Does defragging really help?

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I get questions sometimes about defragging a computer.  Does defragging really help?  Does it hurt anything?  Should I defrag my computer?  How often?  What software should I use to defrag?


First of all, here is what “defragging” actually means.

When you install software on your computer, all of the data doesn’t get put nicely and neatly in one place.  You have the main program in the Program Files folder, an icon on the desktop, perhaps some data storage in Documents, and a bunch of little bits and pieces in the Registry.  And in many cases, there are other places where data is stored in addition to those that I just mentioned.

And that is just for one program.  If you’re like most people, you have lots of programs on your computer.  They all like to scatter their little bits and bytes all over the landscape of your hard drive.  Then, when you uninstall a program, it’s common that it might leave behind some of the data that was installed initially.

Over time, this means that the hard drive gets “fragmented” to a certain degree by having all of this “stuff” stored in little nooks and crannies.  In theory, this slows down your computer because it has to go hunting for this data when it needs it.

When you “defrag” (short for “defragment”) your drive, you are rearranging those little bits of data back into a more coherent order.  The idea is that this will speed up your computer.  In reality, it’s not that big a deal.  Unless, that is, your computer’s hard drive is just overrun with bits and pieces of data from years and years of disorganization.

Does it hurt to defrag?  No.  It just doesn’t help that much.

If you like to defrag because you feel you are doing something good for your computer, by all means go for it.  Don’t expect it to really solve any current problems that you might be having with it though.

As far as software to perform the defrag task, the one I would recommend is called Defraggler (available free here).  It’s free and pretty easy to use.  Just don’t expect miracles when you do it.

Do you defrag?  Let us hear about your experiences in the comment box below.

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September 5th, 2011

It can’t hurt and can Help. Do it as a check off of things that may causing problems.

Carol O
October 14th, 2011

It sometimes can hurt but probably only when your PC is in dire straits anyway. It was a defrag which finally did for my 9 y.o. IBM Thinkpad. Somehow, after the defrag, there was an essential file missing and attempts to fix the problem (by an expert) just made the PC worse until the whole thing became completely unusable. It is now totally dead and can’t get past the IBM stage of boot-up or see the hard drive at all. Swapping to a new hard drive hasn’t helped either. I think to be honest it just wanted to die of old age anyway!