[FREE] Tools to Tune and Optimize Your Hard Drive

Category: Hard-Drives

One of the best things you can do to maintain or improve the performance of any computer is keeping your hard drive in tip-top shape. 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, plus some nifty (and free) software utilities that make getting them done 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. There's also a paid Pro version that does more extensive testing. HD Tune has been updated for Windows 10.

For a quick look at your hard drive's S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring And Reporting Technology) status, try the free Speccy utility. In the Hard Drives section of the Speccy results, you'll see some technical gibberish under the S.M.A.R.T heading. If it says "Status: Good" at the bottom, that's about all you need to know. The only other info there you might want to check out is the Reallocated Sectors Count. If that's greater than zero, you may have some defective sectors on your hard drive.

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] Tools to Tune and Optimize Your Hard Drive "

Posted by:

Dr. Robert Burns
28 Mar 2019

I have used the various "free" versions of the tools offered by "IOBIT.COM," for several years. As a retail repair and resource shop, here in Crystal River, Fla., I have found my customers really appreciate the programs and ease of use, as needed.

Posted by:

28 Mar 2019

Thank you Bob for this comprehensive look at HD maintenance. I have an old XP desktop to give away or get rid of, and thought that the only solution was a screw driver and hammer approach Now with your article, I will be able to thoroughly clean the HD using software. I hope I can add the software you suggest via a thumb drive, as i don’t want this computer to access the internet.

Posted by:

Scott Brooks
28 Mar 2019

Thanks, Bob, for including the information about SSDs that modern ones can be defragged and are not prone to wearing out. We recently got our first laptop that has only an SSD drive and I was wondering about it wearing out. So, I was very happy to read what you had shared about this. Definitely helpful information as usual. :-)

Posted by:

Bob K
28 Mar 2019

As I write I am trying to determine if a HD I have is good or bad. It was running Win 7, which slowed to an absurd crawl. This is a 1 TB WD drive. A clone of the drive runs great. Spinrite on the original drive showed no errors, but took a very long time. Currently running the WD diagnostics (DLGDIAG --latest version) and it has been running 13 hours with 56.5 to go. SMART is not showing anything.

What slows a HD down like this, or, how do I repair it?

Posted by:

28 Mar 2019

Another great free cloning tool is Clonezilla.

Posted by:

Dan Valleskey
28 Mar 2019

Ccleaner, also from Piriform, does a nice job of tidying up some of the crap you don't need. It has a good delete area, and can check for bad registry stuff.

Posted by:

Bob Kinsler
28 Mar 2019

I use PCMatic for most of this.

Posted by:

28 Mar 2019

Three quick points:
1) I bookmarked this page so I could keep track of all the good recommendations. Thank you.
2) I used Privazer on a Windows desktop computer some years ago. It destroyed the computer's ability to recognize its Internet adapter, DVD drive, and so on. This was years ago, so I hope Privazer is safer now.
3) I clean up junk files frequently, but I'm a bit afraid to try cleaning free space on some computers. I have two dual-boot computers (Windows/Linux). Will the various apps recognize there is something (differently formatted) on the Linux partitions?

Posted by:

28 Mar 2019

To Bob K, today:
That your clone runs fast and Spinrite showed no errors on the old drive is puzzling. In the first approximation, the used blocks ought to be in the same places on each drive. Maybe the clone copied blocks to different places in such a way that the clone's head mover travels much less, but that is a reach. Heavy remapping of bad blocks could slow the drive, but Spinrite ought to say something about that. Maybe it doesn't. Heavy fragmenting (many many small fragments) could slow access, but you have to work hard to get that, and cloning has no right to change that. (My 7-year-old drive is only 4% fragmented, whatever that means.)
Anyhow, use your new clone, reformat the old drive a couple of months from now, and live happily.

Posted by:

Bob K
28 Mar 2019

To BobD:

Thank you for the comments. I used (in Linux) the dd command to clone the drive. The destination drive was also a new 1 TB WD drive. Surprisingly, that copying process went at what I felt was a normal speed.

Posted by:

29 Mar 2019

When it comes to backup with Macrium or other applications I would recommend a disk image instead of a disk clone. A clone copies everything including empty space. If you need to install a clone on a different disk it probably will not work because a clone wants exactly the same disk that it came from. An image will install on another disk with no problem in my experience.

Posted by:

29 Mar 2019

WinDirStat does not list Windows 10.

Posted by:

David Z.
01 Apr 2019

Is there a limit as to how many of these tools you should install. I know I have a couple of duplicate function programs I like plus several security utilities.

Posted by:

08 Apr 2019

But does defragging an SSD actually achieve anything?

Posted by:

Fred Walmsley
07 Oct 2019

Hi My windows 10 keeps failing on the latest update such that I now avoid it as I have to keep forcing it off when it always crashes and then allow lots of time to recover old version of windows 10, plus it takes hours.I think something may have been deleted or is missing that it cannot seem to load it properly. I have a sony V10 laptop with lots of spare memory and only 20mbps using PLusnet

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