Is Your Hard Drive Disorganized?

February 11, 2009

You may have heard that you can do a defrag on your computer’s hard drive. Or maybe you have actually defragged your hard drive.


When something is fragmented, it means it’s broken into pieces and disorganized. For example, let’s say you are cooking in the kitchen and you need to use the hand mixer to beat some egg whites. Let’s say that the main unit is stored in the garage, one of the beaters is stored in the laundry room and the second beater is stored in the attic. It would take you a long time to gather the pieces so that you could use that hand mixer. In this example, the hand mixer is fragmented. If the mixer and the 2 beaters were stored together, it would be a much more efficient use of your time to get the mixer, put the beaters on, and use it.

The same can be said about a file stored on a computer’s hard drive. If the pieces of the file are stored on different areas of the hard drive, that file is fragmented and it will take longer for the hard drive to get all of the pieces than if they were all stored in one spot in the right order.

Performing a defrag on your computer will take that file, pull all of its pieces together, put them in the right order, and store them on one spot on the hard drive so that when you go to access it, it’s much faster. It’s important to note that a file on a hard drive can be anything. Sure, it can be a picture, a document, or a song, but there are lots of other things stored in files on your hard drive like programs. Windows is stored on your hard drive. Windows will run slower if the files and programs it needs are all fragmented on the hard drive.

So we see how a file can be fragmented, but in the world of computers there are other kinds of fragmentation. Even if every file on your hard drive is not fragmented, your hard drive can be considered fragmented. Why? If some files are stored in one part of the hard drive while other files are stored in another area of the hard drive, your hard drive is considered fragmented. Why is this important? If your computer accesses a file on the hard drive, the hard drive moves to that area of the hard drive. Then after that, it accesses another file on the hard drive, it has to move to a different area of the hard drive to access the second file. It’s all about minimizing the amount of movement and work the hard drive has to do.

Yet another kind of fragmentation is inside a data file. A lot of data on computers is stored in databases. These are kind of like mini hard drives themselves. The data inside them can be fragmented. There can also be wasted space within a file. Defragmenting the internal workings of a data file must be done by a utility program that understands the structure of that particular data file. So the defag built-in to Windows doesn’t do this kind of fragmentation. The reason I mention it is because there is a file, or set of files, in Windows known as the registry. The Windows Registry is a set of files where Windows stores a lot of settings. Windows doesn’t do anything without first accessing the registry. If the Windows Registry becomes damaged or corrupted, your computer will not function. Because the Windows Registry is often large and is accessed so frequently by Windows, it is important to not only back it up, but to defrag the contents of the registry to keep your computer running as well as it can.

Windows does not include a utility for defragging the Windows Registry. There are a few programs that will do it, but they aren’t cheap. For your average computer user, it’s probably not worth it to purchase one of these programs. When Cyber Tek Computer Pros performs a Deep Cleaning & Optimization service on your computer, we back up your registry and defrag it.

defragTo run a defrag in Windows XP or in Windows Vista, click on Start->All Programs->Accessories->System Tools->Disk Deframentor. In Windows XP you can click the analyze button to see how fragmented your hard drive is, or you can just go ahead and defrag it. You might as well just go ahead and defrag it. It will still show you a graphical representation of the fragmentation on your hard drive. The picture to the left shows to colorful bars. The top bar is before and the bottom bar is after. The red are the fragmented files. This fragmentation is still in process, so the bottom picture doesn’t represent the final result. The final result will show no red and all of the blue will be together in one area.

Vista allows you to set a schedule for automatic defrags and to select which drives will be defragmented, if you have more than one hard drive. You can also tell it to defrag now. But unlike XP, it doesn’t show you a graphical representation of the fragmentation of your hard drive and there is no option to just analyze.

It’s important to note that depending on the size of  your hard drive, the amount of data stored on it, the amount of free space on the drive, and the number of fragmented files, a defrag can take anywhere from half an hour to several hours.

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