Tune and Optimize Your Hard Drive

Category: Hard-Drives

One of the best things you can do to improve the performance of your computer is to keep 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 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 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, a drill, and angle grinder (all 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 is free and 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 "Tune and Optimize Your Hard Drive"

Posted by:

Gary L Mundhenke
26 Jan 2021

All of these tips I assume are for the old style mechanical drives? How about showing what if any of these tips apply to SSD drives? Will defragging speed up an SSD?

Posted by:

Bob K
26 Jan 2021

JDiskReport requires that you have Java. As I understand Java is dead.

Posted by:

26 Jan 2021

Where did you get the idea Java was dead??

Posted by:

26 Jan 2021

Hard drives also need optimization especially the conventional SATA drives that fragment data over the course of time. Fragmentation is basically when the drives use the vacant storage slots to store data but this method can result in cluttering and adversely affect the performance of your drive. But why pay for a premium software? Here are some steps that you can follow to check the health and optimize your hard drives using just Windows 10.
Open the Start menu and type defrag in the search bar. Click on the Defragment and Optimize Drives app to proceed.

Posted by:

Howard Kay
26 Jan 2021

1. I have all my active files on a thumb drive: easy to transport, they are the only files on that drive, making it easy to back up all or part, and I think (suspect) keeping them on a thumb drive makes them harder for any badguy to damage.

2. When I got my computer, I partitioned my 100 GB drive into multiple partitons. One partition is for system software, another is for software I've installed, another for "other stuff" such as music.

Good ideas? Bad ideas?

Posted by:

26 Jan 2021

BobK: Java is not dead, you may be confusing that with Flash, which is dead. That said, if you have Java installed, you must answer the question, why. And if you answer is "I don't know" or, even better, "What's Java?" uninstall it.

There are lots of programs and websites that use Java, but you should not keep it installed just in case you run across a program that needs it. Why? - Because it is another way that malware can use to infect your computer.

If you do need Java - I understand that many stock traders use it - then be sure to keep it updated. Java is frequently updated (just like Flash used to be) because many vulnerabilities have been found and patched. The hackers, of course, know all of them and will use them if you don't update.


Windows 10 does not 'defrag' SSDs, it 'optimizes' them. In technical terms, it runs a SSD command called 'trim' which clears areas of deleted files which can make subsequent writes to those areas much faster. (Without it, the process to overwrite previously used disk areas requires a zeroing pass before the new data is written. Trim does that ahead of time before it is eventually needed.)

Posted by:

26 Jan 2021

@Howard Kay ...
"... I partitioned my 100 GB drive into multiple partitons..."

Really!! 100 GB is about the minimum for ONE partition. Surely you have mispoken. Did you maybe mean 1000 GB ? (1 Tb)

Posted by:

26 Jan 2021

Bob, I've just gotta ask: Why would you promote these programs, when your favorite A/V, PC MATIC already does all of these functions? Or, why would you promote PC MATIC when these other programs do it for free? What am I missing here?

Posted by:

27 Jan 2021

If you are selling, giving away or otherwise ridding yourself of an old computer (yes, even if you're tossing it in the recycle) the best, most surefire, way to delete all personal information from your hard drive is with a band saw or 10 lb sledge hammer. New hard drives are incredibly inexpensive these days. You can probably buy a suitable one for what one of those "HDD cleaner" apps cost.

Posted by:

Paulus Kruijer
27 Jan 2021

Hello BOb,

For years I use for defrag; Condusiv Technologies, DymaxIO", and for backup, "Acronis"

Posted by:

27 Jan 2021

I have tried the sledgehammer approach to getting rid of an old HDD - but the implement seems to have very little effect on the HDD. Unscrewing the cover and then drilling holes in the disks seems to be more effective. But it is not exactly a quick process.

Posted by:

John Bl.
27 Jan 2021

For years now I have used TreeSizeFree to find where all those Gigabytes of disc space have gone. Another program I like is SyncToy, from Microsoft, to backup my data. It allows setting up separate backups for different folders and then selecting all or individual folder backups as required. The hard drive is partitioned into 128GB for the system and software, leaving the rest for a data partition. Saves losing data if the system fails and a reinstall is required. I also use Eraser and HDTune, the latter mainly to check disk and flash memory speed and sometimes to check for disk errors. I could go on but thats enough for now. Thanks for the always interesting articles.

Posted by:

Otter Bob
28 Jan 2021

I've rebooted using Macrium Reflect Free from an image (full) backup stored on an external drive. You do need recovery (rescue) media (stored, for instance, on a thumbdrive--see instructions)but you are just returning the system to exactly where it was at the time you made the image backup. Great if you get infected by anything.

Posted by:

Larry Etheridge
29 Jan 2021

Seems like you are talking more about the old mechanical drives than you are the newer SSDs. You do not specify clearly between them in your article.

Posted by:

GC Dave
31 Jan 2021

Can you clone a hard drive with Macrium Free? I thought the free version only allowed image backups.

Posted by:

Kathleen A Dombrowski
01 Feb 2021

Hi Bob, Great article as usual. As someone above stated nothing for SSD's. I have been using the Free version of SSD Fresh since it was released and it works seamlessly. The first time running it you should choose the manual option and turn off the options that are negative for SSD's. It's self explanatory. One drawback at the very end of process it asks if you want to leave a tip (not the get out of town one). I personally left one a few years ago to show my appreciation for their hard work and dedication, it's updated frequently

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