Aug 02 2007

Quick Steps to Defrag Your Hard Drive

Just do it - because file fragmentation can be a performance killer that can slow even newer systems to a crawl.

Although many users have heard the term “defragging a drive,” a surprising number don’t know why it’s necessary or how to do it.

Fortunately, this built-in Microsoft Windows tool is small, effective and — best of all — easy to use. Don’t underestimate the benefits of taking a few minutes with your users and showing them how to make the most of this utility.

What’s a Defrag?

Fragmentation by definition indicates that something is in separate pieces. In the case of desktop computers, we’re talking about the files on the hard drive. Because a computer constantly opens, closes, modifies, creates and deletes files as it runs, it isn’t possible for the file system to put everything back into its proper place, and in order, on the fly.

Typically, the computer parcels out disk real estate on a first-come, first-serve basis. Because of this, the computer writes files to multiple sectors over time — hence, the fragmentation.

Fragmentation is bad because instead of reading data in one continuous stream, the computer skips around the hard drive pulling all the pieces together. Defragmenting rearranges the partial files into a contiguous stream so that the computer can read the data more fluidly. Regularly defragmenting a system’s hard drive is not only relatively painless but can result in a noticeable performance boost. 

Here’s a quick rundown on how to defragment your hard drive:

1: Windows XP Defrag

XP users will find a shortcut to the disk defragmenter under the Start menu within the All Programs, Accessories, System Tools submenu.

After launching the defragmenter, the main program window appears. In the top pane of the split screen, select which drive you want to defragment. Then, in the bottom pane, you can click Analyze to allow the defragmenter to check the drive and then present a fragmentation report with a recommendation as to whether you should defrag, or you can click Defragment and immediately begin the defrag. (Note: It won’t hurt anything to defrag even if it’s not recommended; you will lose only the time that the utility takes to run.)

Once the defrag is complete, a dialog box will alert you. You then can close the utility or view a brief, printable report.

2: Windows Vista Defrag

Many Vista users will appreciate the fact that the new OS automatically defragments their hard drives weekly. But not everyone wants to risk needing the computer in the middle of an auto-defrag, no matter when it is scheduled.

To run the defragmenter manually, go to All Programs, Accessories, System Tools from the Start menu to launch the defragmenter. Once launched, you will encounter the User Account Control window, which will ask permission to continue. After you grant permission, you will see a window with two choices:

  • Run on a Schedule: You can tell Defrag specify scheduled defrags from in this window. Users wanting full control of when defrags run should uncheck this option.
  • Defragment Now: You can click this to immediately begin a defragmentation. Once the process is complete, you will be returned to the main program window, which you can close.

The only downside to defragmenting your hard drive is allowing for the time. Although you can use your computer while it is defragmenting, the process will finish faster if you don’t. The length of the defrag depends on several factors, including machine speed, disk size, number of files and — perhaps most important — how fragmented the drive has become.

The bottom line: The more often you defrag, the faster your system will typically run.


Jason Holbert is a Tier II desktop support technician at Harcros Chemicals, a chemical distributor in Kansas City, Kan.