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Defragmenting Your Hard Drive

When a file is stored to a hard drive, it is broken into tiny chunks, and each piece is stored in the first available sector of the hard drive. After the drive starts getting full and files are deleted (creating certain random sectors available here and there on the hard drive), file parts are no longer saved in adjacent sectors.

Thus a file may be scattered (or fragmented) all over the drive, which can slow down its retrieval. To improve the speed of your PC, you should defragment your hard drive. Defragmenting (sometimes called "defragging" or "disk optimization") reorganizes the parts of each file so that they are once again adjacent to each other on the hard drive, eliminating excess search time. A badly fragmented drive works far slower than an optimized one.

Analyze Before You Defragment

Defragmenting a drive can take seemingly ages, especially with the huge hard drives installed in new computers these days. Windows XP gives you the opportunity to analyze the hard drive before committing to a full defragmentation. The analysis takes almost no time at all, and it will tell you whether a full defragmentation is warranted.

Follow these steps to see whether it is time to defrag your hard drive:

  1. Click the Start button; then point to All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and click the Disk Fragmenter option. The Disk Fragmenter program window opens (see Figure 3.1).

  2. By default, your primary hard drive should already be highlighted. Verify that this is the case and then click the Analyze button on the lower left part of the window.

  3. After the Disk Fragmenter has finished its analysis, you will see a report that shows the defragmentation analysis. You are given three options: View Report, Defragment, and Close. If the utility recommends that you defrag your hard drive and you have the time, go ahead and click the Defragment button. Otherwise, click Close and return to the task later. If the drive appears to be in good shape, simply click Close.

  4. Close Disk Defragmenter by clicking the red X button in the upper right corner of the window.

Figure 3.1Figure 3.1 Any hard drives you have installed in your computer will appear in the Volume display window.


If you look in the Analysis display in the center of the screen, you see a color-keyed representation of the state of your hard drive. Red marks space containing fragmented files, blue marks space occupied by files in a single location, green marks space housing files that cannot be moved, and finally white denotes free disk space. The more white and blue you see, the better it is. A lot of red means a disk defragmentation is definitely in order.

Running the Defragmenter

If you opted to run Disk Defragmenter at a later date, simply launch the program as you did previously, only this time, click the Defragment button instead of the Analyze button. The utility will work its way through the hard drive, making any repairs it can.

Generally, defragging a cluttered, fragmented hard drive helps Windows run a bit more smoothly.

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