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HTG Explains: Do You Really Need to Defrag Your PC?

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Ask any PC tech person how to make your computer faster, and almost every one of them will tell you to defrag your PC. But do you really need to manually trigger a defrag these days?

The quick answer: You don’t need to manually defragment a modern operating system. The longer answer: let’s go through a couple scenarios and explain so you can understand why you probably don’t need to defrag.

If You’re Using Windows with an SSD Drive

If you’re using an SSD (Solid State Drive) in your computer, you should not be defragmenting the drive to avoid excessive wear and tear—in fact, Windows 7 or 8 is smart enough to disable defrag for SSD drives. Here’s what Microsoft’s engineering team has to say on the subject:

Windows 7 will disable disk defragmentation on SSD system drives. Because SSDs perform extremely well on random read operations, defragmenting files isn’t helpful enough to warrant the added disk writing defragmentation produces…

….the automatic scheduling of defragmentation will exclude partitions on devices that declare themselves as SSDs.

If you’re running Windows Vista, you should make sure to disable the automatic defrag and question your operating system choices, and if you’re using Windows XP with an SSD, one has to wonder why you’d have such an expensive solid state drive running with an ancient and unsupported operating system when you could switch to Linux instead.

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If You’re Running Windows 7 or 8.x

If you’re using either Windows 7, 8, or even Vista, your system is already configured to run defrag on a regular basis—generally 1 AM every Wednesday. You can check for yourself by opening up Disk Defragmenter and seeing the schedule there, as well as the last run and fragmentation levels.

For instance, in the screenshot below, you’ll see that the last time it ran just a few days ago, and there was zero percent fragmentation. Clearly the schedule is working just fine.

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The one exception to this rule is if you turn your PC off every time after using it—essentially, if you never let the PC sit idle at all, the defrag task will never get a chance to run. This is probably not the case, but if you check and your drive hasn’t been defragged in a while, you might have to start doing it manually.

Windows XP

Sadly there’s no automatic defragmenter in Windows XP, which isn’t surprising since it’s 10 years old. This also means that you are going to need to either manually defragment the drive on a regular basis. How regular? Well, that depends on how much data you’re creating, downloading, writing, and deleting. If you’re a heavy user, you need to run it once a week. Light user, maybe once a month.

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Luckily there’s a much better option—you can quickly and easily setup an automatic defrag in Windows XP using task scheduler. It’s pretty simple, and you can configure it to run whenever you want.

Do Third-Party Defrag Utilities Really Matter?

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It’s impossible to write an article about defrag and not at least mention third-party defrag utilities—but unfortunately we don’t have solid benchmarks to prove that they improve performance better than the default defrag built into Windows. Our general, non-scientific testing has shown that commercial defrag utilities definitely accomplish the task a little better, adding features like boot-time defrag and boot speed optimization that the built-in defrag doesn’t have. They can generally defrag system files a little better, and they usually include tools for defragging the registry as well.

But here’s what they won’t tell you: Over the years, as hard drives have gotten much faster at both sequential and random reads and writes, the usefulness of defrag has dropped a bit. Your hard drive 10 years ago only had to be partially fragmented to cause system slowdown, but these days, it’ll require a very fragmented drive to make that happen. Another factor are the giant hard drives in modern computers, which have enough free space that Windows doesn’t have to fragment your files in order to write them to the drive.

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If you’re looking to eek every last drop of performance out of your spinning hard drive, a third-party defrag utility is probably what you need… or you could put that cash towards a new SSD, which would massively increase performance.

Wrapping Up

Didn’t feel like reading the whole article? Skipped down to here for some unknown reason? Here’s the quick version:

  • (Fastest) Windows with an SSD Drive: Don’t Defrag.
  • Windows 7, 8, or Vista: It’s automatic, don’t bother. (check to make sure the schedule is running)
  • Windows XP: You should upgrade. Also, you should setup defrag on a schedule.

Bottom line: Upgrade to an SSD and your PC will be fast enough to leave defrag where it belongs: a distant memory.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 07/24/14
  • Andrey

    In Windows 8.1, not sure if the WIndows 8 also, Optimize Drives, previously called Disk Defragmenter, optimizes SSD applying trim e unmap only and so is enabled on schedule too and should not be disabled.

  • Jouni Järvinen

    Window$'s defrag completely sucks. It was in WinME last time it actually could do shit, which is why I always make sure I disable that piece of shit and install Auslogics Disk Defrag, a completely free, really simple, powerful defrag.

  • liz

    With all my personal experience with microsoft products i turn off every possible automatic or scheduled event. I prefer to do things manually so I can follow the results. Half the time these schedules do not work. In the work environment using a proxy you cannot access automatic updates. I too would never even use microsoft's junky defrag I'd rather install a third party for that.

  • Mark Buechler

    I find that CCleaner and MalWareBYTES in Safe Mode are much better 1st options for a slow PC.

  • Jamie

    There is a far more insidious problem with modern drives and the windows NTFS file management system -NTFS holds all the file entries, descriptors, ownership and allocation details in 1 big 'heap', and includes the data from small files.Using FAT - the entries for files in a 'Folder' were held in a 'Directory file' that had the same name as the Folder, so getting all files in a folder meant finding the 'Directory file' and reading that.In NTFS it means having the file management part of the OS search through the MFT looking for file entries that are marked as being in the 'Folder'(s) you specified.No problem as long as the OS has enough (real) memory to allocate to hold all the MFT.Then, one day, you will create a new entry and suddenly the real memory available is not enough to hold all the MFT Now the OS will begin looking for the least-recently-used memory block so it can re-allocate that to the bit of the MFT that needs to be read in.And then - the next bit of the MFT to be used was in the bit of memory that was previously least-recently-used - so find a bit of memory to re-allocate for that data to be read from the drive (no - it won't be in the drive cache as that did the same thing as the OS did with it's cache.Repeat for every block of the MFT down to the entry for each and every file you wanted - or that is in the folder you wanted to get a file from.

    That can cause hundreds of milliseconds of disk access for every one of the - say 1000 files in the folder you want to open a file from.

    So - more important than defrag may be to remove the redundant temporary Internet files - maybe 2000 for every day's browsing.

    NOW - does anybody know of a utility to defrag and reorganise the MFT - please, pretty please!

  • Robert_Zanol

    I have windows 8.1 on a 65 GB NTFS partition. I have a 1 TB disk with one NTFS partition for my data files. I access the data NTFS partition from Linux mostly and the few times I am in Windows. I also have Windows 7 on a 65GB partition on an SSD which also has my linux OS partitions.

    I have not had to defrag the 1 TB data NTFS partition ever. I am hardly booted into 8.1 so no need to even check that.

    My backup 1 TB disk is one EXT 4 partition. I use rsync from linux to back up files to it from the NTFS data partition, and obviously that needs no defragmenting either.

    For me at least defragging is a thing of the past.

  • John Geldreich

    If Windows 7 automatically disables defrag on SSDs, it must do so behind the scenes. Every time I've installed Windows 7 on an SSD, the task is still in Task Scheduler as active. I've always had to go in and either disable, or delete, the scheduled task. Same goes for Windows 8.

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