Is it OK to defragment a laptop?

Yet another question from a reader: Is it OK to defragment a laptop?

Of course it is. A laptop is a computer, after all. The only question is how often, and with what.

In my experience, people usually defragment way too often, or not enough. Of course, some modern operating systems do it automatically, leading people to believe you don’t have to defragment anymore. But defragmenting definitely has benefits.

Defragmenting your laptop

Is it OK to defragment a laptop?
Remember, a laptop is still a computer. It benefits from defragmenting too.

How often you defragment, and what program you use can make a dramatic difference in how well your system performs. Fortunately, one of the very best defragmenters, MyDefrag, is free.

If the laptop has an SSD in it, there’s limited benefit to defragmenting it more than once. Conventional wisdom is to never, ever defragment an SSD, but it is possible for an SSD to be so badly fragmented that performance suffers. MyDefrag has a special script intended just for flash devices like SSDs that moves only the data that’s necessary. That’s much safer than using another defragmenter.

But it’s much more likely that any laptop in question has a conventional platter hard drive in it. I do believe, based on observation, that people who defragment their hard drives every day or every week probably are causing excessive wear on the drive. The majority of people would do well to defragment their drive once a year using MyDefrag’s monthly setting, and perhaps once a month with its daily or weekly setting. Right after installing your monthly security updates would be the perfect time to do it. MyDefrag does a good enough job that if you run it more frequently than that, it’s not really doing much of anything anyway.

I defragment my relatives’ computers with MyDefrag’s monthly setting when I see them at Thanksgiving or Christmas, and that’s the only defragmentation their systems get all year. By the time I come around again the next year, their systems generally do need to be defragmented again, but not desperately. If you spend a lot of time installing and uninstalling software, you probably need to do it more frequently.

What about defragmenting retro laptops?

If you have a retro laptop that has Windows 95, 98, or ME on it, here’s what you want to use. I found Norton Speed Disk, from late 1990s versions of the Norton Utilities, to be the most effective defragmenter for those operating systems. The default settings weren’t much better than the one that came with Windows, but with some playing around, you could make it move certain files like zips and MP3s to the back of the disk, and move important files like executables and DLLs to the front and sort them by size. That’s somewhat close to what MyDefrag does for Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7 and it makes a dramatic difference in overall performance.

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