Solid State Drives (or “SSDs”) are all the rage right now. They allow for incredible speed increases on existing hardware, and can be considered perhaps the biggest performance boost on computers in the last few years. Unfortunately they are still very expensive compared to plain old Hard Disk Drives. For example, a internal 500GB 2.5 inch HDD costs around R600 these days, but an equivalent 500GB SSD currently goes for almost R10 000. No, that is not a typo…
But while we are still stuck on HDD’s, we can at least boost their performance by occasionally defragmenting them. One of the pains of hard disk drives is the fragmentation of files and free space. If left unattended, your hard drive can become very fragmented which results in much lower performance. Here is a simple graphic that explains how fragmentation occurs, and how a defragmenter fixes it:
Fragmentation occurs when the operating system cannot or will not allocate enough contiguous space to store a complete file as a unit, but instead puts parts of it in gaps between other files (usually those gaps exist because they formerly held a file that the operating system has subsequently deleted or because the operating system allocated excess space for the file in the first place). Larger files and greater numbers of files also contribute to fragmentation and consequent performance loss. (Wikipedia, 2011)
The supplied defragmenter with Windows is simply abysmal. It is slow, not very effective and the user has not feedback on what exactly is happening on the drive.
The best defragmenter is still Diskeeper. It does small things like changing the drive layout so that files that need high performance is moved to a high speed area of the drive, and small files that need faster random access to the inner sectors of the drive. But you have to pay for it. So for people who need the highest performance from their drives like server admins and video editors, Diskeeper is a great buy.
But not everyone wants to spend money on this type of software. The best free version is Defraggler, (an oldie, but a goodie). This software enables a user to very quickly defragment specific files and folders, something that the windows supplied defragmenter cannott do. Or of course you can defrag the drive completely, just like all other defragmenters. The result is much better performance from your drive. Considering that storage is still the slowest part inside a modern computer, it really helps to defragment your drives regularly. You can of course set Defraggler on a schedule to do a quick defragment every few days – your choice.
My Tip: A very quick way to defragment your drive is to first analyse the disk, click on file list, arrange the files so that the most fragmented files are on top. Then click the tickbox next to the filename column (which then automatically ticks all the boxes for you). This is surprisingly quick and even faster than Diskeeper.
If you are however looking for a good middle ground between a HDD and an SSD, consider a Hybrid Hard Drive. These drives combine a standard HDD with a small amount of SSD storage for only frequently used files. These frequently accessed files get a massive performance increase, at only a small price premium above a normal HDD. Look at our review of the Seagate Momentus XT to get an idea of the performance boost it gives. I recommend it highly to anyone not willing to jump to SSD just yet. (PS: If you are lucky enough to be using SSD’s already, you should never defragment them, because it creates unnecessary write cycles on the drive, which decreases its reliability.)