Windows 7 Tutorial

Defrag your hard drive + Configure defragmentation schedule in Windows 7

You can have several types of hard drives in your computer: a mechanical hard drive spins to fetch your data as needed (thus the term "hard disk"). Another type of drive is "SSD", or solid state drive - it uses the same "Flash memory" technology found in portable USB "thumb" drives, that have no moving parts. Your PC can have a mix of mechanical and SSD drives.

As time passes, you end up having data scattered throughout the drive, with related files stored in different portions of the same disk, sometimes even pieces of the same large file stored in pieces, in multiple places: this happens because deleted files are not actually removed from the drive until Windows uses that "deleted file" space for new content - only "logical" references to deleted files are removed from the file system (why is why deleted files recovery programs can work!)

This also means that Windows 7 has to do more "work" to save and retrieve "fragmented" files - to overcome the problem, Microsoft has built into all versions of Windows, as far as we can remember, a "disk defragmenter" tool, designed since recent versions of Windows, to run automatically in the background; in other words, Windows 7 takes care of its own maintenance, with a caveat we'll cover in this tutorial. You'll also learn how to manually launch a defragmentation and re-schedule it.


Manually "defrag" your hard drive

By default, Windows 7 is configured to automatically defragment your hard drive on Wednesday at one o'clock in the morning (1am). This setup is ideal if your computer runs all the time, or at least remains "on" at that time; if your PC is turned off, however, or in hibernation, the defrag process will not be launched. If thing remain like this indefinitely, you end up with a never-defragmented hard drive! This is why Windows 7 allows you to manually defrag your drives.

And this is how you manually defragment drives in Windows 7!

When should you defragment?

As mentioned earlier, much of the fragmentation process happens when (1) lots of files, or large files, are deleted from a hard drive, and (2) the problem is accentuated when you are running out of space: this limits where Windows 7 can save new files, since you may not have contiguous pieces of available disk space available: in those cases, a single large file may end up being stored in fragments, on multiple portions of your hard drive!

Bottom line: aside from regular, automated maintenance, the best time to defrag' your hard drive is after deleting many files. This will allow Windows to put related files "next to" one another; in the case of a mechanical hard drive, defragmentation will also bring back as many files as possible close to the center of the spinning disk, which makes for less rotation and scan-and-seek operations.

(Re-)Schedule hard drive defragmentation in Windows 7

Use the same "Disk Defragmenter" tool to change the defragmentation schedule:

Prevent defragmentation from running automatically

Tip: to disable defrag altogether, simply uncheck the "Run on a schedule (recommended)" checkbox and click "OK". If you do opt for this option, make sure to run a manual defragmentation now and then, especially after deleting files or moving them to another location.

Disable automatic defragmentation in Windows 7

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