I know I'm supposed to defrag my hard drive, but I'm a little fuzzy on the particulars. What exactly does a defrag accomplish, what's the best tool for defragging, and how often should I do it?
Best Hard Drive Defrag Tools
Defragmenting ("defragging") your hard drive periodically improves its performance and extends the life of the read/write mechanism. Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 have built-in defrag utilities, but they don't defragment all files and they don't optimize the placement of files on the hard drive. Read on to learn about the critical differences between defrag utilities, and some of the best free and commercial defraggers.
File fragmentation occurs inevitably as any file is read, changed, and re-written to disk. Part of a file is written to an empty space on the disk and, when that space fills up, the rest is written elsewhere. Performance suffers when the fragmented file is read again because the read/write head must look up the locations of all of the fragments and physically move to retrieve them. Basic defragmentation puts all of the parts of a fragmented file back together in one physical stretch of disk space. Windows defrag utilities do this as best they can.
A file cannot be defragmented if it is in use by the system. So it's best to run defrag utilities in Windows Safe mode, which starts Windows with the minimum complement of system files in use. But even in Safe mode, Windows defrag utilities have to skip some of the most heavily used system files whose fragmentation can be the biggest drag on your hard disk's performance. Some third-party defraggers get around this limitation by loading and running before Windows is loaded.
PageDefrag is a free specialty defragger that defragments ONLY the pagefile.sys, hyberfile.sys, and the Windows registry files. You can set it to run every time Windows is rebooted, or activate it and reboot manually.
A complete defragmentation of a full, large hard disk can take over an hour. Defraggler, another highly respected freebie, lets you select which file(s) you want to defragment. So you can defrag just the files you need if you're in a hurry.
Norton SpeedDisk is part of the venerable suite of Norton Utilities which has been around since 1982. This $49.95 package defrags hard disks, optimizes registry entries, unerases deleted files, and much more. It may be overkill for most users.
UltimateDefrag gives you complete control over every aspect of file defragmentation and placement. Where a file is placed on your hard disk matters because the rotational speed of the disk is greater near the outer edge of the disk platter than it is near the center. So large and frequently needed files should be placed near the disk's outer edge. UltimateDefrag is free to try for 30 days, then costs $29.95 to register.
IObit's SmartDefrag is a free defragger and placement optimizer from the makers of Advanced System Care, a complete system tune-up and optimization suite. SmartDefrag can run in background to constantly keep your files defragmented.
Defragmenting and optimizing file placement is a good idea, but it can become an obsession that kills productivity. If the responsiveness of your hard drive is critical to your online gaming or stock market day trading, then you may want to spend money and time on an ultra-performance defragger. But for more relaxed users, any of the free defraggers run once a week will do the trick.
Do you have a favorite defragger that I didn't mention? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 20 Dec 2010
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Disk Defraggers (Posted: 20 Dec 2010)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved