You may not know what fragmentation means if you’re unfamiliar with how PC file storage works.
It’s a feature that allows the system to store data more efficiently and increase the read and write speeds.
However, if you check the Windows Optimization tool, you may see that your disk’s fragmentation value is 0%.
Is it something you should worry about, or is it a result of the optimization process?
0% Fragmented (What Does It Mean?)
0% fragmented means that each of your files is stored on the hard disk as an entire piece.
Fragmentation occurs when the system breaks the files into several parts to fit them into the empty sectors on the disk.
Since these sectors aren’t organized, different parts of the same file may be scattered across disk space.
When you open a file, the system must gather all these parts, increasing seek time.
When the disk is 0% fragmented, no file is scattered across it, and the system can read it faster.
You may wonder where the 0% fragmentation comes from if you’ve never run the defragmentation tool.
Windows has a weekly schedule that defrags your drives to keep your system optimized.
As a result, you may never need to defrag your drives manually.
If you check the Windows optimization tool, you’ll see the last time your drives were optimized and defragged, which must have been done recently if your fragmentation percentage is 0%.
You can also see a more detailed report of the defragmentation process via the Windows Task scheduler.
That’s the built-in tool that makes sure your drives are defragged on a fixed schedule.
To get these details, type Task Scheduler in Cortana’s search box and click the first result.
In the Task Scheduler window, you can see a log of all scheduled tasks automatically performed by Windows to keep your system optimized.
Look at the left pane and expand Task Scheduler Library.
Click Microsoft > Windows > Defrag.
Now, you can see all the details about the last defragmentation process and its current status.
What Is File Fragmentation?
Disk fragmentation is a natural process occurring due to the data constantly being read and written on the drive.
When you store a file on your computer, you can see it as a whole entity that you can access any time you want.
You can open the file, alter its contents, and save it without knowing what’s happening in the back-end.
However, things are different inside the hard drive or SSD.
When you create a file, the system allocates a specific space on the hard drive and stores the entire file.
However, as you make changes to the original file by adding or deleting content, the system doesn’t store these modified bits in the same location as the original file.
That’s particularly the case if you have a large file that can’t be stored in a single section on the hard drive.
As a result, the system breaks the file into smaller pieces and stores them in different locations.
However, you’ll never feel this different storage space because the system will quickly gather all these parts when you open a file without affecting performance.
This process is normal in all systems and is considered the most effective approach to storing data.
Without fragmentation, the file system must constantly move and shuffle all files on the hard drive to make room to store each file as an entire piece.
This process is counter-intuitive because it increases the write time, slowing down your work when you change a file.
Instead, fragmentation ensures you can write data in the fastest way possible by storing file pieces in the nearest place.
In addition, when you delete a file, you’ll leave a gap inside the hard drive.
As a result, the files don’t sit on the hard drive in an uninterrupted sequence, with gaps from deleted files separating them.
What Percentage Fragmentation Is Bad?
Although fragmentation is a useful way of making data storage more efficient and less time-consuming, it should be limited.
If you check your Windows built-in optimization app, you can see all your system drives and their fragmentation levels expressed in percentages.
The lower the fragmentation percentage, the more efficient your system.
0% fragmentation means that your hard drive has stored all the files in whole pieces, and nothing is fragmented.
As a result, none of the file pieces are scattered across the hard drive, so your CPU doesn’t need to gather the pieces when you open a file.
In such a state, your hard disk space is ideally organized, and there’s enough room for large files to be stored without getting fragmented.
This is the ideal case because it means all components are running at the highest possible speed.
However, your system will face reduced performance and speed as these percentages go up.
Generally, you shouldn’t let the fragmentation percentage exceed 10% to ensure the highest performance.
However, until it reaches 25%, it won’t cause any serious issues for your system.
Many experts believe that a heavily fragmented hard drive may not face any serious issues, except for reduced performance.
Why Should And Shouldn’t I Defrag My Hard Disk?
As mentioned, a fragmented hard drive will lead to lowered performance because the CPU must gather bits of data from different parts of the drive, slowing down the read process.
The main reason for this lowered speed and performance is the mechanical nature of the hard drive.
These hard drives store data on magnetic-coated aluminum or glass platters that spin while reading and writing data.
The spindle above these platters is responsible for reading and writing data.
When the fragmentation is at 0%, the spindle can stay in one place and read the data.
This will reduce the seek time and increase the hard drive’s lifespan because the head doesn’t need to move as much.
On the other hand, when the disk is fragmented, the head has to move to different locations to gather the data.
As you can see, actual physical processes are taking place in retrieving your data, which can take much longer when the data is scattered on different parts of the disk.
That’s the main reason experts recommend defragmentation, and Windows has dedicated a built-in tool to optimize your drives by regularly defragging them.
However, many experts and users believe defragmentation isn’t a vital procedure to boost performance.
In most cases, the performance boost isn’t worth the time you spend on the lengthy process of defragmentation.
The main reason is that today’s hard drives are so advanced that they already have impressive performance regardless of their fragmentation percentage.
They have more platters and spindles, high data capacity, larger buffers, and improved drive electronics, and they spin at much higher speeds.
Other PC components have also advanced significantly, complementing the efficient hard drives.
For example, RAM space and technology have improved significantly, allowing the system to cache more data.
As a result, fragmentation isn’t as significant a problem as it used to be.
In addition, defragmentation largely depends on the data you store on your hard drive.
If you store movies, pictures, and even games that you don’t use regularly, defragging may not be a vital process for a significant performance boost.
However, if you store your OS on the hard drive or use it as the primary boot drive, you can benefit from defragmentation.
Plus, if you have an older PC with a Windows version older than Windows 7, you can get a performance boost by defragging because older PCs have a hard drive with old technology.
Since Windows introduced its built-in defrag tool from Windows 7 onward, you don’t need to worry about defragging your hard drive because the system will do it anyway.
In addition, the file system you use to read and write data determines the degree of fragmentation.
The FAT file system is less efficient in preventing fragmentation than NTFS.
Although NTFS does fragment data, it doesn’t do it as much as FAT.
Therefore, you may want to switch to NTFS to reduce fragmentation.
That’s even less necessary on Mac computers.
The Mac file systems include HFS+ and APFS, which don’t allow fragmentation in the first place.
Also, if the hard drive gets fragmented, they defrag it on the fly.
The same goes for Linux OS, which uses file systems that prevent fragmentation.
Defragging A Solid-State Drive
Defragging your hard drive may be the first go-to solution for many performance-related issues on old and modern PCs, but what about SSDs?
Can you get the same performance boost by defragging a solid-state drive?
SSDs are completely different from mechanical hard drives as they use different technology.
SSDs don’t have mechanical platters and spindles to store data.
Instead, they use memory chips to store data and read them electronically rather than physically.
Although fragmentation can occur in SSDs, it doesn’t affect their performance because they don’t have heads to move to different parts to read data.
As a result, defragmentation doesn’t improve their performance.
There’s another reason that you shouldn’t defrag your SSD: defragging harms your disk health.
The main reason is that SSDs store data on memory cells, which get damaged when you erase the information on them and store new information.
Each memory cell consists of two layers of oxide material with electrons trapped inside.
When you write data on the cell, it doesn’t affect the layers, but erasing data will wear them down.
Even though SSDs use wear-leveling technology to reduce this wear and tear, defragmentation damages these layers.
As a result, the built-in optimization tool in Windows PCs has replaced defragmentation with the TRIM command for SSDs.
This command and the Active Garbage Collection command help SSDs perform better at writing data by eliminating the need to erase the old information.
It also helps the SSD maintain its longevity through wear-leveling and telling which cells are better to write data on.
When To Defrag Your Hard Drive?
Although defragging the hard drive isn’t necessary, you may need to perform it manually for specific cases.
In such cases, fragmentation directly affects the performance of a specific app, and you can only resolve the issue through defragmentation.
You may need to perform disk defrags when the following tasks take more time than normal:
- Running applications
- I/O operations
- Virus scans
You can also benefit from defrags if you experience frequent crashes and freezes, high disk thrashing, and insufficient disk caching.
In addition, defragmentation is necessary if the fragmentation percentage is more than 25%.
It may not improve your performance noticeably, but it can reduce fragmentation by emptying enough space for future files.
However, you don’t need to defrag your system every day because the degree of fragmentation isn’t enough to require defrags in one day.
You must perform millions of read and write processes to build sufficient fragmentation.
Finally, it’s advisable to run disk cleanup before defragmenting your files to ensure you’ll get 0% fragmentation and speed up the defrag process.
How To Defrag A Hard Disk
If you think your system could benefit from hard disk defragmentation, you can perform it via the Windows optimization tool.
Although Windows regularly performs defragmentation, it may not do it efficiently.
For example, some users have reported that no matter how long they postpone defragmentation, they always get 0% fragmentation, according to the tool’s reports.
As a result, you may want to perform it manually to ensure everything is running smoothly.
You can access the optimization tool by typing defrag in the taskbar’s search box.
Click on the first result to open the tool and see the list of drives and their fragmentation status.
Click on the drive you wish to defrag and select Analyze.
As mentioned, if the fragmentation percentage is more than 25%, you don’t need defragmentation because as soon as the defrag process is over, the system starts fragmenting your files, and you’ll reach the same percentage.
If you decide to defrag the disk, click Optimize.
While the system is defragmenting the disk, it’s better not to use your computer to give it enough resources.
In addition, reading and writing new data while defragging can lead to file fragmentation not included in the current defrag process.
As a result, your fragmentation percentage won’t reach 0%.
However, you don’t need to worry if you don’t get 0% fragmentation.
That’s because Windows won’t defrag certain files, such as restore points or unmovable files like boot files and page files.
Alternative Defrag Tools
Although the Windows built-in optimizer is sufficient for keeping your disks defragged, you may want to use other third-party tools for various reasons.
For example, as mentioned, Windows may not defrag all the files, leaving the fragmentation percentage above 0%.
Some third-party tools will start defragging before the boot to include the file systems in the defrag process.
In addition, some users have reported that the Windows built-in tool doesn’t give them reliable readings even though they haven’t defragged their drives for a long time.
However, you shouldn’t use every third-party tool out there because they may damage your file systems or defrag the files differently from the Windows tool.
Here are some of the most reliable third-party defragment tools recommended by experts:
Defraggler is one of the best defragmentation tools that you can use with 32-bit and 64-bit Windows versions.
It can start the defrag process before the boot to target the unmovable files that Windows can’t defrag.
However, the best feature of this tool is that it allows you to choose which files to defrag and where to move them.
As a result, you can move the files you don’t often use to the end of the hard drive and free up space for more important files to be moved to the front side and run more quickly.
You can also schedule defragmentation and determine when it should be performed.
2. Auslogics Disk Frag
Auslogics Disk Frag is another useful tool that gives you freedom in defragging your files.
If you don’t want to defrag certain files, you can exclude them.
It’s fast and reliable, and you can schedule the defrag or perform it on demand.
However, not all features come for free.
For example, in the free version, you can’t get the scheduled defrag and boot-time defrag.
In addition, you can’t determine where each file goes on the hard drive.
3. Smart Defrag
Smart Defrag is another free, feature-packed tool that works with many Windows versions.
It offers boot-time defrag and scheduled defrag.
One of the best features of Smart Defrag is that it comes with a built-in disk cleanup tool to remove junk files before defragmentation.
These files can prolong the defrag process, making it less efficient.