Eric's Technical Outlet

Learning the hard way so you don't have to

Defrag (Is) For Dummies

Kind of funny how one little word really changes the meaning of a sentence, doesn’t it? The title is a bit harsh but there is more than a little truth in it.

I grew up with computers. I’ve had one in my home since some point in the ’80s that I can no longer recall. I actually remember when defragment tools came on the market. Like most other people, I got on the bandwagon and dutifully defragmented my drives periodically. The thing is, I never really did see a lot of difference. “They” told me the improvement was there, and “they” were the experts, so I believed them. On some level, I always had my doubts, but I kept doing it.

Well, things are different now. For one thing, I’m a lot older and a little bit wiser. For another, hard drive technologies have improved a lot since then, as have the storage access strategies that operating system and software vendors use. It seems like the “experts” haven’t changed very much, though. I see really respectable people still telling their audiences to defragment early and defragment often, defragment in rain, defragment in shine, defrag, defrag, defrag, defrag. What’s really weird is that I’ve seen it recommended for things like the system volumes on Hyper-V Server hosts and domain controllers. Those systems don’t even really have any meaningful I/O (unless you did something terribly, terribly wrong). Hmph.

So, just because I like to be thorough, I decided to test it out. I have a laptop that I bought for my blogging and testing. I got it really super cheap. It works, but it’s a little slow. So, I defragmented it. After hours and hours, it got done. And I still couldn’t tell a difference. So, I ran the Windows troubleshooter, and this is what I got:

Defrag Troubleshooter

Defrag Troubleshooter

Oh. Well, that explains everything. So, I’m making a new definition.

Defragmentation (n): A process that adds six months’ worth of wear and tear to your hard drive in as little as two hours.

That’s about all defragmentation does. Of course, I’m not thinking of absolutely every case and I’m sure there are some instances out there where it really does help. But I’m willing to bet that if you’ve defragmented any given modern hard drive more than twice, you’ve wasted more time than you will ever recover in ordinary usage. I’m also willing to bet that all the speed increases people swear by are nothing more than a case of the emperor having no clothes. If you have to run a benchmark to see the performance difference, then there is no performance difference.

I’ve had my fair share of higher-end computing needs. Databases, mail servers, file servers, SharePoint, the whole shebang. Defrag? Waste of time. Unless you need a progress bar to convince your boss that you’re busy. Then defrag is OK (wink wink nod nod). If I ruined your fun with this post, too bad. My boss isn’t an idiot, so if I can’t get away with it I don’t see why anyone else should either.

Here’s the thing: hard drives are slow. If they weren’t, no one would use RAID-0. No one would have spent all that time and effort to design and market solid-state drives. If you need your hard drive system to go meaningfully faster, it has to be in some form of RAID and you have to add spindles. Everything else is a Band-Aid, and not even a good Band-Aid, but one of those crappy knock-offs that use sticky note glue.


One response to “Defrag (Is) For Dummies

  1. niston April 15, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    You have some good points there. I’d like to point out that the argument against defrag is especially true for SSDs, although for different technical reasons. SSDs don’t ever need to be defragged. Doing so will kill them quickly.


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