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  1. #1
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    LANGALIST PLUS

    Are the benefits of defragmentation overblown?


    By Fred Langa

    One of the never-ending, always-simmering debates between PC users is whether defragging modern hard drives provides any measurable benefits to PC performance.

    Unfortunately, the answer is not an absolute yes or no but instead depends on how you defrag your system.

    The full text of this column is posted at WindowsSecrets.com/2010/08/05/05 (paid content, opens in a new window/tab).

    Columnists typically cannot reply to comments here, but do incorporate the best tips into future columns.
    Last edited by revia; 2011-01-19 at 15:46.

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    Lounge VIP bobprimak's Avatar
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    Fred, I think we should distinguish the difference between defragmenting and optimizing a hard drive. Merely defragmenting files does little to improve seek or access times, except in cases like the one you cited where a large file is in many, many fragments scattered all over a large drive. But more commonly, what makes the most difference is that a good optimizer will move files around so that the most frequently accessed files are nearest to the "top" of the drive. This does reduce seek and access times, and often produces significant performance improvements. Combined with disk cleanup, this is a good way to improve Windows system performance for many users. Anyway, this has been my experience on several PCs with different optimizers and different versions of Windows and DOS.

    By contrast, Linux already does a good job of avoiding fragmentation in the first place (through better disk and file management than Windows), so for Linux, defragmenting and optimizing are a waste of time, and can be hard on the life expectancy of the hard drive.
    -- Bob Primak --

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    MSE IS BAD

    Fred, in your most recent WS column ("AV suite implicated in horrible boot time" under "Are the benefits of defragmentation overblown?", Aug. 5), you endorsed Microsoft Security Essentials. So have many other commentators.

    After reading many other favorable reviews, I started using MSE too a couple of months ago. Bad choice! Suddenly various programs stopped working (e.g., Juice stopped downloading podcasts, I could not activate Giveawayoftheday programs, and more). MSE never popped up any alerts or questions, and never gave me an option to allow the problem programs to access the Internet. I might have been able to manually enter them in an exceptions list, but that's much more trouble. Moreover, I could not easily disable MSE when needed. Its vaunted simplicity and transparency became a drawback. I returned to Avast AV and Comodo firewall, and the problems disappeared.

    Please check MSE more carefully and reconsider your recommendation.

    --Jonathan Plutchok

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    I think the comments about security suites and firewalls are misleading. I run W7 with MSSE and the Windows Firewall. I also was running just the Comodo Firewall too. With these my system passes the Gibson Leaktest and the Comodo leaktest with a 340 out of 340. After reading the article I decided to run an experiment. I used Revo and uninstalled the Comodo firewall; and rebooted.

    I ran the Gibson leaktest and FAILED.

    Needless to say I've since reinstalled the Comodo firewall.

    Granted there are bloated security suites out there; but the Comodo firewall is not one of them. Also, the Microsoft firewall is NOT
    adequate by itself, in spite of what the article says.
    Dick

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    FAIL on the defragging, Fred. Why? Not because it's bad advice, but because we still can't tell whether it's good or bad. Fred continues using hand-waving, intellectual arguments and concludes with "trust me". That hasn't been acceptable for 500 years since the dawn of the scientific method. If defragging a Windows HDD is really beneficial, it shouldn't be difficult to produce timed results that show the improvement. Until then, claims that defragging are great are just so much religion.

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    Super Moderator CLiNT's Avatar
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    Good article Fred, I do trust you on this. Defragging does makes a difference!
    Some people you can only please with a benchmark.
    Now if only the right crowd were doing so; Those that look at you with a blank stare when you ask if they ever
    tried to defragment their hard drive in the 3 years they've owned they're computer.
    DRIVE IMAGING
    Invest a little time and energy in a well thought out BACKUP regimen and you will have minimal down time, and headache.

    Build your own system; get everything you want and nothing you don't.
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    Your article seems to be a bit of oversimplification RE defragging.

    First of all, if you plan your system layout carefully, defragging isn't needed, and for today's HBGs (Humongous Big Drives), that can be very time consuming, so I avoid it at all costs.

    Example: I put all system data and executables on drive C:, but all user data and even temporary files if possible on other drives. Since C: is rarely written to, it rarely shows a need for defragging, and it doesn't take long to do it.

    User-created data, at least in my case, is large audio or video files. They are usually made one at a time and the data written contiguously, but rarely erased (the drives are removed and archived when full, or kept online in an archive (read-only) status). This creates an environment where defragging provides minimal benefits and the time is unrewarding -- ever wait for a 1.5TB drive to finish churning? Waiting 2 days for a process to complete and save you a future second here and there doesn't strike me as worthwhile.

    There is another factor that might affect the defrag or not to defrag question. Really good disk operating systems, especially those designed for servers and simultaneous, multiple users don't process read or write requests in real-time sequence as they are generated, but queue them up for a short (few milliseconds) time, then issue the head movement orders in sequence of tracks (actually, cylinders) and sectors. This means that the head has to make only one pass from center to edge, or vice-versa, to handle all pending, queued requests. One spin of the disk is sufficient to read ALL required sectors in that cylinder, and careful timing when the head moves to another cylinder means the closest sector to the head is read first. This reduces the seek and head movement time significantly, and probably prolongs the life of the seek mechanism.

    This technique was used by Novell servers years ago, and the Novell team claimed that it made defragging unnecessary; they never provided such a utility, and my personal experience with Novell installations was quite positive in that area. I never observed slowdowns that could be blamed on scattered disk allocations. In fact, I sometimes wiped out working servers with system and data files and restored them from backup tapes, which would have written all files sequentially, but the data access did not speed up measurably.

    I do not know if Microsoft uses this "elevator seeking" technique in their servers or desktop systems, and perhaps in a single user environment, it is less effective. Still, I'm a power user with several applications running simultaneously, and that simulates multi-user environments to some degree. Anyone know if MS does this?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Clint Rossmere View Post
    Defragging does makes a difference!
    So too placebos in the medical profession. So, if you feel good doing them, continue. But if you're going to make claims to others that they're good, produce the impartial quantitative results. The real point is that I expect more from professional computer writers/researchers than "trust me".

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    Super Moderator CLiNT's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph Finch View Post
    So too placebos in the medical profession. So, if you feel good doing them, continue. But if you're going to make claims to others that they're good, produce the impartial quantitative results. The real point is that I expect more from professional computer writers/researchers than "trust me".
    It is so not necessary to prove it's benefits to you, in fact, it is you that should come up with the "impartial quantitative results" to prove otherwise.
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    What is a good optimizer as Bob Primak suggests and how do you arrange your startup files so that one follows each other at startup thus avoiding excessive head searches as Fred Laga suggests? Also what good is the analysis conducted by the Windows 7 defragment utility when it suggests you do not need to defragment your hard drive because it is only 1% fragmented? So should you defragment when only 1% is fragmented? I've seen when I do defragment after only 1% is fragmented that it does take a little time-not just a few minutes, so that suggests something good is happening.
    Frank C.

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    Lounge VIP bobprimak's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jocaan View Post
    What is a good optimizer as Bob Primak suggests and how do you arrange your startup files so that one follows each other at startup thus avoiding excessive head searches as Fred Laga suggests? Also what good is the analysis conducted by the Windows 7 defragment utility when it suggests you do not need to defragment your hard drive because it is only 1% fragmented? So should you defragment when only 1% is fragmented? I've seen when I do defragment after only 1% is fragmented that it does take a little time-not just a few minutes, so that suggests something good is happening.
    Frank C.
    Two different issues. Startup Managers can also delay certain Startups to prevent boot time conflicts, which are the root cause of many slow startups. Defragmenting and optimizing are not the issue in these cases. I don't have this type of issue, so I do not use a full-featured Startups Manager.

    One of the best disk optimizers (defragments and optimizes file locations) is Defraggler (from the same folks who make CCleaner). This is what I use, along with Glary Utilities (which includes Glary Absolute Uninstaller) on my 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium laptop. While CCleaner is not a full-featured Startups Manager, it can reduce the number of unwanted Startups by unchecking them individually from a list. All of these programs are free, which is the price I like the best.

    As for when to defragment, on modern hard drives, which can exceed 500GB, a one percent fragmentation reading can mean that 5GB of files are scattered all over the drive. This can lead to serious performance hits, if those 5GB are your most frequently accessed files (and they usually are). Even one large but frequently used file, if badly scattered, can bring an application's performance to a crawl, as Fred noted in his column.

    So how do you know when to run Defraggler? First, it runs so quickly on a 64-bit, dual-core system that you can run it whenever you see slowing in an application or in Windows generally, and just running CCleaner does not improve things. Second, I do system maintenance once a week for those things which cannot be scheduled to run on their own at night. Running a cleaner and an optimizer once a week, regardless of percent of fragmentation, will do no harm, wastes very little time, and will keep things running smoothly for most home users. At the same time (or at night the same day) run a complete scan with each antivirus or antispyware product you use which does scans. And then do a backup run. The sequence I use is: Scan, Clean, Optimize, Back Up. It's all part of regular maintenance for a modern PC.
    -- Bob Primak --

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    I remain to be convinced that disk defragmentation a good thing.

    The miniscule perceived improvement is far outweighed by the massive additional wear to the hard disk by the constant moving of data around resulting in shortened life.

    I prefer to wipe the disk and reinstall following a new OS or major revision (servicepack) has been released and any problems ironed out. That really keeps my computer in peak condition.

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    Lounge VIP bobprimak's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Terry Farrell View Post
    I remain to be convinced that disk defragmentation a good thing.

    The miniscule perceived improvement is far outweighed by the massive additional wear to the hard disk by the constant moving of data around resulting in shortened life.

    I prefer to wipe the disk and reinstall following a new OS or major revision (servicepack) has been released and any problems ironed out. That really keeps my computer in peak condition.
    There are those of us whose experience with disk defragmentation includes application speed differences which can be easily measured with a stopwatch. (Igor Leyko -- see below -- is correct that the Windows Operating System itself is not helped by defragmenting the OS files or resources.) Defragmentation does not significantly "wear out" modern hard drives. I have a six-year-old internal hard drive on my Windows XP laptop which has been through weekly defragmentation and has zero disk errors. Never even a byte of data loss from defragmenting, either. So that is a Red Herring issue. And the time taken up by a Defraggler run on my newer Windows 7 64-bit Toshiba Satellite laptop is so little as to be negligible. The effect even on the Toshiba is lasting and significant, and is also measurable with a stopwatch for some files and application launches. Your mileage may vary.

    As Fred demonstrates in his example of a large Excel File which is heavily fragmented, leaving such large files in this condition actually causes more head movement and more hard drive disk wear as the file is accessed over and over during normal operations, than the defragmentation process itself ever can cause.

    I just gave Woody Leonhard ( http://www.askwoody.com ) what-for for posting in his blog that Igor Leyko (a Windows expert who works for Microsoft) was quoted in Ed Bott's blog as saying that defragmentation is one of the Windows "tweaks" which are myths and do no good whatsoever. In truth, Leyko never mentioned defragmentation with regards to applications or large files. (The Ed Bott blog posting to which Woody links is a great read for other reasons.)

    Fred Langa has presented in the column which leads into this Lounge Thread, a cogent and well-described case in favor of the benefits of file defragmentation. Whether or not disk optimization (actually reorganizing files for quicker access) does any good on modern hardware, is still open for debate. But file defragmentation has well-documented benefits, and should be considered in cases of a "slow computer". (Again, your mileage may vary.) And why Leyko would list cleanup utilities as a "myth" when Microsoft includes s Disk Cleanup Utility in every copy of Windows, is a complete mystery to me.

    As for handling each Service Pack as a complete OS reinstall, that seems to me to be going a bit overboard. But then again, some folks still believe that Windows should be completely reinstalled every year or six months to keep it clean and error-free. To each their own, but I prefer to spend a weekend of my life doing something more fun or productive. Windows XP SP3 wasn't really that much of a big deal, but SP2 often required a complete OS reload. Windows 7 SP1 will be more like SP3 than SP2 and will probably not be best handled as a complete OS reload, in my opinion. I have no information or experience on Vista Service Packs.
    -- Bob Primak --

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