What is disk defragmentation? The Benefits of Defragmenting Your Hard Drives

What is disk defragmentation?


Disk defragmentation describes the process of consolidating fragmented files on your computer’s hard disk.

Fragmentation happens to a hard disk over time as you save, change, or delete files. The changes that you save to a file are often stored at a location on the hard disk that’s different from the original file. Additional changes are saved to even more locations. Over time, both the file and the hard disk itself become fragmented, and your computer slows down as it has to look in many different places to open a file.

Disk Defragmenter is a tool that rearranges the data on your hard disk and reunites fragmented files so your computer can run more efficiently. In this version of Windows, Disk Defragmenter runs on a schedule so you don’t have to remember to run it, although you can still run it manually or change the schedule it uses.


The Benefits of Defragmenting Your Hard Drives

Have you ever noticed that the more files you save on you computer: pictures, word documents, videos, etc, the slower it gets? This is partly because of how magnetic hard drives work, and partly because of how the Windows File System works. Magnetic hard drives have moving parts in them. The platters, or discs, where information is stored are constantly spinning, and a metal arm controlled by an actuator moves across the platters. At the end of the arm is a read/write head. The read/write head reads data from your hard drive back to your operating system, and it also writes data from your operating system back to the hard drive.These moving parts inside a hard drive limit it’s possible speed. Data can only be accessed at the speed the platters rotate, and the speed the arm moves the read/write head to access data.

The second cause is the Windows File System. When you delete files and programs, they are not really deleted from the disc. What is actually deleted is a pointer in the file system which tells Windows where your file is located on the hard drive. Once that pointer is deleted, then as far as Windows is concerned, the file no longer exists. So the next time Windows wants to write more files to the hard drive, it will consider the space occupied by that file as empty, and may write new information over it. This can lead to parts of files being written to separate areas on your hard drive. When the file is written to random areas all over your hard drive, then it increases the time it takes Windows to access the file. This is because the read/write head must be moved to several places on the hard drive before the entire file can be accessed.

Defragmenting the hard drive addresses this problem by moving these broken bits of indivdual files to the same place on the hard drive. Once all parts of each individual file have been placed side by side, they are called contiguous files. When all parts of a file are in the same place on your hard drive, the read/write head doesn’t have to move all around the drive to read your file, or to write a new one. The result is your files and applications will load faster.

You can defragment your hard drive by clicking on the My Computericon on your desktop, or the Computer icon on the Start Menu. Then just right-click on the drive you want to defragment (You can only defragment hard drives). Select properties from the drop down menu and then select the tools tab. Click defragment now to defragment your hard drive. It’s best to defragment when you aren’t using the computer, as it will of course slow down your computer, as it’s a very hard drive intensive task that will slow down the hard drive while it’s being defragmented.  If you are running Microsoft Windows Vista then your computer will automatically defragment the hard drive.

The benefits of defragmenting are usually only noticeable after several gigabytes of information have been written to a hard drives, and multiple files or programs have been deleted or removed. Hard drives which have been used for a year or more could certainly benefit from defragmenting.



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