How Often Should I Defrag?
I've heard conflicting advice on when and how often to defragment my hard drives. Some say never, while others say weekly or monthly. They can't both be right, can they? What's your advice on defragging a drive?
When Should You Defrag Your Hard Drive?
Actually, they could both be right! By the time you finish reading this, you'll see why. Defragmenting your hard drive's files is one of the most effective ways to boost overall system performance. How often you should defrag depends on several factors.
Files become fragmented in the normal course of reading, writing, expanding, and deleting them. For example, if you add a chapter to your Great American Novel, the file is bigger than it used to be. It may no longer fit between the files where it was stored previously. So the file gets broken up into two or more pieces, which are stored in different locations on the hard drive. The same thing can happen with a large download. Although the file appears as a single chunk of data to you, it may actually be scattered all over the hard drive, in dozens of little pieces.
The problem with fragmentation is that the read-write head of the drive must move around a lot more to read the entire file. This motion takes time and degrades performance. It also wears out the drive faster. Think of it like a printed document, scattered all over your home. It would take a much longer time to find, sort and stack all the pages, than if it was in one neat pile, right?
Defragging stitches fragmented files back together and writes each file to one contiguous section of the hard drive. Defragging also strives to maximize free space so that future files are less likely to be fragmented.
Windows includes a Disk Defragmenter utility that will get the job done. But there are many third-party defraggers that claim to do a better job than Windows. Some popular commercial defraggers include Diskeeper, PerfectDisk, and Auslogics Disk Defrag. But one of my favorites is IOBit's SmartDefrag. It can be set to run in real-time, pausing when you are using the system, so that your system is constantly defragmented. Best of all, it's free!
If you don't want SmartDefrag to run constantly, using up system resources, you can run it or another defragger at scheduled times. The question is, how often should you defrag a hard drive?
A drive becomes fragmented faster the more heavily you use it. So if you are constantly creating, altering, and deleting files all day, you will need to defrag more often. A crowded hard drive gets fragmented faster, too. It's easy to find a contiguous space for a file when there's lots of free space. But when free space is limited, a file is more likely to be split into multiple pieces.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Defragging improves read-write times, but doing it too often can be counterproductive. Defragging re-writes nearly every file on your hard drive, putting maximum stress on the read-write mechanism. I can't say for sure, but it seems to make sense that excessively defragging would tend to wear out hard a drive faster.
Also, you should never defrag SSD or USB flash drives. It isn't necessary because these all-electronic drives don't have read-write heads that move around. Because SSD and USB drives have firmware that controls the placement of data on the disk, Windows cannot even "see" where the data is actually placed. A defragger can't either, so it's a pointless exercise. More importantly, flash memory can be read and written to only so many times before it wears out.
So, When Should I Defrag?
On Windows 7 and Vista, the defragger runs automatically and silently, so you shouldn't ever have to think about it. But if you have an external hard drive that isn't always connected to your Windows 7 or Vista computer, you may need to occasionally analyze and defrag it. (See below)
For those running Windows XP, most home users can get by with defragging once a month. Heavy users may want to defrag once a week. If you have a large hard drive that's mostly empty, you're probably better off waiting. But actually, you don't have to guess. The Windows defrag program has a feature that lets you analyze your drive, to see if you need to defrag. Here's how to check it:
- Click Start, then click to open My Computer
- Right-click on the hard drive icon (C:, D:, etc.) and select Properties
- Click the Tools tab, the click the Defragment Now button.
- Click Analyze Disk
The analyzer will tell you whether or not your hard drive is fragmented enough to warrant a defrag operation.
On Windows, the defragmenter can be set to run at a scheduled time, ideally when you are unlikely to be using the computer. Many third-party defraggers include scheduling functions, too.
What's your opinion about the best time to defrag a hard drive? Post your comment or question below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 13 Feb 2012
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- How Often Should I Defrag? (Posted: 13 Feb 2012)
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