Defragment Your Hard Drive for Better System Performance

While handling everything from the installation of programs to the storage of various data files, your PC’s hard disk drive is a workhorse that takes a great deal of punishment over time. As programs are installed and various data files are added and deleted, a hard disk eventually becomes fragmented, leaving bits and pieces of files spread across different (and non-contiguous) disk clusters. In simple terms, a fragmented hard disk will not perform optimally, since all of the fragments of a file must be assembled when that file is opened. Over time, fragmentation can severely degrade the performance of your hard disk, since individual fragments need to be searched for and reassembled by the system. If your PC seems slow right now, performing disk defragmentation often has a huge impact towards improving system performance.

Operating systems from Windows 95 forward have included a utility called Disk Defragmenter. As its name suggests, the primary role of this tool is to defragment your system’s hard disk on a partition-by-partition basis. The process begins by analyzing a partition to find its current degree of fragmentation, and then suggests whether defragmentation is necessary based on its findings. As a general rule, you should run Disk Defragmenter at least once per month on busy partitions like your C drive. When fully defragmented, your hard disk will be much more responsive, with files and programs opening much more quickly that they otherwise would. For details on how to use the Disk Defragmenter on an XP PC, see the details below. Note that the process can take quite some time on a system with badly fragmented partitions, so you might want to consider running it overnight the first time.

Step 1: Click Start, and select All Programs. Select Accessories > System Tools, and then click Disk Defragmenter. The Disk Defragmenter window will open. All partitions configured on your system will be listed, along with information about available disk space.

Step 2: Click the Analyze button. This will analyze the partition currently selected for fragmentation, and will graphically display the current state of fragmented, contiguous, and unmovable files on your system.

Step 3: Once the analysis is complete, you will be presented with the Disk Defragmenter dialog box. Click the View Report button to view the reported findings of the analysis. Scroll down to view information such as total fragmentation for the partition.

Step 4: If the Disk Defragmenter suggests that the partition need to be defragmented, click the Close button on the Analysis Report dialog box and then click the Defragment button. The defragmentation process can take anywhere from minutes to hours based on your system and its current state, so a little patience will be necessary.

Author: Dan DiNicolo

Dan DiNicolo is a freelance author, consultant, trainer, and the managing editor of He is the author of the CCNA Study Guide found on this site, as well as many books including the PC Magazine titles Windows XP Security Solutions and Windows Vista Security Solutions. Click here to contact Dan.