Windows 7 is slightly more resilient against file fragmentation than previous versions of the operating system. Fragmentation occurs because files are constantly being created and deleted. Existing files also either expand or contract in size. Windows does its best to lay these files out physically on disk in a way that each block of data that represents the file can still be physically near each other. The operating system looks for a continuous area of free space on a disk whenever it saves a file. If it can’t find any, then it does the best job it can do before shoving parts of the file in other areas on a disk. This will increase seek time and slow down the system. Defragmentation software rearranges the physical data on the disk in a more efficient matrix.
Defragmenting with the Command Line
Running the defragmenter from the command line let’s you have full control over the process. Type defrag followed by the letter representing the drive that you’d like to optimize. You can use the -v switch to receive a wealth of information about the drive in question. Using the -a switch allows you to perform an analysis without actually rearranging any data. Owners of SCSI or SATA drives can additionally use the -m switch in order to use advanced parallel processing functions available only to these drive interfaces. If you’re short on time, then use the -x switch to consolidate free space without shifting too many files around.
Graphical Defragmentation Utility
Right click on a drive in Windows Explorer and then select Properties in order to display the properties sheet for that specific drive. The Tools tab will feature a button to click to begin the defragmentation process. The dialogue box that comes up will offer options to let you analyze or defragment a drive. While this is very easy to use, it doesn’t offer complete control over the process the way that the CLI version of the defragmenter does.
A Word of Caution
While defragmentation is necessary on physical hard disks, it shouldn’t be done on solid-state drives, thumb drives or SD cards. Drives without any moving parts don’t suffer from file fragmentation. Flash drive firmware forces the operating system to save files in certain areas on these drives anyway. Running the defragmenter on them will simply wear them out over time.
Keeping Drives Happy and Healthy
Make sure to run the defragmenter approximately once a week to keep your drive optimized. Windows 7 might already run it as a scheduled process. Be sure not to run it too often to prevent unnecessary wear on your drives. Keeping a good defragmentation schedule can increase the life of your hard disk far beyond what you thought possible.