We all like to think that we take good care of our laptops. They’re an expensive investment, and for many of us they’re completely integral to our working lives. We use them to set our calendars, host all of our vital files and send and receive emails. In the modern day and age the majority of these tasks can be at least processed through a smartphone or a tablet, but most of us still have a laptop or desktop at home which is doing the bulk of the work, with our more fashionable gadgets set to sync to them.
Because we like to believe we’re responsible owners, we use software to keep our computers safe. We all know the importance of having good anti-virus software, for example. Many of us back that up with specific anti-malware software too, and perhaps a specific email defender or web browser accessory for added security. We might even have an independent firewall program set up, so we can feel really sure that we’re keeping intruders out. When we use any or all of these software measures, we tell ourselves that we’re giving our machine a big cuddle, and the programs are designed to help us log back online and play our fluffy favourites that help us to relax and be entertained.
In reality, there’s another tool which we should be using regularly to make sure our computers stay healthy, and the risk of loss to data is minimized. It’s a tool that every new computer comes with, doesn’t cost you an extra penny, and isn’t used nearly as much as it really should be. It’s the humble disk defragmentation tool.
Twenty years ago, before the age of the internet really kicked off, we used to defragment regularly. Disk sizes were smaller then, so making sure we were getting the most of our storage space was a big priority. Performance was also less reliable than it is today, and so we were more conscious of giving our machines a regular health check to make sure they weren’t slowing down or seizing up. At some point, as we no longer had to worry about sloppy storage habits because of the sheer size of our hard drives, defragmentation just went out of fashion.
A hard drive that is regularly defragmented, or ‘defragged’ as it’s sometimes called, is a healthy, efficient hard drive. Defragging means that storage space is used efficiently, your computer can find data faster, and there are fewer fragments of files lurking around that can lead to system lag. It’s time to get back into the habit of using the tool.
How Do Files Get Fragmented In The First Place?
Whenever you save a file, your computer automatically stores it at the very end of your available hard drive space. In theory, that means that when your computer goes to ‘find’ a file when you re-open it, it looks at the date the file was created, and knows to start towards the end of all the stored data and work its way backwards. This process is designed to continue until you either fill up your hard drive, or start deleting data which has previously been stored. So far, so good.
Where the system falls down is that you’re very unlikely to delete files or data in the same order you stored it in. Every time you delete data, it leaves a gap where the file used to be, and that gap is filled the next time you store anything new. If the “something new” you’ve created or downloaded is larger than whatever you most recently deleted, your computer will try to be efficient and fill up the gap first before storing the rest of the data at the end of the free space.
Because you delete and store new data constantly, what you’re eventually left with is a hard drive with bits of information scattered all over it, and very few files saved as one continuous packet of data. The data is, quite literally, fragmented. That slows your computer down, because it has to go looking in a number of different places in order find and run the data it needs to perform whatever task you’ve asked of it.
What Does Defragmentation Do?
In short, it does exactly what it sounds like it should do! It reverses the process described above. The defragmentation tool forces your computer to actually ‘look’ at where it’s storing data, and work out which pieces of data are actually supposed to be stored together.
Once it’s worked that out, it completely rewrites and relocates all of the stored data, putting it back in order and making it much easier to find next time it needs to do so.
What Makes Defragmentation An Essential Habit?
Defragmentation has two major benefits. Firstly, it makes your hard drive last longer. This is simply down to reducing wear and tear. When the computer has to work harder to locate data, it racks up more travel on its mechanical parts. It’s like mileage on a car; eventually the parts will wear out, and the machine will no longer be fit for purpose.
Secondly, it makes your computer faster, as we’ve already said. If all the data is in one place it will load faster. If all the data that a program needs when it’s already up and running is in one place, too, it will run faster because there’s less time required for background loading.
There are a couple of follow on benefits from defragmentation, too. It will actually help your anti-virus software run more efficiently. When a file is stored in one location instead of being spread, it’s easier to scan. When a virus is stored in one location, it’s easier to quarantine and remove it before it spreads to the data around it.
A computer that can access data quickly and easily will also consume less energy. If you’re forever cursing the battery life of your laptop, defragmentation could be your friend. The less effort the computer needs to make in order to retrieve data, the less power is consumed, and the longer the battery will last.
Simply put, if you haven’t defragmented your computer recently, there’s no better time than right now. Start it up and let it run. Your machine would thank you for it if it could speak!