To Defrag or Not To Defrag??

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It doesn’t seem like very long ago that I was recommending to folks that they defragment their hard drives once a month. As with all progress, what was once Best Practices is now either no longer necessary, or downright inappropriate.

When hard drives were 40GB and smaller, defragmentation was necessary to make sure all your files were together and not scattered all over the drive in pieces. While the properties of a hard drive might show that you still had several GB left, trying to save a file might render an Out Of Space error.  Wait a minute, how can that be?  In the same way that your desk might look like there is no room on it if the pieces or contents of all your files are all over it, your computer’s hard drive will see the scattered pieces of a file as all taking up space. And in the same way that gathering up all the files and putting them back together in order will give you back desk area real estate, having your computer put all those files back together on your hard drive  made proper use of the space on the hard drive. Processors were much slower as just a few short years ago, and precious time was wasted in dashing all over your hard drive grabbing all the pieces that made up a single file, in the same way that digging through piles of paper on your desk will make you considerably less productive. You get the picture now. So the process of defragmentation looked at each piece of data on the drive, determined where it should be, and put it there.

Fabulous–so what was wrong with that? In and of itself, not much. Our programs didn’t ask as much of the components inside the box as they do now, so our hard drives just weren’t working as hard as they are now, and there was less heat buildup from other things.  However, today’s hard drives spin faster, the processors work harder, generating more heat. Defragmenting a hard drive is the hardest work you ask your drive to do, and the bigger the drive, the harder and more it has to work to defragment. But the drives are so much bigger that the space-saving aspect of it is not much of an issue anymore. Besides, the latest operating systems are so much better at managing file placement than their predecessors. So unless you are getting out-of-space errors when you know that you have plenty of space (by right-clicking on the drive letter and selecting Properties), there really isn’t a need to run the defragmenter.

AND–there is a drive type that should never, ever, EVER be defragmented: Solid state drives. In a day or so I will be going into more detail on what a solid state drive is, and you’ll come to understand why you don’t defrag an SSD. For now, just know that if you have one of these, DO NOT DEFRAGMENT IT. If you already have, don’t sweat it, just know going forward that it is not something you need or want to be doing.

Bottom line, if your computer was built in the past, say, eight years, I don’t think there should be any need to defragment, unless, as I say, you are getting errors suggesting it.

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