Free. I have been using Partition Magic Pro v8.0. I know it's old but it serves my purposes.

@D.V.N. Sarma
I had used SpeedFan on my previous build. That program has been around for a long time.


Posted by:

Paulus Kruijer
15 Mar 2017

Dear Bob,

For defragging I use for years "Diskeeper". It does it as soon you boot your computer in the back ground. It also use S.M.A.R.T.
To clean I use C-cleaner and AVG PC tune up.

Best regards,

Paulus Kruijer


Posted by:

Phil
15 Mar 2017

Well....I've become so accustomed to trusting your recommendations that it was a big surprise when Privazer did not work. It went through all the scan portion and then began cleaning. Got 32% finished and then just sat there without moving any further for at least an hour. I finally stopped it and tried again. Same story. This is a Win 10 Dell laptop. So I'll just uninstall the app and try one of the others. Don't know that I even need it. I use CCleaner most of the time.....coupled with Free Registry Cleaner.
But keep up the fine work, Bob. I still like ya. Phil


Posted by:

Clairvaux
15 Mar 2017

I'm wary of Privazer. Opinions about it seem very contrasted. It's easy to bump into people who have horror stories to offer after having tried it. The first quality of such a program should be not to break things.

Like doctors : you can't promise to heal, but at the very least you must promise to do no harm. Of course, if it's just snake oil, it's no better...


Posted by:

Allan Man
16 Mar 2017

Hi Bob, For disk cleanup I use Directory Report.
It is faster than WinDirStat
http://www.file-utilities.com


Posted by:

al young jr
16 Mar 2017

thanks bob great article an tons of good info and keep up the great work some of us beginners really appreciate it
thanks so much
al


Posted by:

E Eilcox
17 Mar 2017

The free version of HD Tune does not appear to support operation on Window 10 . . .


Posted by:

Bantam
17 Mar 2017

Nor does HD Tune pro V 5.60 (current) even CLAIM to operate on Windows 10 - bad call Bob


Posted by:

Bob Greene
20 Mar 2017

To BobD-- After running Piriform Defraggler, each imaging operation requires about 20 percent less time. Instead of five hours, it requires about four, but your own system performance also will vary from hardware factors. My image sets are about 465gb.

Cautiously, I have experimented with a free utility from Auglogics Defragmenter, which already provides superior performance times on full defragmentation, compared to Piriform Defraggler. For its part, Piriform claims Defraggler algorithms do a better job, even if they impose a longer operation. Piriform adds that Defraggler's Quick Defrag option is even faster than the standard Defraggler operation, yet completely satisfactory.


Posted by:

Jerry Mandel
24 Mar 2017

SSDs - I don't know how much defrag utilities actually write to a single location, but I suspect that ONE defrag action wouldn't write to a single location so much as to really impact the number of writes left for that location.

As to speed, it is my understanding that the method of accessing a single location is such that there is no real difference between locations, even if the file is fragmented, so that defragging an SSD doesn't improve read times to an observable extent.


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