To Defrag, Or Not Defrag? That Is The Question

On many Windows "speed up" guides (including some I have posted), hard drive defragmentation, or defragging, is often mentioned as a way of speeding things up. So, does it? Well, if your hard disk drive file system is badly fragmented, yes, you definitely can see an improvement by running Windows own defrag utility.
File fragmentation occurs because of the way Windows manages reading and writing data to your hard drive. The often used analogy is having someone manage your paper filing system who is a bit careless; over time it makes it harder for you to find things. So, every once in a while you go in and re-file everything in order. That is pretty much what disk defragmentation does; re-orders things so the hard drive (and Windows) can find it more readily.

However, Windows versions after XP and Vista will take care of file fragmentation for you, unobtrusively, as you use the computer - so there is really no need to either manually run a defrag, or to schedule one periodically. You can readily schedule defrag activity in Vista if you like. I would only run this occasionally, maybe a few times a year; more frequently is overkill, in my opinion. You can also schedule defragmentation in Windows XP, but it's a little more involved.

Also, and this is quite important, you should NOT defragment an SSD (Solid State) drive at all. They use a different method of handling file reads and writes through a feature known as TRIM, thank you very much. Defragmenting them will just wear them out that bit sooner (with current SSD technology, you do need to be at least somewhat aware of the finite number of read/write operations available). Windows XP and Vista don't support TRIM natively, but Windows 7 and Windows 8 do - they "know" when you are using an SSD and will not try to defragment it themselves.

If you have Windows XP or Vista and are using an SSD (or upgrading to one), usually the SSD manufacturer will supply a driver that will accommodate the TRIM requirements for those operating systems. I had successfully used an SSD in Windows XP myself, so it definitely works - and I did see a nice speed boost in moving to the SSD from a conventional hard disk drive.

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