What are fragmented files, why do they happen, and why do they make my computer slow?
Before I tell you how to defragment your computer I will explain what file fragmentation is. Files are stored on a computers hard drive. Your computer’s hard drive works kind of like a record or a compact disc. When your computer starts to save files to the hard drive, it usually starts in one spot and slowly spirals out to the edge as it gets more full. Over time, files get erased and moved from one place to another. Your computer will try to use up as much free hard drive space as possible and will start saving a file even if the space isn’t big enough for the whole file. It will save as much of the file as it can and then move to the next available piece of free space and the next, and the next until the whole file is saved. This breaks files up and spreads them out. This makes your computer have to skip around to different parts of the hard drive to save and open files. So instead of moving smoothly along to one file after another, the computer slows down going from one place to another trying to piece back together a file in live memory (RAM) so it can be used. Files that are spread out like this are known as fragmented files. When your computer gets enough of these fragmented files it affects performance and is known as a Fragmented Hard Drive.
How can I tell if my computer has fragmented files?
There is a built in utility program in Windows called the Disk Defragmenter that can tell you if your computer has a fragmented hard drive. to get to this program, click through each of the following:
Start>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Disk Defragmenter
The main screen in Windows 7 looks like this:
To find out if you have fragmented files, all you have to do is click the “Analyze Disk” button which looks like this:
How to Defragment a Hard Drive
You’ve used the Disk Defragmenter Tool in the last step and found that you have fragmented files on your computer. The good news is that you can use this same tool to start putting this files back together in order or defragging your hard drive. This is how you defragment a computer. To defrag your HD simply click the Defragment Disk Button and the Disk Defragmenter Tool will automatically defragment all the files on your Hard Drive.
Here are some bonus tips for defragmenting computer files:
The more modern the Operating System, the less you need to worry about fragmented computer files. They are more efficient at handling files and have less fragmentation problems. So don’t be surprised if the analysis shows 0% defragmentation. This is true for Windows 7, Mac OS X, and Linux. Your computer will get the most benefit if it’s running an older operating system like Windows XP or anything older than that.
The less programs running the better. Sometimes having programs open will cause certain files to be “In Use” and therefore unable to be defragmented. The chief example of this is having Outlook open and running while trying to defrag your hard drive. So make sure you close as many open programs as possible before running the utility!
If you get any kind of error message when trying to run the disk defragmenter, you may have bigger issues than just a fragmented hard disk. Two common error messages are “Not enough free space to run Disk Defragmenter Tool” to fix this, see our guide to clearing hard drive space. The other most common error message is ‘Disk Defragmenter has detected that Chkdsk is scheduled to run on the volume (C). Please run Chkdsk/f.’ This is a bit more advanced but thankfully not too complicated. To deal with this issue open up a command prompt and then type:
When it asks if you would like to run chkdsk on the next boot, type the letter y and then press enter. Reboot your computer. The Chkdsk utility should automatically run on startup. This can take while. When it gets done running Windows will start as normal and then you should be able to run the Disk Defragmenter Tool.
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