What do you suggest for a defragger for Windows?
February 10, 2005 11:04 PM   Subscribe

In this thread, people mention a few times that the Windows disk defragger is horrible and can have negative long-term effects on hard drives. What suggestions do you guys have for a defragger to use instead? Preferably freeware...
posted by swank6 to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
I work in IT. I've never seen anything I'd believe say that the built-in Windows degfragger is damaging to the system. I've never noticed any slow down or increased error rate after using it. It's better than nothing.

I used to use a Norton defragger ("Speeddisk") back in the day. I would assume whatever product they offer is still good.
posted by krisjohn at 12:32 AM on February 11, 2005

I've always found the Windows defragger to just be plain rubbish rather than damaging. However as krisjohn said, it is better than nothing.

O&O Defrag is excellent, but sadly costs.
posted by ralawrence at 1:01 AM on February 11, 2005

This stigma is probably leftover from Win9x/DOS days. Since NT, defrag abilities are built into the NTFS file system driver itself. The entire process is failsafe, meaning that at all times the file system is intact, and locks are used to prevent applications from accessing or modifying a file as it is being moved. Sysinternals makes some nice apps that communicate directly to the native NT defrag API: Contig is a command-line defrag utility, which will let you defrag specific files! They also offer PageDefrag which will defrag your page files on the next reboot. (Page files are like virtual memory, and cannot be normally defragged since they are always in use.) The best part is the source code is freely availiable :)

From professional experience, I've never had ANY problems with NT/2k's built in Defrag. Most free defrag programs interface with the exact same API, just with a new interface and maybe a few nice features. Defragging works by copying a file's parts into a contiguous space, and shuffling around the contiguous files to optimize distribution of free space. Therefore, the most important factor when defragging a disk is the amount of free space. A drive with very little free space will require LOTS of shuffling, and it can even be impossible (or at least improbable) to defrag it. Free up as much space as you can before you defrag, if you have a very fragmented drive. You can copy files to another HD, then copy them over; they will usually copy in a mostly contiguous way, so another quick defrag will be simple.

Of course, if you defrag every week, it will only take a few mins and will never reach a critical point where it slows down your system. Wow, did I type that much?
posted by adzm at 1:12 AM on February 11, 2005

I didn't see any evidence to support the claim that the Windows defragmenter is BAD for your hard drive in the other thread, although it's not very good.
posted by grouse at 3:18 AM on February 11, 2005

I use diskeeper and find it's quite good, but it costs.
The XP defrag utility is a crippled version of Diskeeper, but doesn't run as a service.
There hasn't ever been a problem in my working with 2K/XP defraggers. But if you're below 15-20% freespace with some very large fragmented files, prepare for a long or possibly unsuccessful defrag (won't hurt your file system, it just might not be able to optimize as well as it could).
posted by nj_subgenius at 4:40 AM on February 11, 2005

...and thanks adzm for the freeware references!
posted by nj_subgenius at 4:43 AM on February 11, 2005

I have also never seen or heard of any problems caused by Window's defrag. About the only problem I have with it is that it is easily interrupted by other programs, and it doesn't make it obvious how to fix that problem to a novice user.

One utility I have liked in the past is Power Defrag. It automates the process of booting Windows into a clean startup to run disk check and defrag, and then back into normal Windows. A nice process to run for the night every few weeks or months.
posted by Tallguy at 4:47 AM on February 11, 2005

back on windows nt i used to use diskeeper, but that was folded into windows (as nj_subgenius says) so now (win2k, xp) i just use the windows utility.

defragmenting is a fairly simple idea (although the details are probably hairy). if it does go wrong, it's going to either corrupt files or crash your machine - i can't imagine how it could make things slower than they were before.

rather than worrying too much about defragging, i'd say spend the time/effort finding large, unsued files and deleting them, and generally keeping your machine "tidy" with little unused software, good anti-virus, firewall etc. if you take a little care, windows can be pretty solid.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:48 AM on February 11, 2005

I have had disasters with defrag in years past, but
it always was on certain drives - others in the same computer never failed.
It seems likely the drives were marginal.

No error message you may ask? Unfortunately, I have recent experience with 2 nearly new HD's that wrote wrong info but gave no error msg, no events.

I suspect internal heat issues, since the errors seem to occur only on very large fast writes such as backup or copying a 700M iso to it.

Another drive indicated a 12 degree C internal temp rise on fast writes with 1 fan - it needed 2 fans to stay below its max temp, one below to cool the pc board. The drive case never got hot...

Always back up before defrag, always verify your backup.
posted by Charles the Friend at 6:05 AM on February 11, 2005

The NTFS file system is substantially different from plain old FAT16/32, so de/fragmentation is different. Defrag once a month; more if you add/delete a lot of files. I've never had a problem with it, other than it getting really slow if it hasn't been run in a while.
posted by theora55 at 6:32 AM on February 11, 2005

Also NTFS will keep itself mostly defragmented if you give it enough space to work. If you maintain 15-20% free space on your drive at all times your file system will less prone to fragmentation in the first place.
posted by Mitheral at 8:17 AM on February 11, 2005

On your system drive, I think it's best to use the built in defrag. As far as I know, it's the only one that does application launch and boot optimization, but correct me if I'm wrong. I use that as well as PageDefrag (linked above). The windows defragger does defrag most things okay, but doesnt compact the free space, so any new files will be fragmented almost immediately.

For my user partition I use this one occasionally. It's kind of a brute force defrag, clears a load of free space, copy files in, and repeat, but it works pretty well, although it is slow.
posted by Boobus Tuber at 8:51 AM on February 11, 2005

I'm the one complaining that defragment is bad for my hard drives in the other thread. Now, it's entirely possible that I've just been the victim of million to one coincidences 8 times in a row in my life, like that park ranger guy who keeps getting hit by lightning, or possibly I'm attributing something to defragmenter that is in fact something else's fault, but I doubt it. My computer history, in a nutshell : windows OS, defragment religiously once a month, performance degrades slightly from defragment to defragment. Eventually re-install whatever version of windows, box then works like new, but for a slightly shorter time, and performance degrades slightly from defragment to defragment. Eventually I end up with a worn hard drive. This has lasted from machine to machine, version to version from 3.1 on up. I do all the things you're meant to do, I'm not otherwise flummoxed by the mysteries of windows, and it happens on machines that never got on the web and never heard of a virus. I 've used these machines to all do different things, and in mostly happy computer-friendly environments. The only constant among them has been the performance drop (slight, but in aggregate, annoying) after a defragment. I can actually hear the hard drive functioning in a more labored fashion after it has defragmented. Only so much can be coincidence. Something is going on.
posted by dong_resin at 7:52 PM on February 11, 2005

dong_resin: I hope this is useful.
You could be the victim of a crappy Windows path. Got to My Computer|Properties|Advanced|Environment Variables and make sure your System Variables path starts with C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32;C:\WINDOWS;C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\WBEM; (assuming of course you boot from c: -you can use %SystemRoot% to substitute for "C:\WINDOWS"). Lots of applications out there will mung up your system path when they install. Scroll through it and make sure there aren't too many path entries. As you probably know, the precedence of entries in the path varable dictate which directory gets searched first, second, etc..
The User Path variable should be relatively short. If it has duplications with the system path, get rid of them.
Before running Disk Defragmenter run Disk Cleanup.
Oh, and use system restore to create a restore point if you are not comfortable with environment variables.
Lastly, you may have to go the manual route in deleting .TMP and .LOG files., or visually check yuour TEMP directory for scattered junk.
posted by nj_subgenius at 6:59 AM on February 13, 2005

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