What is defrag and how to defrag a computer?

You might have heard the term defragging when it comes to boosting a computer’s performance.

Actually, if you are looking for the easiest way to speed up your sluggish computer, someone might suggest to you to consider defragging your machine.

But, what does defragging a computer mean? The answer is pretty straightforward.

In a simple explanation, from the word fragmentation, which means a single entity is spilled into multiple sub-entities, defragging is then the opposite which means the process of putting back the spilled pieces into the initial single entity.

From the computing side of view, in order to understand how defragging works, it is important first to understand how files and data are arranged in your computer. Well, here is how it happens.

Files or data in the hard drive are arranged into orderly blocks, for instance, if photo files are arranged into consecutive blocks say, from block 1,2, 3, and all the way to the last one.

The hard disk drive in your computer reads these files by spinning on a platter while following the order into which they are arranged.

If the files are fragmented, that is to say, the data is not arranged in sequential order, the hard drive will have to spin multiple times trying to read the disarranged blocks of data. As a result, your computer’s performance significantly reduces.

Now that you have understood what fragmentation of files in a computer is, let’s look defragging into details, which is the solution to fragmentation;

Defragmentation

Defragging a hard disk drive is the process of reorganizing fragmented files and data on a computer’s hard disk to help increase the efficiency of accessing data and prevent file fragmentation as well.

By organizing the data on the hard drive, the HDD head will not spin too much and for long trying to read the data. Files on a hard disk drive file become fragmented their sizes change.

For instance, if you are playing a game on your computer, and create a new save, the game file size gets larger.

The hard drive must relocate the new file saved to a different slot to accommodate the big size.

Likewise, the same thing happens when you delete files; deleting a file leaves holes of available space that will eventually be filled with a new file.

As new files are created, they fill in these holes and take up any additional space.

This means that your computer has to search your entire hard drive to find complete files, resulting in a sluggish computer.

Therefore, when you defrag your computer you not only boost the performance of your computer but also keep your hard drive healthy and extend its lifespan.

Another major reason why you should defrag your computer is that defragging clears up unused space.

This creates more usable space if there are several bits of data from files that have been deleted.

Defragging also protects your hard drive, especially when done before downloading and installing any large files or applications onto your computer.

Conflicting Opinions About Defragmentation

Like everything else in this world, there never lack different opinions; unfortunately, defragging is one of those things.

One of the main arguments against defragging a computer’s hard drive is that there is a possibility that files can become damaged (corrupt) during the process.

Although it has termed as a rare case, file corruption during fragmentation occurs when the power supply cuts out during the defragging process.

In such an event, only the file that was being addressed when the power supply cut out will be corrupted.

However, to counter this problem, it is recommended that you ensure that you have an available data backup before defragmenting, to restore the HDD.

Additionally, make sure you also have uninterrupted power supply during the process of reorganizing files on your hard disk drive.

Other critics argue that defragmenting your computer too often reduces the lifespan of your hard disk drive.

Although this may seem like a contradiction to the earlier stated benefit of lengthening the lifespan of a hard disk by defragmentation, defragging your computer frequently may do more harm than damage to your hard disk drive.

It is argued that, due to the lengthy process of defragmentation; which can take quite some huge chunk of time especially when defragging a heavily fragmented hard disk, the HDD does a lot of work which leads to the wearing and tearing of the hard disk’s drive moving parts.

The final argument is that there are few performance gains when you defrag your hard disk drive more than necessary.

On the same note, this may be true especially with some modern hard drives.

Such hard drives; even though they work in a platter-style drive, reading data by the HDD head spinning around a platter, they work very efficiently. As such defragmenting will result in minimal speed gain when performed.

However, defragmentation is more like a maintenance task than a routine thing, and thus could still be helpful.

Just make sure you have a hard disk drive that requires defragmenting before beginning the process.

A Middle Ground

Well, in as much as there exist different opinions, it is true to say that you need to defrag your hard disk drive but take caution that doing so more than necessary could cause more problems.

Firstly, how often you defrag your computer’ hard drive depends more on how frequently you use and the number of times you defrag.

For the heavy users, who spend a lot of time online, run heavy-duty programs, and do a lot of video editing or run a database server or a web server; you will need to defrag more often.

Moreover, if you have installed more than one program recently, or you notice your computer is becoming slow you need to defrag.

But most importantly, if possible, it is advised that you defrag using high-quality third-party defragmenters rather than the inbuilt utilities.

Some of these third-party defragmenters are more effective and run faster than inbuilt ones, thus reducing the time and amount of work your hard disk drive does; in turn reducing wearing and tearing of the disk’s moving parts.

Still on the question on how often you should defrag your computer’s hard drive, be sure to first run a system scan to determine whether you should defrag.

If the fragmentation percentage is less than 10%, in most cases, there is no need to defrag your hard drive. However, if it is above the 10% minimum threshold, you ought to defrag.

Besides, some versions of operating systems may allow you to schedule the defragging process.

You might set at the default schedule which defrags the HDD after a week, but that is too much defragging.

A better schedule that suits both the heavy users and not-so-heavy users, is setting the schedule at 1 month.

Defragging after an interval of one month will have left enough time for fragmented files to build up above the minimum threshold, and thus it will be safe to defrag.

On top of it all, since defragging involves forcing the hard drive to relocate and consolidate files, causing it to wear off; defragging after a long period of time (1 month), reducing the chances of your HDD wearing off.

Defragging your Computer

Defragging a hard drive is strongly discouraged for Mac users. This is because a Mac running on any version of OS X later than 10.2, or macOS, is equipped with built-ins safeguard that prevents a file from becoming fragmented in the first place.

When you open a file on your Mac, the operating system checks to see if the file is highly fragmented usually more than 8 fragments.

 If it is, the OS will automatically defragment the file. Additionally, most Linux computers do not require to be defragged since they use ext2 or ext3 file system, which is known to be resilient against fragmentation and is not affected severely when it occurs.

Therefore, it is quite clear that only computers running on Windows OS need to be defragged.

Defragging is not also an option for you if your computer has a solid-state drive (SSD) or a Fusion Drive, as doing so can lead to writing amplification causing premature failure of the drive.

If you are using the standard hard disk drive and running on the Microsoft Windows operating system, there are two main ways you can use to defrag your computer’s hard drive.

The first and the most obvious one is using the Windows’ Disk Defragmenter program that is already installed in your system.

This method is quite easy since all you have to do is just navigate to where the program is located and initiate the defragging process.

However, the only little challenge you may experience is locating the Disk Defragmenter program, since the menu in Windows OS varies depending on the version you are using. If your computer is running on Windows 10 or 8, here is how to go about it.

  • Open the Control Panel, which can be accessed by typing “Control Panel” in the search bar of the start menu, if you are using windows 10.
  • For Windows 8 users, navigate to the bottom-right corner of the start menu, and in the setting option, click Control Panel.
  • Click on the Administrative Tools option, after which admin tools will appear.
  • Double-click Defragment and Optimize Drives option. You can set scheduled defragmentation under the ‘Change Settings’ button according to how frequently you want the drives defragged.
  • Select the drive you want to defrag and then click the Optimize option. This will initiate the defragging process, which takes quite some time, so it is better to defrag when you are not using your PC until the process is done.

For Windows 7 and Vista users, follow these guidelines to defrag your computer.

  • Click the Start menu and select All Programs.
  • Select the Accessories menu and click on the System Tools option.
  • Click on Disk Defragmenter.
  • Select the disk drive you want to defragment and then click Analyze Disk to determine if the drive should be fragmented.
  • If the disk is heavily fragmented click the Defragment Disk option to initiate the fragmentation process. Again, the process is going to take several hours to complete and should be left to run uninterrupted.

Before running the Disk Defragmenter program, ensure all the applications are closed and that you have backed-up all your important files.

The second option of defragging your computer is by using third-party defragmenter software.

This option is easy, just download high-quality defragmenter software, install it, run it and you are good to go.

The best thing about such software is that they take less time to defrag a computer as compared to using the in-built disk defragmenter program.

So, if you are looking for the quickest way to defrag your computer without compromising on the effectiveness, third-party defragmenter software might be an ideal option for you.

 Final Thoughts

The first two options explained above are the easiest and most affordable. However, it cannot cause any harm knowing that there is a third option too.

Besides, it is good to have plenty of options and decide on which one suits you best. Defragging using a spare hard drive is the last option on the list.

Well, though the method can be a bit costly since it involves acquiring a clean spare hard drive and copying all the data of the heavily fragmented hard drive, it is probably the best method.

After all the data is copied, you will then have all the data on the fragmented hard drive, and then restore that data back from the spare drive.

It may seem much of a hassle, but this method will work for any operating system.

There is no magical pill to prevent fragmentation of files in your computer, as it is a natural process that occurs when writing and deleting files on a hard drive.

The only close to cure solution is to make sure you defrag your computer’s drives on a scheduled routine.

Remember, do not do it too often nor too late; just strike the balance between your computer usage and the frequency of defragging.

About the author

Lamin
Lamin

Geek Life Activated is my little corner on the web. I'm very passionate about tech, and i aim to use this blog to express that. I currently work as a System Administrator, and i love every second of it. I'm still new at it, so i'm learning something new everyday. I'm pretty open to learning new things, so please feel free to correct me if i'm wrong about anything, and you can contact me anytime you want. I'm a very easy person to talk to. :)

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