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How to Use the Windows 8 Disk Defragmenter

A program that you can reach from any hard drive’s Properties dialog box is the Windows 8 Disk Defragmenter. Returning file fragments to their proper places can significantly increase your hard drive’s performance. (Technonerds call it “running a defrag.” Très nerd.)

So what the heck are fragmented files? Here’s the straight skinny: Each time you delete or move files from one spot on your PC to the other, you open up sections of your hard drive so that new files can be stored there.

When you’re ready to save a file, however, it might not fit into any single open area on your hard drive, so Windows 8 saves the file in pieces, or segments, across several open sections.

Suppose that you’re downloading a 300MB game demo, but your hard drive doesn’t have 300MB of contiguous open space handy. Windows 8 decides to save 50MB in one spot, 120MB in another, and the rest in a third open space. When you decide to install the demo and run the file, Windows 8 automatically pulls the right data from these different spots on your hard drive and reassembles the pieces into the original file.

Of course, this assembly process takes more time if the file has been broken into more pieces. And when your drive is extremely fragmented with little segments of thousands of files that Windows 8 has to keep track of, your hard drive performance really starts to suffer. Fragmentation slows down everything, and Windows 8 has to work harder every time you open or save a file.

The Windows 8 Disk Defragmenter restores the files on your drive to smooth, unbroken data storage territory. (Think of the Bonanza spread, but with ones and zeroes rather than cattle.) The figure figure illustrates your drive before you run Disk Defragmenter, and the second figure shows your drive afterward. The program reads fragmented files, combines those nomadic segments, and then saves the defragmented file back to the disk. Outstanding!

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Microsoft recommends that you do not defragment solid-state drives (SSDs). (An SSD is a super-fast hard drive that actually has no moving parts and uses memory chips, much like a USB flash drive.) You’ll get no appreciable performance gain from defragmenting a solid-state drive — in fact, the defragmenting process can actually shorten the operational life of your SSD.

Although Windows 8 does automatically defragment your drive, manually defragment your hard drives once every three months — a manual defragment is more efficient and more comprehensive than the automatic defragmenting that Windows 8 performs.

If you do defragment your drive manually, do it when you’re not using your PC (because the process takes much less time to finish that way). Most PC owners defragment at nights or on weekends. Make sure you close any other programs or apps that you have running before you start the defrag.

You can run the Disk Defragmenter from the hard drive Properties dialog box.

  1. Click the Optimize button to open the Optimize Drives window.

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  2. (Optional) To schedule Disk Defragmenter to run automatically, click the Change Settings button and then select the Run on a Schedule (Recommended) check box.

    Click the drop-down lists to set the schedule and then click OK to save your schedule.

  3. To run a defragment manually, click the drive you want to defragment in the list and then click Optimize.

    Defragmenting a hard drive takes time, and the larger the drive the longer the process will take — a typical 1TB drive requires at least two to three hours to complete a defragment session and perhaps even longer, depending on how badly the drive is fragmented.

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