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What Does Defragging Do?

What Does Defragging Do?

Linsey Knerl
Reading time: 7 minutes
Have you ever heard the recommendation to "defrag" your computer? It's a strange word that potentially has a positive outcome for computer owners who are dealing with slow-performing laptops or desktop PCs. With the new Windows 10 operating system, do you still need to defrag? What if I have an SSD? Learn more about what this process does and how you can use it to make your computer boot up faster and perform better overall.

What does defragging a computer mean?

Think of defragging as organizing a giant closet full of half-open boxes and partially-assembled outfits. As things are grouped together in a more usable manner, they can be put into the places they fit best. You save space, leaving more room for new things. In the case of your computer, the extra space can be used to perform more tasks, faster, or save precious files.
Every time you use your computer, you create or call up files, then store them, then call them back up, edit them, and send them back to storage. As you access them, these files can become split into several blocks, which are then stored in different parts of your hard disk drive.
Imagine your closet again, but instead of lots of boxes stacked in one place, each time you wear an outfit, you toss it into any ol’ closet in the house. It wouldn’t take too long before your stuff is scattered far and wide, and getting dressed in the morning takes loads more time. Same with your files.
Over time, the number of files can become massive, and pieces of them can be spread far and wide across your hard disk drive. Because your disk drive spins to each location where a part of the file you are calling up is stored, getting them all together and loaded takes time. Even if your computer has enormous storage capacity, all this mismanaged file data can accumulate which makes retrieving the whole file a lot slower.
As you use your computer these files separate, break off, and jumble themselves in a way that uses more space than they should. A proper defragging can put everything back into an order that allows for the best use of available space.
Older versions of Windows referred to the tool that performs defragging as the “Disk Defragmenter,” because it actually consolidates fragmented files and partial folder systems, then moves them around to take up the least amount of space possible.
Newer versions of Windows include the defragmentation process as part of their “Optimize disk” process, so even though they don’t refer to the software in the same way, the process still exists. You may see defragging as part of a larger, overall maintenance wizard, where you may be prompted to add defragging to a checklist of processes your PC can perform for you. If you see references to defragging, disk optimization, or defragmentation, these all do the same thing.

Should I defrag my SSD?

Defragging is unnecessary for SSDs. In fact, it may even cause your SSD to end its useful life earlier. Since the defragging process is meant to consolidate files on the spinning platter in sequentially ordered blocks to access them more quickly, defragging will benefit users with an HDD.
SSDs, on the other hand, have no moving parts, so files do not become fragmented over different cells during use like HDDs will. If you defrag an SSD, you are, in essence, using some of the finite program/erase cycles unnecessarily, which can age your drive. The good news is that sometimes our tech is smarter than us. If you have an SSD, chances are if you try to defrag it, your computer will throw up roadblocks or at least ask you to rethink your decision.

Do Macs need to be defragged?

Macs do not need to be defragged. They use a different OS than PCs (AFPS) which defrags files automatically as they are saved. Only PCs with an HDD need to have this process performed.

Is defragging safe for my HDD?

The defragging process is part of a Windows-based maintenance tool, so it’s really hard to do it incorrectly. Your computer is already set up to defrag at the touch of a few buttons. Even if you interrupt the process somehow, it’s not likely that your hard drive will suffer any harm. Defragging is one of the safest and simplest ways to care for your hard drive and ensure your PC is optimized for its best performance.

Does defragging delete files?

Defragging does not delete files. Some software programs, especially those made and sold by third-party companies, may include defragging as part of an overall maintenance program, and this program may include deleting temporary files or duplicate files.
If you use the Windows defragging tool that comes standard with most HP computers and laptops, you will be given a choice to defrag as an independent process. You can run the defrag tool without deleting files or running backups of any kind.

How to defrag your Windows 10 PC or laptop

It’s surprisingly easy to run the defragging process on a Windows 10 computer or laptop. While this service is sometimes recommended as part of a more comprehensive optimization process, you can choose to defrag your computer at any time using these steps:
  1. Use the search bar in the bottom left of your computer and type in “defrag”
  2. Select the defrag window, then within it, choose Defragment and Optimize Drives
  3. Choose the drive you want to defrag. This is usually “C:” for most hard drives, but it could be named something else. If you have more than one disc drive, choose the one you want to start with
  4. Click Optimize
The process could take a minute or a few minutes; the time depends on how long it’s been since your last defragging session. When it’s done, you are free to use your computer as normal.

Benefits of defragging computers

The defragmenting process can give you more space on your hard drive, which can be a big advantage to someone who is close to the limit of what their hard drive can hold. It can also produce a more stable computing experience. Optimized drives simply work better overall.

View how much space you have left

You can see how much of your drive is being used simply by analyzing it. Upon opening the defragging tool, you should see two choices: defragment or optimize.
If the optimize button isn’t greyed out, you can select it and allow your computer to look at your disc drive to see how much space would be saved by doing a full defragging. Color-coded bands will provide a visual representation of the types of files that can be moved, along with the space that will free up after the process. If you see that a significant amount will be saved, it’s worth it to go ahead and follow through with the disc defragmentation.

Your computer can do it automatically

You can choose to have your computer defrag regularly and automatically. This is useful if you don't want to have to remember to do it, or you want to avoid waiting until your computer has issues to defragment. We recommend defragging your computer at least once a month for best results.
By turning on scheduled optimization, you can select to have it done automatically at your choice of interval. Pick from daily, weekly, or monthly for the drives you choose. You can also set it to prioritize this process over any other competing processes that may occur at the time of your scheduled defragging. This would kick in if you miss more than three consecutive sessions.

Does defragging help?

If it's been a long time since you've run the defragging tool, you may notice that using it has an immediate effect on how your computer runs. It can make startup time quicker and some processes may run better than before.
That being said, defragging won’t fix all of your computer’s problems. Also, if you've defragged recently, it won't be likely to make much of a difference for your computer. As part of a regular PC tune-up, it does play a role in a better overall computing experience and should be performed periodically for best results.

About the Author

Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.

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