Why do we not need defragmenting anymore?

Defragmenting, also known as defragging, was once a crucial maintenance task for computers. It involved reorganizing fragmented data on your hard drive so that it was stored contiguously for faster access speeds. However, advancements in storage technologies have made defragmenting obsolete for most users.

What is Defragmenting?

When you first get a new computer, files are typically written to the hard drive sequentially. This means data for each file is stored together in contiguous blocks on the disk. However, over time as files are deleted, modified, and new data is saved, file fragments get scattered across different locations on the hard drive.

This file fragmentation slows down access times because the hard drive head has to move around to different parts of the disk to open a file. Defragmenting reorganizes the data so related file fragments are contiguous again, minimizing the distance the hard drive heads need to travel to access files.

Why is Defragmenting No Longer Necessary?

There are several reasons defragmenting is no longer required for most computer users today:

  • SSDs have replaced HDDs – Solid state drives (SSDs) store data differently than traditional hard disk drives (HDDs). They have faster access times and are not affected by fragmentation issues.
  • Improved file systems – Modern file systems like NTFS are more resistant to fragmentation issues. They are designed to localize related data.
  • More RAM – With more RAM, even fragmented files can be cached for faster access rather than needing to read constantly from disk.
  • Faster processors – Newer CPUs can better handle any minor fragmentation issues without noticeable performance hits.
  • Built-in auto-defragging – Operating systems like Windows have auto-defragging schedules that transparently fix any fragmentation in the background.

For these reasons, defragmenting is simply an outdated practice for most computers today. The exceptions are systems still using traditional HDDs without auto-defragmentation.

Do SSDs Really Not Need Defragmenting?

SSDs are not susceptible to fragmentation issues like HDDs for two key reasons:

  1. Faster access times – Even if data is fragmented, SSDs can access any data location at speeds fast enough that fragmentation has negligible impact. HDDs are far slower in comparison.
  2. Wear leveling algorithms – To extend lifespan, SSDs already relocate data dynamically behind the scenes. This avoids fragmentation buildup in the first place.

In fact, manually defragmenting an SSD too often can be detrimental since it triggers unnecessary writes that will wear out the limited lifespan of SSD memory cells faster. Most experts recommend leaving SSDs alone and letting the operating system handle maintenance tasks like optimization and trimming.

When Might You Still Defrag an SSD?

There are a couple edge cases where defragmenting an SSD may provide minor benefits:

  • Before partitioning – Defragging prior to partitioning an SSD can allow better allocation of partitions.
  • Partial disk encryption – Defragging when only part of the drive is encrypted can improve performance.

However, most users will never need to manually defrag an SSD in typical consumer use cases.

How Modern File Systems Reduce Fragmentation

Older file systems like FAT32 were more prone to heavy fragmentation issues. Modern file systems employ several strategies to fight fragmentation:

1. Localizing Related Data

When possible, contemporary file systems try to save new files and file extensions right next to the original data on disk. This localization keeps everything together in one place.

2. Built-In Defragmenting

File systems like NTFS have algorithms that monitor file usage patterns. They can then optimize data layout on the fly to reduce fragmentation.

3. Alignment to SSD Erase Blocks

To avoid wearing out part of an SSD prematurely, file systems try to align data writes to SSD erase block boundaries whenever possible.

Combined, these optimizations significantly reduce natural fragmentation compared to older file systems.

Does More RAM Make Defragmenting Unnecessary?

Having more RAM definitely helps minimize the impact of file fragmentation. With ample memory, even fragmented files and programs can be cached for much faster access speeds. Here’s why RAM reduces the need for defragmenting:

  1. Faster access – Retrieval from RAM is orders of magnitude quicker than disk reads.
  2. Intelligent caching – The operating system caches critical files and file fragments intelligently.
  3. Reduces disk reads – More cache hits means fewer sluggish disk accesses are needed.
  4. Outweighs fragmentation – The speed boost of RAM caching far outweighs any fragmentation performance hits.

Thanks to cheaper memory, most computers now ship with ample RAM. Average RAM sizes have gone up from 4GB in 2009 to 16GB in 2022 based on Steam’s hardware survey data. This significant RAM increase reduces the need for defragmenting.

When Is Lots of RAM Not Enough?

While more RAM significantly masks fragmentation issues, extremely fragmented drives can still occasionally benefit from defragmenting when:

  • Opening very large files – Large videos over 4GB may not fully cache in RAM.
  • Memory-intensive programs – Applications that eat up RAM like virtual machines.
  • Specialized workstations – Media editing rigs with huge files and congested drives.

For typical home and office PCs, ample RAM makes defragmenting unnecessary. But certain power users may still need to occasionally defrag congested HDDs.

Do Faster Processors Eliminate the Need for Defragging?

Modern processors also help minimize the perceived impact of file fragmentation due to:

1. Overall Quicker Execution

Thanks to instruction pipelining, prefetching, multicore support, and sheer clock speed, modern CPUs can crunch through code incredibly quickly. Even if disk access bogs down a bit, modern CPUs plow through remaining instructions so fast, fragmentation barely impacts total execution time.

2. Advanced Caching

Processors cache frequently used instructions and data into faster memory. Combined with algorithms that prefetch data, this CPU caching helps hide slow disk reads for fragmented data.

3. Background Multi-Tasking

Today’s multicore, multithreaded CPUs can better handle background defragmentation or file operations without bogging down foreground tasks.

Unless running highly specialized workloads, modern processors add yet another layer of protection against fragmentation issues.

Do Windows and macOS Defrag Automatically?

Windows and macOS have built-in optimization routines that transparently defragment files in the background when needed. This happens automatically without user intervention:

Operating System Auto Defrag Feature
Windows Disk Optimization
macOS Hot file adaptive clustering

For Windows, Disk Optimization runs weekly by default on HDDs when your computer is idle. It consolidates fragmented files to improve performance.

Macs have the hot file adaptive clustering feature that coalesces busy files on the fly. This reduces future fragmentation. macOS also does byte range writes to avoid fragmentation when saving files.

Thanks to these auto-defragging features, manual defragmenting is no longer necessary for most users on modern operating systems.

When Do You Still Need to Manually Defrag?

While automatic defragmentation covers most scenarios, there are some cases where manually defragging may still provide small benefits:

  • Older HDDs – Those over 5 years old may benefit from occasional manual defrags.
  • Nearly full HDDs – Highly congested hard drives, over 95% full.
  • External HDDs – External drives can get more fragmented from multiple computers.
  • Audio/video editing – Recording and editing large, long files can induce fragmentation.

For these specific use cases, an occasional manual defrag with a utility like Defraggler may help. But for general home and office use, automatic defragmentation is fine.

Should You Use Third-Party Defrag Tools?

Windows Disk Defragmenter and Optimize Drives utilities or macOS’s built-in defragmentation get the job done for most people. While third-party defrag tools have extra options, they provide little added value for typical consumer use.

However, advanced users like gamers, media editors and graphics professionals may want to use third-party tools for benefits like:

  • Boot time defragging for quicker startup.
  • Faster defrag speeds for busy drives.
  • Better optimization algorithms.
  • Scheduled defrags during idle times.

So while casual users don’t need third-party tools, power users may find the additional features worthwhile.

Top Third Party Defrag Tools

Some popular third party defragmentation utilities include:

  • Defraggler – Free defrag tool from Piriform, makers of CCleaner.
  • Auslogics Disk Defrag – Paid defrag tool with a range of advanced options.
  • IObit Smart Defrag – Free defragmenter designed for quick performance.
  • O&O Defrag – Company-oriented defragger with centralized management.

These tools provide more control than built-in Windows and macOS defragmenters for users that need additional optimization.

Key Takeaways – Do You Need to Defrag in 2022?

Defragmenting today remains beneficial in some edge cases like congested HDDs or audio/video editing rigs. But for the vast majority of users, modern hardware and software advancements make defragmenting obsolete:

  • SSDs don’t need defragmenting thanks to speed and wear leveling.
  • Modern file systems intelligently minimize fragmentation.
  • More RAM caches fragmented files to mask slow reads.
  • Faster processors better handle any fragmentation.
  • Auto-defrag features transparently optimize in the background.

So for typical home and office use, defragmenting is an outdated chore. Exceptions like avid gamers or media editors may still want to periodically defrag depending on their workloads. But for most people, modern computers now avoid fragmentation issues automatically behind the scenes.