When thinking about computer maintenance, the hard drive is often on top of users’ lists to help boost performance. There are a few good reasons for this. One is that the hard drive is the one piece of machinery, other than the keyboard and the mouse, that users feel like they interact with on a daily basis.
The heart and brains of the computer is in the hard drive, where all of your personal data is stored. Basic maintenance of the hard drive is integral to keeping your PC from feeling sluggish. But what kind of maintenance are you supposed to perform on your hard drive, and will it actually do more harm than good?
Computer experts may give you the tip to defragment your computer, but what exactly does that mean? Defragmenting is exactly what it sounds like – you are taking fragments of files on your hard drive and putting them back together again.
How does a Hard Drive work?
Over the course of day-to-day use, your hard drive will automatically write parts of files wherever there is space for them, which sometimes means it writes in tiny spaces in between other files. This makes sense when you’re trying to use every last piece of available space on your hard drive, but this often reduces performance and speed.
You can think of the hard drive as an advanced version of a vinyl record. When a hard drive is defragmented, the pieces of the song are all over the record, and the needle needs to travel all over the record in order to play the song in order.
Not only that, but since it takes so much time for the needle to travel, it takes the hard drive longer to access the file. Imagine a song skipping as the needle travels – that’s the same experience you get on an un-defragmented hard drive. Defragmenting the hard drive is like putting all the parts of the song back in order.
Does Defragmenting a Hard Drive Help?
Defragging your hard drive can have a huge effect on the performance of your PC. But it’s not the only thing you can do to your hard drive to help increase performance. Along with a built-in defragmenting tool, Windows PCs also have built-in Disk Cleanup tools.
Not only will these tools go through and delete unnecessary files, it will also compress old files that are rarely accessed. Things like Temporary Internet Files can take up a huge amount of space but are mostly useless. You can also do some of this manually.
Going through some of your old personal files and deleting ones you no longer need, can help boost your hard drive performance. With less files in a more compact space, your hard drive won’t have to physically move as much to access those files.
Myth-Busting Hard Drive Defragmenting
Some sources spread the inaccurate rumor that defragmenting and cleaning your hard drive will not make it last as long. The idea behind that statement is that since you are rewriting files to the disk when you defragment, you are putting more wear and tear on the hard drive than necessary, thus shortening its lifespan. This is simply not true.
Since the hard drive is mechanical, it will naturally gain some wear and tear over time. There is nothing a user can do to stop this. However, there is not a specific number of times files can be written to the hard drive before the whole thing stops working.
Defragmenting only does not put extra wear and tear on your hard drive, but because of its performance boosting effects; it will actually make your hard drive perform better. By putting all the files closer together and reducing the amount of space the hard drive’s “needle” has to travel, defragmenting can actually help your hard drive last longer before a mechanical failure.
The same can be said for cleaning up old files. By getting rid of old files and defragmenting the files you actually use, you help keep your files compact and easy for your hard drive to access.
While it is difficult to judge if defragmenting and cleaning your hard drive actually helps it last longer, they do make it so you can keep effectively using your hard drive for a longer period of time. There’s no use in having a mechanically healthy hard drive if it takes forever to access your files.
Defragmenting and cleaning old files from your hard drive regularly will help extend the usable lifespan of your hard drive. A hard drive that does not go through this kind of maintenance regularly may still technically be usable and mechanically healthy, but it will not be nearly as enjoyable or easy to use as a hard drive taken care of.
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