The files in your computer work just like the paper documents you keep at home. For instance, if you store all of your tax records in clearly marked files within a single cabinet, you can quickly and easily locate information. However, suppose some of your documents were to get separated from the rest; it can be a much longer and more frustrating process to find what you need.

Within your computer's hard drive, that kind of separation is called fragmentation, and it's what causes your computer to slow down over time. Disk defragmentation software applications, or defragmenters, act like professional organizers. They sort your digital files, so your computer doesn't have to work as hard to find it.

Best ​​​​​​​Storage Optimization

When you first buy a computer, all of your data is stored close together on your hard drive. This allows your hard drive to physically locate information quickly. As you delete and add new data, the process gets more complicated. Your saved work is placed in an entirely different segment of your hard drive, and the actuator arm on your hard drive has to search further to find it. The additional time it takes the actuator arm to find your data not only adds time to otherwise simple operations, it slows startup too.

Disk defragmenters scan your drive and regroup similar files so they're once again in close proximity to each other. It also positions your most frequently accessed data so it's located directly next to system files. This allows you to start your computer and run your most common applications as quickly and efficiently as possible.

PerfectDisk Pro

PerfectDisk disk defragmentation software offers several tools to help you improve your computer's performance. It works with traditional hard drives and solid-state drives (SSDs), and you don't have to remember to schedule a scan.

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Best Functionality Options

When evaluating disk-defragmenting applications, functionality is important. First, whether you need a disk defragmenter for Windows or a Mac-compatible version, it's important that you find out how the software works first before you install it.

Second, if you plan to defragment a particular drive, look for one that allows you to choose which areas you want to scan rather than scanning your entire system. A targeted scan runs more quickly than a full-system scan, and many professional defragmenters allow you to choose a specific area of focus. This also works for those who want to protect a small segment during an otherwise full defrag.

Most distributors list compatibility information alongside the primary system requirements. Target drive information can be trickier to find. You can usually read reviews of the software or check for screenshots to see whether you can select target drives during defragmentation. You can also contact the manufacturer and ask if this feature is included or not.

Norton Utilities

Norton Utilities does far more than disk defragmentation. This program runs on PCs and Macs, which makes it unusual among defrag software, and it includes a startup optimization process.

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Best Optimization Features

Many disk defragmenters come with additional features to optimize computer performance. These go above and beyond the standard organizational functions. These defragmenters check registry and driver settings. Their automated processes provide detailed feedback about your personal setup, so you know exactly what your computer needs to run as smoothly as possible.

Puran Defrag

Puran Defrag is a single utility within a larger software suite, but you don't need to download all the extra components when you want to scan your machine. As long as you have a compatible PC with a traditional hard drive, this software application automates defragmentation based on a daily, weekly or monthly schedule.

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How Does a Disk Defragmenter Work?

Disk fragmentation occurs at different rates, depending on how often you install programs and save files on your computer. In short, disk defrag software reorganizes your files for quicker access. A fragmented drive runs more slowly than one where the files are properly organized, and the slower speeds affect nearly everything you do on your computer.

When you defrag your hard drive, your computer searches for misplaced files and organizes them into easy-to-reach locations. Most PCs come with a free disk defragmenter (it's an included function with Windows) already installed on your computer, but many people choose to download professional software applications.

Your computer's efficiency hinges on your answer to the following questions:

  • What kind of drive do you use to store data?
  • How large is the drive you use for storage?
  • How much information do you have stored on your computer?
  • When is the last time you defragmented your computer?
  • If you have defragmented your computer, how often have you deleted files since your last defrag?
  • How much new information have you saved since then?

As you collect and store more information on your computer, newly saved data slides into different parts of the hard disk, often far away from the original file. Over time, fragmentation slows your computer to a crawl. In most cases, it only takes a few hours to fix this issue. You just need to reorganize your data. This process is too complex to perform manually. Defragmenters simplify and automate this process to keep your computer running at optimal speed and performance.

Does Your Computer Need Defragmenting?

Fragmentation affects computers differently. While there are some similarities between different types of computers, hard drives suffer the greatest impact. They work harder to find fragmented files, and they physically slow as they search. Solid-state drives (SSD), a type of mass-storage device, use flash memory instead of spinning platters to store data. They don't require defragmentation for maintenance as often as PCs. There are reasons to use maintenance software with your SSD, but more about that below.

In general, your PC needs a defragmenter if you have internal or external hard drives that rely on physically spinning disks to function. Computers with SSDs, including laptops and mobile devices, don't experience the same kind of issues as these traditional drives. That's one reason they start up more quickly. Many Apple computers don't experience fragmentation issues either. This is because the Mac operating system defrags automatically, and many newer Macs contain SSD drives.

Though SSDs and Macs do not experience the same issues as older PCs, there are still reasons to use disk defragmenters on most desktop computers. Many modern defragmentation programs have special options to optimize storage.

Situations Where You Might Need to Defragment Your Hard Drive

Because defragmentation is primarily preventative, you shouldn't wait until there are major issues before you defragment your computer. Scheduled defrags keep your computer's storage system optimally organized all the time.

Here's when it might be time to defragment your computer:

Slow Performance
Have you noticed your computer is running more slowly than when you bought it? Computers speeds slow over time, and disk fragmentation plays a major part in this decline. Traditional hard drives use an actuator arm to locate information on spinning disks, and the process works best when all of your information is stored together. Fragmentation separates data, so your hard drive takes longer to collect the information it needs. If you experience delays opening a file, launching a new application or booting up your computer, you may need to defragment your computer's hard drive.

After Major OS Updates
Your operating system includes a complex array of folders and files. It's common after a major OS update to notice a decrease in your computer's performance. If you upgrade your system from one version of Windows to another, this is a good time to defrag your hard drive because your computer's file system may have changed significantly.

Manual Cleanups to Create More Space
Occasionally you may need to manually clean up your hard drive to remove large, unused files or programs. While these manual changes free up extra storage space, they also create fertile ground for fragmentation. Delete files you no longer need and defrag the system as soon as you finish.

Why You Shouldn't Defragment a Solid-State Drive

SSDs function differently than traditional hard drives (HDD). They don't have moving parts, so fragmentation doesn't cause the same issues as it does with HDDs. Many technicians advise against defragmentation on SSDs because it causes unnecessary stress on the drive without positive results. There is truth to that; many professional disk defragmenters have additional utilities for SSDs that don't involve standard defrag scans.

How to Optimize an SDD with Your Disk Defragmenter
Check your disk defragmenter's description to find out if it offers a storage-management solution for SSDs. Many of these programs change the way your computer stores files, so you prevent fragmentation before it starts. Storage-management features change how your computer saves files. They don't defragment your computer's SSD; instead, they organize files to avoid duplication.

How Does a Professional Defragmenter Application Differ from Your Standard, Built-In One?

Most Windows operating systems come with their own defragmenters preinstalled. So what differentiates professional versions from the standard, preinstalled versions? Simply put, the preinstalled versions are general, all-purpose utilities. While Windows defragmenters will reorganize your hard drive, they don't offer any real customization options or detailed reporting.

Here's a breakdown of the standard utilities that come with your specific Windows OS:

Windows 7 Disk Defragmenters
Not all versions of Windows came with pre-programmed or hidden defragmenters. This OS updated the process from previous versions of Windows, and it included scheduling features for frequent maintenance. This scheduler made Windows 7 defragmenter a reliable tool for general maintenance, but it didn't provide detailed reporting nor did it allow users to select specific drives to omit during the scanning and repair process.

Windows 8 Disk Defragmenters
Everything changed in the next OS version. The Disk Defragmenter for Windows 8 automatically defragmented your hard drive, and you didn't need to tell it what to do. Like previous versions of Windows, this defrag utility did not include reporting features. It only allowed you to change the frequency of your scans. It, too, lacked the ability to add or omit folders from your scan.

Mac Disk Defragmenters
Because they use a different type of storage and automatically organize files, iMacs don't address fragmentation issues. They don't experience hard-drive fragmentation with the same frequency as PCs, and they don't require the same level of maintenance as your PC.

A small percentage of Apple computer hard drives may benefit from Mac fragmentation software, notably those used for large-scale creative projects.

If you regularly add or delete photos and videos from your computer, you may wish to scan your computer. Specialized defragmenters for Macs can evaluate and reorganize stored files to keep your Mac running efficiently.

Why You Should Be Cautious of Free Defragmentation Software

There are plenty of websites that provide free defragmentation software, but these applications sometimes come with unnecessary extras like adware or malware hidden within the installation files.

It's always smart to avoid installing programs with adware, but it's especially important to be wary of free versions when seeking out software that's designed to improve your computer's performance.

Excess files, even those that don't use a lot of memory, still siphon processing power from your computer. When you download free defragmentation software, make sure you download and install only the components you want to use.

Benefits of Professional Disk Defragmentation Software

Defragmenting your hard drive may sound complicated, but it's actually simple and can double your computer's speed.

Professional disk defragmenter applications offer some additional benefits over the standard versions that come preinstalled on your computer. Here are a few of those benefits:

Very few people perform system maintenance as often as they should. If you use your computer a lot or if you save, install, or remove data, you need to regularly defragment your hard drive. Scheduling a regular day and time to defragment your drive offers a quick way to keep your computer running at peak efficiency.

The vast majority of defragmentation software includes scheduling functions, so you can choose how and when to defrag your device. All versions of Windows Defragmenter, which come standard with your Windows OS, include this feature.

Nighttime Operation
It can take several hours to defragment your computer, so you may want to run the process overnight. Software with scheduled operations allows you scan your computer while you sleep, so you're not waiting for the process to complete during your workday. Some software, like Auslogics, automatically shuts your computer down when it's finished scanning. Others run a fragmentation scan when you start your PC.

What to Look For in Professional Disk Defragmentation Software Applications

Some defrag software programs only reorganize your data into more efficient storage patterns while other applications, sometimes paired with other types of software, offer several different features. Here are the points you'll want to consider as you search for a disk defragmenter:

Ease of Use
Most disk defrag programs produce similar results if you run them with using the default settings. If you want to run advanced diagnostics or prefer to see more detailed information, many professional defragmentation applications offer informative dashboards and one-step access to your most important functions.

These dashboards help you understand the defragmentation process and allow you to quickly access important functions. The most effective dashboards have scheduling buttons, immediate scan buttons and reporting buttons. With a well-built dashboard, you can find everything you need as soon as you open the application.

Scheduling Features
Most professional disk defragmenters allow you to schedule specific times, including night time, to scan your computer. After all, who wants to wait through an hours-long process when you could sleep through the whole thing?

Driver & Registry Scans
Professional applications do more than defragment your computer. They also check driver and registry settings as well. Often, professional disk defrag programs bundle driver and registry checks along with disk defragmentation in one package.

A bundle that includes registry checks, driver updates and disk defragmentation leverages several tools to ensure your system runs efficiently. Most applications disclose whether it performs these types of scans.

Archival Features
Many professional defragmenters offer archiving. This feature works like a hyper-intelligent housekeeper. It notes which items you use frequently and which ones you don't. During defragmentation, it groups and stores the older data in a specific location.

Don't worry, the data is still there, it just doesn't take up as much space as it used to. Not all defragmentation programs offer archiving, but this feature can make a big difference in your computer's storage space and speed.

Software Size
When it comes to computer-optimization software, smaller is usually better. Unless you choose a bundle that includes a bunch of extras, a disk defragmentation application shouldn't take up much space. Programs that have only one major function should help you organize your files without taking up a lot of room on your hard drive.

When you check the file size of defragmenting applications, you may notice a few numbers listed. Most distributors show the size of the downloaded file and the amount of RAM and hard disk space needed to successfully install the application.

One thing to note is that the size of the installation file indicates whether the developer bundled in extras, and it's one way to determine whether your software includes bloatware.

Another figure indicates how much available room you need to run the application. If you don't have enough room on your hard drive, the software may not be able to copy files into temporary positions while it sorts through the rest of your data. Look for defragmenters that require less than one percent of free space on your hard drive to function.

How You Pay
The vast majority of disk defragmenters offer a one-time purchase price. Once you buy the program, you can use it for as long as you wish. Many of these defragmenters also offer per-computer licenses.

They permit you to install the program on your personal computer for a single price or all the computers in your household for a slightly higher fee. Business licenses are also available.

Some disk defragmenters provide time-based licenses. Once you download and install the program, you pay a monthly or yearly fee. While one-time purchases may offer widespread appeal, there are times when a monthly or yearly subscription makes sense. These services allow you to protect your computer with up-to-date optimization.

Making the Most of Defragmentation Software

Once you choose a professional defragmenting program, there are a few ways to get the best value from your license.

Here's a quick to-do list to help you keep the application and your computer running smoothly:

  1. Installation: If you selected a free program, go through the installation process step by step and be sure you read the fine print. You may be able to opt out of extras, such as additional applications, before completing the process. If you choose a paid program, installation is the best time to decide whether you want the application to run in the background or if you want a desktop icon to remind you when it's time to perform maintenance.
  2. Your First Scan: Complete your first scan once installation is complete. This gives you an idea of how much fragmentation has already occurred on your hard drive, and it serves as a baseline for future comparison. Depending on the application, the first scan may provide detailed feedback on each of the drive's sectors.
  3. Your First Defrag: Defragmentation and optimization happen after you scan your HDD. This process may take a while, so you may want to schedule it for later.
  4. Create a Schedule: Once you've defragmented your drive for the first time, next you'll want to set up a recurring schedule for future scans. This is where you choose daily, weekly or monthly scans. Your new schedule will ensure proper maintenance without any extra effort.

Computer hard-drive capacities have increased to enormous sizes, but they require regular maintenance in order to maintain their fast speeds. That's why it's so important to find a disk defragmenter that runs scheduled scans on your system. These programs evaluate your computer's storage space, reorganize files and lengthen the life of your hard drive. They're valuable maintenance solutions.

Once you read our buying guide, check out the available defragmenting software applications, then evaluate the available options and choose one that suits your needs. With a little help, your machine can run for years without experiencing any loss in speed due to fragmentation issues.