Fragging wonderful: The truth about defragging your SSD

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Auslogics Disk Defrag Pro

Auslogics’ Disk Defrag Pro ($30; 30-day free trial) is a very capable defragger with a clean interface and multiple defragging options: simple defrag (no consolidation or optimization), SSD optimization, free-space optimization (defragging free clusters), and optimization by the Windows prefetch layout to make booting faster. The program also offers the option to defrag individual files and folders, as you can in Piriform’s free Defraggler. This last feature can be useful for applications that require continuous fast access to files, such as video editors.

Auslogics Disk Defrag Pro
Auslogics Disk Defrag Pro’s uncluttered interface lets you concentrate on the results.

Disk Defrag Pro did a very nice job in my hard-drive tests, handling my superfragmented partition and other chores with ease. However, the SSD optimization did basically nothing and stated so after the fact. After defragging, CrystalDiskMark reported a slight increase in performance, but it was likely due to the drive performing garbage collection.

Disk Defrag Pro has its own scheduler and a host of advanced management features, but it has no background process to prevent fragmented writes as do Diskeeper and PerfectDisk. That omission is not really a problem on the average system, though. Fragmented writes with NTFS (Windows NT’s file system) are relatively rare unless your drive is nearing capacity or being used in a busy server setup.

The program did have one disturbing trait. Occasionally on program boot, I could hear the read/write head on my hard drive chattering—not a sound you want to hear. No other defragger I’ve ever used puts stress on a read/write head in this fashion. It happened only intermittently, but frequently enough to be disconcerting.

Condusiv Diskeeper

Diskeeper ($30, free trial) is more of a fragmentation-prevention and background-defragging program than a classic run-once defragger. The program’s biggest problem is an interface that’s seemingly designed to keep anyone who’s ever used a standard defrag program from finding what they want.

Condusiv Diskeeper 12
Nice as this sounds, automatic defragmentation is gilding the lily.

Once you’re used to finding the Analyze and Defrag options under Alerts and Reports, you’ll find a lot to like about Diskeeper. Its Intelliwrite technology prevents fragmented writes and claims to speed them up; and the program includes automatic background defragging and S.M.A.R.T. monitoring, as well as I-FAAST, which monitors disk access and uses the acquired information to more intelligently optimize files when you next do a defrag. But while all of that is great for use on servers or high-end workstations, it’s overkill for the average home PC.

That said, Diskeeper’s hard-drive defragging was excellent and it gets even better over time as it learns. If you use an SSD, the program detects it and offers to optimize instead of defrag; alas, Diskeeper’s optimize function took very little time and had little effect on the performance of our superfragmented test SSD...and by little, I mean none.

Raxco PerfectDisk Professional

PerfectDisk ($40; 30-day free trial) is an exceptional defragger. It uses a lot of intelligence (called SMARTPlacement) to place the most important files at the fastest part of the disk on a standard hard drive. It also runs at boot time to defrag system files (which are locked when Windows is running), and it initiates a background process to optimize drives in the background while your CPU is otherwise unoccupied. The background process is unobtrusive, at least on a decently fast PC.

Raxco PerfectDisk 12.5
PerfectDisk Professional defrags both hard drives and SSDs ably, but that doesn’t mean that both kinds of defragging affect performance greatly.

PerfectDisk Professional is even more option-laden than Diskeeper, but you don’t have to bounce around quite as much to find everything. The defragging tools are on the main page where they should be, and options are nicely organized into logically named dialog boxes. The program also features OptiWrite, which is supposed to keep fragmented writes from occurring in the first place. PerfectDisk tracks your drive’s S.M.A.R.T. info as well, which is useful if you want to replace a drive before it fails: A rising S.M.A.R.T. error count might indicate an impending disk failure.

PerfectDisk did a bang-up job with my test hard drive, defragging and optimizing it in short order. And with an SSD, PerfectDisk—unlike Intelligent Defrag, Diskeeper, and Defrag Pro—actually spent some time with the drive. Nearly two hours, in fact. A jump of about 20 megabytes per second in the sequential read speed followed. This begs the question of whether two hours of sustained writes is worth a 5 percent gain in performance (one that you are unlikely to ever notice). For myself, and I’m guessing the majority of users, the answer will be no...but kudos to PerfectDisk for actually making a difference.

SlimCleaner Intelligent Defrag

Intelligent Defrag is a simple but generally capable defragger that ships as part of the free SlimCleaner PC optimizer. It works well with hard drives, but you’d never know that from its drive map. Though colorful, the map isn’t very accurate in relaying the state of disk fragmentation.

SlimCleaner 4.0 SSD defrag
It’s a surprise to find SSD defragging in a free utility suite.

The only options available within Intelligent Defrag are quick defrag and full defrag. On the heavily fragmented hard-drive partition, I chose full, as a partial defrag would do little good. The program did a decent job of fixing the large files and consolidated the other small fragments to the outside of the disk, but there was still some fragmentation in the areas with the small files.

Intelligent Defrag did perform some operations on our fragmented SSD—quite a few of them. For anyone aware of write-cycle life spans, it might be a bit nerve-wracking. It surely was for me, when I realized I’d let it run on my system partition. On the highly fragmented test SSD, it threw its hands up right away. CrystalDiskMark results showed no improvement in performance after the operation.

SlimCleaner 4.0 SSD defrag UI
Intelligent Defrag’s clean and colorful interface—and its good performance on hard drive defrag—shouldn’t distract from its lack of success on SSD defragmentation.

Intelligent Defrag is a decent defragger for hard drives, but with the number of writes it put on my system SSD, and given its lack of success at defragging the superfragmented SSD, it left me thinking that you’re better off leaving your SSDs alone. As a part of the highly capable SlimCleaner PC-cleaning package, it’s a nice extra...but the free, public-domain version of UltimateDefrag is a lot better.

Defrag your hard drive, but leave the SSD alone

From my limited tests, I’m firmly convinced that the tiny difference that even the best SSD defragger makes is not worth reducing the life span of your SSD. Add another voice to the chorus that’s singing “Don’t defrag your SSD.” If you’re truly convinced there are performance problems with your SSD due to file or cell fragmentation, get a utility that will issue a TRIM command. Or copy your data off, do a secure erase (using hdparm or Parted Magic), and copy it back again.

All four programs did a good job of optimizing hard drives, with PerfectDisk leading the way for one-off defragging, and both PerfectDisk and Diskeeper offering background defragging as you work. If you’re running a server or using programs that constantly write small files to disk, the background fragmentation prevention offered by Diskeeper and PerfectDisk could be useful. I saw no increase in performance on my PCs employing it, but it didn’t seem to slow down my PC, and more optimized writes can’t hurt.

If you don’t need the real-time features, check out the free version of UltimateDefrag for defragging entire disks intelligently and Piriform’s Defraggler for quickly defragging a single file or folder.

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