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To defrag, or not to defrag? If you're looking for ways to speed WinXP machines used by your customers, then the answer is Not.
Defragmenting, of course, is the process of reorganizing all data on a hard-disk drive so that each file is arranged into a single uninterrupted, or contiguous, location on the disk. Many system builders and technicians have been taught, and still believe, that defragmenting hard disk drives on a regular basis keeps PCs operating at peak performance. But that idea is behind the times.
While it was true that defragmenting helped older PCs, it no longer applies. Today we have 7200-RPM (rotations per minute) hard-disk drives with improved seek and latency times; many also contain an 8-MB cache buffer. Let's not forget Windows XP's ultra-efficient NTFS (NT File System). For PCs, servers, and workstations equipped with these innovations, defragmenting no longer makes much improvement, if any, to system performance.
This is even more of an issue with the new Serial ATA hard disk drives, which are soon to become the new standards utilized in the market. Examples of SATA drives include the Seagate Barracuda line and new 10,000-RPM IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) hard-disk drives, such as the Western Digital Raptor.
Still, defragmenting remains an important task. Why? For one, power consumption and heat can be directly related to a fragmented hard drive. When the computer's operating system requests data, if a file is not contiguous, then extra seeking on the disk may be required. But a more important consideration is disk failure. Should a hard drive fail, the likelihood of successfully recovering data from the dead or damaged drive improves significantly if the data is contiguous rather than randomly scattered about the drive platters.
The software companies that create defragmentation software would like you to believe that their software does improve system performance. But my own in-house testing refutes that, as do recent findings from Steve Gibson and other system testers.
So What Works?
Since defragging the disk won't do much to improve Windows XP performance, here are 23 suggestions that will. Each can enhance the performance and reliability of your customers' PCs. Best of all, most of them will cost you nothing.
1.) To decrease a system's boot time and increase system performance, use the money you save by not buying defragmentation software -- the built-in Windows defragmenter works just fine -- and instead equip the computer with an Ultra-133 or Serial ATA hard drive with 8-MB cache buffer.