How to defragment your hard disk and partitions in Windows

The good old Disk Defragmenter tool that suffered a series of changes in Windows 7 has been changed again in Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. It has a new name - Optimize Drives - and some new inner workings . As a result, defragmenting drives in Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 is a bit different from what it used to be in previous versions of Windows. Read on to learn how to defragment your disc drives in the latest versions of Windows and keep your hard disk’s performance in top shape:

When to use Optimize Drives in Windows?

When defragmenting a disk partition, Windows rearranges the files stored on the disk so that they occupy contiguous storage locations. Doing thi s increases the access speed to your files by minimizing the time required to read and write files to and from the disk and by maximizing the transfer rate. You might also see improved startup times. Defragmentation should be done especially when both your operating system and your most commonly used applications are installed on the same drive and the operating system gets slower over time.

Defragmentation is especially useful when dealing with traditional hard disk drives, also known as HDDs.

When not to use Optimize Drives in Windows?

Do not defragment SSDs (Solid State Drives) or USB drives. These types of drives have a different way of allocating files and they have a limited number of read/write cycles before they stop working. Hence, defragmenting them will decrease their lifespan. Given the high read and write speeds provided by SSDs, you shouldn't encounter slowdowns anyway, so there's no reason to defragment them. Windows knows about this and it doesn’t defragment SSDs by default.

How to start the Optimize Drives defragmentation app in Windows 10

There are several ways to open the Optimize Drives application in Windows 10. One of the fastest is to use search: in Cortana’s search box type “defrag (which is the name of the Windows command for defragmenting drives) and click or tap the “Defragment and Optimize Drives search result. Do not click or tap the defrag search result as it doesn’t launch the tool that you need.

Another way is to open the Control Panel. There, go to System and Security , followed by Administrative Tools. In the Administrative Tools window, click or tap the “ Defragment and Optimize Drives” shortcut.

The Optimize Drives app is now opened and it looks similar to the screenshot below.

How to start the Optimize Drives defragmentation app in Windows 8.1

In Windows 8.1, go to the Start screen and type “defrag”. In the list of search results, click or tap “Defragment and Optimize Drives .

Alternatively, open the Control Panel and go to “System and Security -> Administrative Tools -> Defragment and Optimize Drives . The Optimize Drives app is now opened and it looks and works the same as in Windows 10. For the remainder of this tutorial we will use screenshots taken in Windows 10. Remember that, in Windows 8.1, this tool is identical and continue following our guide.

How to analyze and defragment your drives in Windows

In the Status section of the Optimize Drives app window you see a list with all the drives that exist on your Windows computer or device. For each drive you see its name, drive letter, the media type (solid state drive, hard disk drive, removable drive, etc.), when the defragmentation was last run and the current status, meaning the fragmentation status of each partition. The list includes hidden drives like the Recovery drive that is automatically created when installing Windows.

To get an updated status of each partition and see if it needs to be optimized, select the partition you are interested in and then click or tap Analyze. Optimize Drives will then analyze the partition and tell you whether you need to optimize it or not. If you want to select multiple partitions, hold the Ctrl key pressed while clicking the partitions to analyze. Then, click or tap Analyze all.

After running the disk analysis, you can see how fragmented the partition is. This information will help you decide whether you need to defragment the disk or not. It is advisable to optimize drives whenever their fragmentation status goes beyond 20%.

To defragment a partition, select it and press Optimize. You can also hold the Ctrl key while clicking the partitions to optimize. Then, click or tap Optimize all to run the optimization on multiple partitions at once. While the tool analyzes and optimizes the selected partitions, you will see the running status in the Last run column and the completion percentage in the Current status column. If you want to interrupt the process, press Stop.

One of the good things about this tool is that you can use the computer to do other things while running any of the available operations. Therefore, don’t wait for the defragmentation to be over before doing your work on your Windows computer.

How to schedule a disk defragmentation in Windows

The Optimize Drives tool offers you the option of setting up a schedule for the disk defragmentation process. By default, this is set to run weekly but you can also set it to daily or monthly. What the tool fails to explain is the time when that task is scheduled, since this means that you must have your Windows computer or device turned on at that time. To modify when and how often you want to run Optimize Drives , press the Change settings button in the Schedule optimization section.

Use the Frequency drop-down list to choose the frequency of the defragmentation process: daily, weekly or monthly. Also, check the box that says “Run on a schedule” , so that the schedule is turned on. If you want to be notified if three consecutive scheduled runs are missed, check the option that says so.

Next, press Choose to select which disks you want to include in the defragmentation schedule. Check the disks that you want defragmented regularly and deselect those that you don’t want defragmented. Please remember that it is not wise to defragment SSD drives so make sure to deselect them. Select “Automatically defragment new drives” if you want to specifically defragment the new disks found by Windows at the time of the scheduled defragmentation process.

When done customizing everything, click or tap OK twice, to apply your settings.

Conclusion

Now that you know how to defragment your drives in Windows 10 and Windows 8.1, you shouldn't have any issues with this part of your computer's maintenance process. We advise using this every time your system slows down. We also recommend using a maintenance schedule that includes defragmentation, so that you keep your hard drives in top shape. If you have any questions on this topic, don't hesitate to leave a comment.