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Do You Need to Defragment your Mac’s Hard Drive?

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: Michael Dougherty•updated: 4/22/2010

If you create, import, add, delete, export, move, and copy a lot of data to and from your Mac, your hard disk may be fragmented. Then again, it may not. What’s the deal with “fragmentation” and do you need to worry about it?

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    Why Defragment?

    You can count on one thing: If you’ve moved files around, deleted programs and applications, and emptied 5 GB worth of trash, your hard drive will be a mess internally. And yes, I know the Mac OS X automatically defragments some of these files automatically, but it does not “optimize” the files when it’s done. To get the most from your hard drive, I think a third party defragmentation and optimization program is essential.

    Here’s basically how a hard drive works. A hard drive is a circular disk, kind of like an LP record. As data is saved to the disk, the disk spins and the data is written sequentially, starting with the first open space it finds. If that space isn’t big enough, the rest of the files’ data is stored somewhere else. As you install and uninstall programs and add and delete files, the holes for data on the hard disk become plentiful and you end up with files stored everywhere on the drive. When you open a file that is stored on the hard disk in several different places, the disk has to spin many more times to collect the data and put the pieces together. The more the disk spins, the more wear and tear on your machine, which causes problems and degrades the performance of your hard drive.

    When this happens, the computer’s response time slows down because it simply takes longer to obtain and organize the data than it would if the files were stored contiguously. The problem is worse if program files are stored in a noncontiguous manner, as you can imagine. After a computer is defragmented, the files are stored (more) contiguously and the computer’s hard disk has to spend less time spinning around and looking for files. This makes for better performance and less stress on the computer.

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    Defragment the Drive with Third-Party Utilities

    Third party defragmenting software will reorganize the files on the disk and make sure files that belong together are placed together. This will improve the responsiveness of your Mac and will offer noticeable improvements for fragmented drives.

    So, take my advice and run out and purchase a defragmenter, install it, start the defragmenting process, and head off to bed. Defragmenting is almost always as simple as opening the program and clicking the Defragment Now button. It’s no big deal at all and requires only seconds of your time. It’ll take a good amount of time to complete, though, so make sure you can be away from your computer for a while.

    Tip: Always read the manufacturer’s instructions. Before running any defragmenter, back up your data, turn off all screen savers, close all open programs, and disconnect from the Internet. Disable anti-virus software if you have it.

    Some final thoughts on defragmenting: Analyze your disks three times a year or so to make sure they are not becoming fragmented. You can do that with the third-party utility you purchased for defragmenting. Make sure you run a defragmenting program after deleting large blocks of data, such as emptying a 5 GB Trash can. And finally, remember that an organized hard drive runs better than an unorganized one, so try to stay organized!