Most people don’t know that defragmenting their computer hard drives can significantly boost performance, especially on older computers or if you haven’t defragged in a very long time. Data gets stored in bits and pieces all over your hard drive and this gets worse as time goes on, as files get written or modified. So now your hard drive is looking all over the place to read a file which slows it down. Defragmentation puts those bits back together, right next to each other so reading that file now becomes faster.
Windows has a built in deframentation utility. You can access it (on Windows XP) by going to your Start Menu, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and then Disk Defragmenter. There are also commercial solutions available which do a much better job but the built-in Windows defragmenter should be good enough for most people. Two good commercial solutions are Executive Software Diskeeper and Raxco PerfectDisk. I’m currently using an old version of Diskeeper but I’m researching for a newer defragmentation tool and PerfectDisk seems to be a decent solution.
How to Defragment
Defragmenting should be done by itself, meaning you should close all other programs and just leave your computer alone. Sometimes you’ll need to conduct multiple defragmentation runs for severely fragmented hard drives. The time required to defragment depends on how fragmented your hard drive is, the amount of total data on the hard drive, and the amount of free space available.
If you have an aging computer and files/programs seem to take a long time to load, try defragging your hard drive. Also note, you usually need at least a certain percentage of free space on your hard drive for a decent defragmentation run – usually 10%-15%. This is because the defragmenter will temporarily move files around while it puts them back together. It needs free space to do this. You should be keeping at least around 15% of free space anyway. Filling up your hard drive to the brim will also significantly degrade your computer’s performance in general.
I recommend defragmenting your hard drive at least once a month or once a week if you feel like it. Also note that less fragmented hard drives will defragment much faster. So if you defragment often, each run takes less time. I used to leave my PC on 24 hours a day during college and I actually scheduled a defragmentation run every night while I was sleeping. Frequent defragmentation keeps your hard drive in tip-top shape but for most users they don’t need to do this. Like I said, once a month should be sufficient.
Of course, defragging isn’t the answer to all performance problems if you just have an old processor or not enough memory (RAM). On many older computers I come across that are running Windows XP, they only have 512 MB of RAM which isn’t really enough. It might have been a few years ago but nowadays applications just use up more memory. So if you run any kind of semi-demanding applications on XP, things will be slow. Especially on older systems where you have a lot of junk and background processes built up over time. That’s why I HATE programs that don’t cleanly uninstall and remove every component they put into my system. You’d be amazed how much faster your computer runs after you format and do a clean OS install.