Here's How to Optimize Your Hard Drive

Category: Hard-Drives

When things go wrong with your computer, the source of the problem is often in the hard drive. One of the best things you can do to prevent computer problems and improve performance is to keep your hard drive in tip-top shape. Here are some of the most important tasks for hard drive optimization, 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 similar disk analysis tool is WinDirStat, which has versions for Linux and Mac as well.

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 11. 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, a drill, or angle grinder (all of which I have gleefully employed on occasion) and eliminates the need for safety goggles.

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 7, 8, 10 and 11 include a defragger which runs automatically. But word on the street is that it's not exactly best of breed. I recommend the free Defraggler tool, 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 does 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 is free and can find and undelete files on hard drives, SD cards, MP3 players, and other devices.

TestDisk is a free 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 works on all recent versions of Windows.

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. EaseUS Partition Master is a popular disk cloning utility. It also does partition management, and works on Windows 7 and higher.

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 "Here's How to Optimize Your Hard Drive"

Posted by:

22 Feb 2023

I recently wanted to upgrade a smaller SSD in my laptop to a larger SSD and roll it back from Windows 11 to 10, but ran into a problem because the SSD was protected by Bitlocker and I didn't know the recovery key. I used AOMEI Partition Assistant Pro to clone the drive, and luckily it had the ability to remove the Bitlocker encryption. If your drive is protected by Bitlocker, it's important to keep a record of the recovery key on a separate drive like a different computer or a flash drive.

Posted by:

Rick Nimtz
22 Feb 2023

Hey Bob- you have a typo in your article. Hint: it's ethin the first sentence. :)

Posted by:

22 Feb 2023


Windows product keys are no longer printed on a COA ("certificate of authenticity") sticker stuck to the side/bottom/inside the battery case of the computer. OEM keys are now stored in the BIOS, and accessed by Windows on installation/activation. On custom or user-built computers, the product key is stored 'in the cloud' (assuming Windows was legally purchased, installed and activated) and ... this is key ... on re-install of Windows it activated automatically with a "Digital License."

So, just install Win10 on the bigger SSD and it will likely just activate without you doing anything other than attaching to the Internet. (of course, use the same version, home or pro, that Win11 had.)

Posted by:

22 Feb 2023

How do I tell the modern SSD from others?

Posted by:

22 Feb 2023

Bob -
How would Privazer compare to PCMatic for "junk clean-up"?

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
23 Feb 2023

I use System Rescue for most of my disk management (in particular, partitioning and data recovery). The web site is at System Rescue is an image (.iso) of a "live" Linux distribution that you 'burn' to a USB stick or CD disk. To use it, you must boot it up from the USB drive. It contains many useful tools and utilities. I use gparted (the GNU partition editor) and test-disk (data recovery) for the most part. The website has a link to the documentation. If you are interested, go check it out (by the way, it's FOSS [gplv3] as noted at the bottom of the landing page).

I have used WinDirStat and Privazer. I didn't like either for mostly personal reasons (WinDirStat seemed too technical (making it difficult for me to use), and after running Privazer, I found that I had to re-establish access to every web site and app (that requires a log-in) I use. It just seemed like more effort than the enhancement to privacy/security was worth. My computers are used by me alone, so Privazer is overkill here. YMMV.

I use DBAN (Derik's Boot-N-Nuke) to wipe disks I no longer want/use. It has been around for as long as I can remember, but it is still maintained, and the only time I use it is to securely wipe a disk. It comes as an .iso image that must be 'burnt' to CD or USB stick. You can get it (free) at It is free and open source. I will try out Eraser when/if I have another HD to wipe.

I think Windows does a fairly good job of keeping my system disks in good working order, so I'll probably not try out Defragler. As for the other utilities, I'll probably take them out for a spin to see how they do. If I like what I see, I'll keep them.

I hope my recommendations at the top of this comment help others,


Posted by:

Kathleen A Dombrowski
23 Feb 2023

SSD Fresh is a Free app. that works great for optimizing SSD's. It is Free but has an annoying ad for tipping at the end. The first time you use it make sure you choose manual to ensure all settings are correct. I usually run it after Patch Tuesday every month and there is always a new up-dated version, w/a seamless install. This has been my SSD Optimizer for years and I highly recommend it!

Posted by:

Binjamin Man
25 Feb 2023

I use Directory Report to clean-up unnecessary files and folders. It looks just like the MS-Explorer but always shows the directory's size. Finds duplicate files too.

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