What is Defragging, and is it still Necessary?

Defragmntation, or “defragging”, is the process by which data on a hard drive is reorganised so that the related pieces of data are put back together in a logical way – but is it still needed?

In a way, defragging gets your hard drive in order, pikcing up all the bits of data that are scattered across the platters and reorganising them in a way which makes accessing them easier. This, in turn, improves performance, as if files are stored in a continuous manner, your computer is able to retrieve the files you need in a much speedier manner.

So why do files become defragmented in the first place, and how does this affect performance? A hard drive is a mechanical device, and within it are multiple magnetic platters, or disks, stacked upon one another; the spindle motor spins this at speeds of around 15,000 RPM. It is on these disks where data is stored, and to retrieve data, your computer analyses these disks using the read/write heads, which sit on the tip of the actuator arm. Over time, data may be stored wherever there is free space, which means files can become fragmented; this causes read times to slow down significantly.

Defragmentation puts these separated pieces of data back together, meaning they can be accessed far easier. By storing files in a continuous manner like thus, your computer is able to read them faster, speeding up read operations and making your machine generally faster. Many people would reset their computers back to factory settings, or buy a new hard drive, fearing their old one was for the scrap heap. In reality, the data that was stored on it was likely jumbled all over the place, making it difficult for your operating system to access it, and slowing your machine down.

But that begs the question – why don’t you hear about defragging anymore? Just the mention of the word conjures up memories of Windows 98 and XP. Since defragging can be a cumbersome and time-consuming process, since Windows 7, defragging has been done automatically, so it isn’t something you really need to worry about. However, there may be cases where you shut down your machine as Windows is defragging, meaning it isn’t completed. Generally, this won’t be an issue. But if you want to manually defrag your hard drive every so often, you should probably go with once a month; if you constantly leave your computer on like many of us do, then there’s no need for this.

But what about solid-state drives (SSDs), do they need defragging? The short answer – no. SSDs have a limited number of write cycles and are already incredibly fast, so defragging an SSD will achieve nothing more than shortening its lifespan.

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