How To Defrag A Hard Drive

Hardware of a computer for defragging a hard drive

A little preventative maintenance goes a long way when it comes to your Windows-based PCs. All Windows operating systems come with tools to help keep your computer running in top shape. The Microsoft Disk Optimizer (formerly the Disk Defragmenter) works to optimize fragmented files on the hard disk drive. It’s designed to increase data access speed by rearranging files stored on a disk to occupy adjacent storage locations.

Table of Contents 

What is fragmentation?

Fragmentation describes the condition of your hard disk drive when files are divided into pieces and scattered around the disk. Fragmentation occurs naturally when you use a disk frequently by doing basic tasks like creating, deleting, and modifying files.

At some point, the operating system needs to store parts of a file in noncontiguous clusters. This is entirely invisible to the user, but it can slow down the speed at which data is accessed because the disk drive must search through different parts of the disk to put together a single file then open it for your use.

By defragmenting a hard drive, the computer consolidates all the information for a file in one continuous area of the drive. This allows the drive to find open portions and write new information faster.

How to defrag a hard drive

Disk defragmentation may take several minutes or a few hours to finish, depending on the size and degree of fragmentation of your hard disk. If you have energy-saving features active, such as a screensaver, this could cause the defragmenter to stop and start all over again. We at Webopedia recommend defragging overnight and turning off any energy-saving features you may have enabled.

  1. Defragging in Windows 10 and 8

    1. Click the Start button in the bottom left corner. Type “defrag” in the search function. 


    2. Click Defragment and Optimize Drives.

    3. Click Optimize. This will launch the defragmentation process. You can still use your computer while this process is running, but try to limit activity.

    4. Once complete, a status screen will appear with the current status reading OK. 

  2. Defragging in Windows 7

    1. Click the Start button in the bottom left corner. Click Control Panel, then System and Security. The Administrative Tools window will appear.

    2. Click Defragment your Hard Drive

    3. The Disk Defragmenter dialog box will appear. Within this window, click Analyze disk. This will check whether your disk requires defragmenting. A drive with 10 percent or more fragmentation should be defragmented. 


    4. If your disk needs defragmenting, click Defragment disk. Progress will be shown as a percentage in the same window. 

    5. When the process is complete, the Disk Defragmenter window will show that your drive no longer requires defragmenting. 

    6. Click Close.

  3. Defragging in Windows XP

    1. Click Start in the bottom left corner. Click My Computer

    2. Select the local disk volume you want to defragment by right-clicking it, then selecting Properties

    3. On the Tools tab, click Defragment Now, then click Defragment.

Disk defragmentation FAQS

Can I set up the defragmentation process to run automatically?

Windows 8, 7, 10, and Vista are all built with a disk defragmentation utility, which automatically performs periodic defragmenting. Unless you need to manually force the defragging process, there’s no action to take. If you want to change when or how often the defragmentation process runs, follow these steps: 
1. Click the Start or Windows button in the bottom left. 

2. Click Control Panel, then System and Security.

3. Under Administrative Tools, click Defragment your Hard Drive.

4. Click Configure Schedule…

5. Select the schedule you want. Pick a date and time that the computer will be on but is not being used. 


6. Click OK.

Is it safe to defrag?

Yes, defragging is safe for a traditional hard disk drive (HDD). If you’re unsure whether you have a solid state drive (SSD) or HDD, Windows will tell you whether you’re using a HDD or SSD in the media type column. Defragging is safe and beneficial for improving data access performance for HDDs that store information on disk platters

 
If you have an SSD, there is no need to defrag the disk. 

How often should I defrag my computer?

If you’re a normal computer user, meaning you use your computer for web browsing, email, gaming etc. for less than eight hours a day, defragmenting once a month is often enough. 

If you’re a heavy computer user, meaning you use your computer for more than eight hours a day for work, you should defrag your hard drive more often, about once every two weeks. As a general rule, any time your disk is more than 10 percent fragmented, you should run the defrag process. You can check the percentage in the Current status column of the Optimize Drives window. 

Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal is a freelance business and technology writer covering Internet technologies and online business since the late '90s.

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