Sport & Auto
- About Future
- Digital Future
- Cookies Policy
- Terms & Conditions
- Investor Relations
- Contact Future
In a perfect world, the data on your hard drive would line up on the platters like little soldiers, all in perfect rows and grouped by class, frequency of use, and size. But modern-day Windows operating systems don’t behave in such a way, leading to data fragmentation—and, by necessity, the rise of defragmentation routines.
As for how this happens, we’ll offer a simplified version of a typical file-system architecture. Envision a blank drive. When an operating system writes a series of files to the drive, it might place them in sequential order—say, five different chunks of data lined up one after the other with each chunk taking up 20 blocks of space. Removing one of the files creates a hole that the operating system can then fill either completely or partially with new information.
Now suppose the new file needs to get bigger. Since the existing data takes up space immediately following the file that needs to grow, the operating system is forced to continue the file elsewhere on the drive. Take the large number of files on a typical hard drive and the massive number of writes and deletions that happen constantly and you get a perfect storm of file fragmentation.
Fragmentation forces the drive head to jump all over the place to find the bits and pieces of files whenever you access them. Defragmentation, then, is the means by which these files are realigned into contiguous chunks. Windows Vista does this automatically, only the slow speed at which it defrags makes us wonder: Is the time spent worth the supposed performance payoff? And do third-party defragmenters, free or otherwise, do a better job?
Fragmenting a hard drive is harder than you think, thanks to Windows Vista
|HP’s TouchSmart IQ770 Desktop isn’t the speediest of rigs, which forced us to measure our defragmentation runs in hours rather than minutes.|
For our tests, we’re using an HP TouchSmart IQ770 Desktop machine that has been in constant service as a security-monitoring webcam workstation for the last several months. Due to the amount of use (and abuse) this poor 1.6GHz AMD Turion-based machine has endured, we expected it to be fragmented beyond belief. And it would have been, were it not for the fact that Vista’s automatic defragmentation utility is scheduled to run every week.
Unlike Windows XP, which uses a stripped-down version of Diskeeper to defrag drives, the Windows Vista application has been redesigned from the ground up. Microsoft claims that the new defragger makes for faster, less processor-intensive defragmentation. While it’s true that the Vista defragger doesn’t hit our system as hard as the XP defrag process, it takes much, much longer to complete, making Microsoft’s claim of faster performance baffling.
Because Vista’s defragger runs automatically every week, it would be extremely unusual to find a heavily fragmented Vista drive in the real world. That said, prior to testing, we disabled Vista’s defragger, uninstalled a few apps, and then filled the empty space with a collection of MP3s and other newly installed applications to replicate a busy week for a power user.
We’ve chosen four products for this challenge, starting with Vista’s built-in defragmentation program. Against that, we’re testing the free Auslogics Disk Defrag, as well as two commercial defragging utilities: Raxco’s PerfectDisk 2008 and Diskeeper 2008. This healthy mix of free and paid-for defragmentation software will allow us to determine if there is any benefit to using a third-party defragger, and if so, just how much the commercial apps can improve our rig’s performance.
So that each defrag utility operates on an identical machine, we captured a complete image of the original drive using Norton Ghost 12 and then reloaded it onto the machine prior to running each program. To measure the performance impact of each utility, we looked at the machine’s startup times, shutdown times, and PCMark Vantage scores before and after the defrag. We chose Vantage as our primary benchmark because it represents a number of real-world performance scenarios one would encounter during an extended period of computer use. We also factored in the time each utility took to perform its defrag to test our theory that Vista’s defragger—low priority though it may be—still takes an inordinate length of time to complete.
Prior to making the Ghost image of our drive, we ran PCMark Vantage’s hard drive performance script 20 times. Since typical defragmentation programs reorder data based on frequency of use, we wanted to make sure they take our benchmark into account.
|The command-line version of Vista’s defragger provides much more information than the GUI version.
Vista’s built-in defrag program reported a fragmentation level of 11 percent prior to the defragmentation process. We were able to obtain this information only by using the command-line version of the app—the standard interface doesn’t provide any information about your drive’s state, nor does it report on the defragmenter’s progress. It took Vista’s app three and a half hours to defrag our test drive. Vista’s lengthy defrag times are due largely to the fact that it runs as a low-priority process. The application won’t make full use of your processor unless the computer sits idle for several minutes.
While the program reportedly reduced fragmentation on our drive to zero percent, we saw negligible performance gains in our PCMark Vantage tests. The startup time improved by 39 seconds, but the process added an additional 14 seconds to our shutdown time. Regardless of whether the culprit is our slow test rig, Vista itself, or the insignificance of drive fragmentation on performance, Vista’s built-in defragmentation application did little to improve the real-world performance of our computer.
|Fragmented Vista Drive||Window Vista Defrag|
|best scores are bolded.|