Your computer grows more sluggish by the day, taking several seconds   or even a few minutes   to respond to your every mouse click. Before you rush out to the electronics store to purchase a brand new machine, consider defragging your computer. Understanding when to defrag helps you maintain your machine in its best possible condition.

What Is Defragging?

Defragging a hard drive organizes the files on your system, from software programs to individual text documents, so the hard drive heads can access them faster. Think of a physical filing system in your home office. What if someone relocated part of the A file to the D folder? It would take you longer to locate the document you need.

Hard drive files become fragmented when the sizes change. If you play a game, for example, and create a new save, the file gets larger. The hard drive must relocate part of the data to a different slot to accommodate the bigger size. The same goes for adding another page to a text document or saving a new file in your Documents folder. Defragmenting (or defragging) consolidates those fragmented files.

How Often Should You Defrag Your Hard Drive?

Deciding how often to defrag your hard drive depends on how you use your computer. If you load, save and add to files on a regular basis, your system might require more frequent defragging than someone who only turns on their computer every few days.

Most people should defrag their hard drives about once a month, but your computer might need it more frequently. Windows users can use the built-in disk defragmenter utility on their computers. Run a system scan, then follow the tool's device. It will tell you whether or not your hard drive requires defragging.

Should You Defrag on a Set Schedule?

If your operating system allows it, you might want to set a defragging schedule. This prevents you from forgetting to run basic maintenance on your computer. However, defragging your hard drive when the disk features little fragmentation could cause damage to your machine.

Since the defragging process forces the hard drive to relocate and consolidate files, it puts stress on the hardware. This might shorten your hard drive's lifespan or reduce its speed and accuracy. For the best results, avoid defragging unless your hard drive shows significant fragmentation in the first place.

If you decide to schedule your defragmentation, choose a time when you won't need your computer. If you leave your machine running overnight, for example, you might schedule maintenance for 2 a.m. when you're sure to be asleep. Check the computer in the morning to verify the utility ran as directed.

What Other Programs Can Help?

Fragmentation represents only one problem that could cause a sluggish computer. Using high-quality utility software not only allows you to defrag your computer when necessary, but also offers other beneficial tools, such as registry defragmenters, optimization tools and automatic software updating.

A slow computer can cause frustration as you attempt to accomplish simple tasks. Run utilities, like defragmentation tools, to ease that stress and extend your computer's lifespan.

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