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Windows 7 hints and tips

Defragment the disk to boost the speed

We imagine that when a file is saved to the hard disk drive it is stored in one continuous block on the disk surface. This is mostly true, but it doesn't always happen. Many files are split into many small fragments and these are scattered all over the disk surface.

You don't notice this because Windows keeps track of where all the fragments are and when you want the file it goes and gets them.

To see how files can become split into two or more fragments when they are saved, imagine that you saved three files called A, B and C. This is how they are organised on the disk surface:


If you then delete file B there will be a gap between file A and C where B used to be stored, like this:


If you then you save file D Windows might start saving it in the first bit of empty space it finds, but if there isn't sufficient room for it, the rest is stored in the next bit of free space:


You can see that part of file D is stored in the space left by B and the rest is after file C. File D is in two fragments. Windows makes efficient use of the space on the disk because all the bits of free space are occupied by files. Unfortunately, this also means that accessing a fragmented file takes longer than one that is saved as a single block because Windows has to jump around fetching the fragments.

One of the reasons new computers slow down as they become older is because the disk contents become disorganised and fragmented. Fortunately, Disk Defragmenter is able to piece together the fragments of files and save them as complete blocks. It reorganises the disk contents and improves the speed.

Vista's Disk Defragmenter worked OK, but it gave little feedback to users. It doesn't even tell you how fragmented a disk is and you get a simple dialog with an option to select a schedule and little else. Windows 7 has a slightly improved Disk Defragmenter. It's nowhere near as good as third party tools like O&O Defrag, Diskeeper, and PerfecDisk, but it's marginally better.

Click Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Disk Defragmenter. You will see a list of the disks in the PC and if you click the Analyze button the currently selected disk is scanned and the amount of disk fragmentation is displayed as a percentage. If you select a disk and defragment it you will be able to see the progress as it goes about its task of reorganising the disk contents.

Windows 7 Disk Defragmenter

Commercial tools are best, but if you are looking for a freebie try Iobit's Smart Defrag, Defraggler, or Auslogics Disk Defrag. Smart Defrag has the most features, but they are free, so why not try them all?

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