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

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 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 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 operating system. Also, don’t manually defrag.

If You’re Running Windows 7 or Vista

If you’re using either Windows 7 or 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 0% fragmentation. Clearly the schedule is working just fine.

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.

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?

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.

If you’re looking to eke 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 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.

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