Over time, as you write, move and delete files to, between and from your drives, inevitable fragmentation occurs; however, as Windows will happily write files into any old bit of free space it finds first, whether it’s contiguous or otherwise, there’s little you can do about it at the time of writing, moving or deleting.
Although a little fragmentation of scarcely accessed files is hardly likely to affect system performance to any noticeable degree, as time goes on, the degree of fragmentation will become greater and system performance, specifically the time it takes to seek, read and write files, will start to suffer. It might only be by milliseconds, but they do add up.
Such is particularly noticeable whilst doing something which requires lots of hard drive access; for example playing a game, watching a large video file or similar, the various parts of which are fragmented around the drive surface.
It follows, then, that periodic defragmentation of the files will not only speed up seek times (depending on the defragmentation method used), but will most certainly decrease the read and write times to and from all files made contiguous.
Windows comes with a defragmentation program built in, which you can find in the System Tools folder and which is generally considered to be the worst defragmentation program out there; in the absence of anything else, however, including several free alternatives available on most, well known download sites, you should still use it periodically to maintain reasonable drive access times.
A much better option, in my opinion, is to download Disktrix Ultimate Defrag, version 1.72 of which has is available free.
The installation program is only about 2.5mb in size and installation is simple. All program features are available with an unobtrusive ad for the latest version tucked down at the bottom of the program screen.
The drives available for analysis and defragmentation are listed top left, below which is information pertaining to the currently chosen drive. Beneath those are the types of defragmentation available, the start and stop buttons, and an information window.
Taking up most of the window, however, is a novel graphical representation of the surface of the current drive. If you’re having difficulty picturing how information is stored on your drive, or how fragmentation affects files, this graphic explains it all. Initially, the free space is represented by grey, whilst areas of data are green, as in the above picture.
Analyse the drive and the program seeks out all the contiguous, fragmented and system files and the colours of the files on the graphic change accordingly. Here you can see just how fragmented your files are. If you haven’t defragged your drive for a while (if at all), be prepared for a shock. The more red you see, the more files are fragmented. Imagine how much longer it takes the drive to read a whole, large file which is stored all over the drive, and you can imagine how much quicker it will be to read following defragmentation.
As you can see from the analysed system drive (drive c: 500gb) above, the vast bulk of the drive is occupied with contiguous files, but mixed up with some free space where files have been deleted, the Master File Table and Pagefile (Windows’ swap file). The drive information window also informs me that there are some 4,800 odd (of 210,000+) fragmented files, representing about 3.688% of all the files stored. I haven’t defragged this drive for, perhaps, a month or so and by the looks of things I might do it again soon, though this much defragmentation probably won’t affect my system that much just yet.
Should I wish to defragment the drive, however, I have several options available as to how I might want to go about it, but first I would suggest that you have a read through the excellent Help File which accompanies this program, wherein file storage, fragmentation and defragging is very well explained in plain English.
The defragmentation methods include Consolidate, Folder/Filename, Recency, Volatility (removed from later versions) and Auto. You also have the facility to choose how much CPU time you wish to allocate to the program, which can be minimised to the system tray via the view menu if you want to keep your taskbar clean.
The various defrag methods are self explanatory, Consolidate making files and most of the free space contiguous, with no thought as to where files are placed or in what order. This method could, perhaps be used relatively frequently (such as with my drive above just to tidy up), and a more, in depth method used less often.
Folder/Filename will order the files and folders alphabetically and can take some time. This method doesn’t necessarily improve seek times, but reading and writing times will be improved. Recency orders the files bearing in mind how recently you last accessed the files which would help with oft accessed files.
Auto defrag, perhaps what most people would use, orders the files according to what the program thinks is the best for your system, according to certain criteria. This method requires the least thought and running this once a month or so will keep your files in good order and access times short.
Lastly, as the drive spins around, the outside edge spins faster than the inside, and access to files on this part of the drive is faster, as are read and write speeds. It would make sense, then, to place frequently accessed (or High Performance) files on this part of the drive, whereas seldom accessed files can be placed on the slower (or Archive), inner tracks, which options are available via the Tools Menu options.
You can see here that I’ve chosen to place the Windows directory and Program Files on the high Performance part of the drive, and can choose, under the Archive options, to place other files (Documents etc), or a percentage of them, on the slower part of the drive.
There are other advantages to using Disktrix Ultimate Defrag, not the least of which is that it’s an entirely free, fully functional version of a previously commercial release, defrags with very little free space available (not the necessary 15% free space as with the built in defragger), gives you the option of defragging even just one fragmented file if desired and, its hypnotic to watch (though that last one might be just me).