“Defragmenting the hard drive” was a panacea for PC performance problems, since the command line was the standard interface for home computers. This is a technique designed to improve the performance of traditional mechanical hard drives, but do you need to defragment an SSD?
These new solid state drives work on completely different principles than mechanical drives, so are there any reasons for this? More importantly, could this be bad for your SSD?
To understand the answers to these questions, we need to do a little digging into what it means to â€œdefragmentâ€ an SSD
What is the point of defragmentation?
â€œFragmentationâ€ is what happens to each disk as data is written to the device. By formatting a drive, you divide its storage space into a neatly organized system. A disk map that allows the computer to know exactly where each (literal) bit of information is.
On a newly formatted disk, new data is written in a continuous sequence. However, when you delete the file, a space is left in this sequence. The computer marks this space as rewritable. So far, so good.
The problem is that your new data probably won’t fit into that gap. Thus, the operating system will fill in the gap with the first part of the file being written, and then it will look for the next open space, which will scatter the data chunks across the disk.
As you can imagine, this makes it difficult to read an entire file or a set of related files, as you have to move from one place to another. It can also be a recipe for performance problems. At least for mechanical drives. Why?
Why mechanical motors (in theory) need a good defragmentation tool
Mechanical hard drives, which were simply called â€œhard drivesâ€ before solid state drives, store data on glass or aluminum plates coated with a magnetic material. Plates rotate at a speed of thousands of revolutions per minute, and thin read / write heads fly over their surface, reading and writing information.
The data is arranged in tracks, and if all of your data is in a neat line, that means the head can just stay in one place and collect all those bits. If the disk is fragmented, this means that the heads have to move all over the place to get the requested data. Since they are physical objects with a large mass, their execution speed is limited.
When you defragment a disk, the computer shuffles all of its data, using the free disk space as sorting space. This is a large-scale and laborious process. However, on highly fragmented disks, this can significantly affect system responsiveness. At least on old hardware.
You see, over the years, mechanical drives have become significantly faster and more efficient. Much higher data density, more heads, more platters, higher rpms, and better drive electronics have all made the new hard drives much faster. So much so that the effects of fragmentation are not worth worrying about in most cases.
Computers have so much RAM these days that operating systems can cache information from disk. Modern mechanical hard drives themselves have large buffers that can smooth out the mechanical constraints of their design. So at the end of the day, even defragmenting a modern disk probably won’t result in any noticeable performance gain.
Need an SSD Defragmenter?
Having arranged all these preambles, we come to the main question – is it necessary to defragment an SSD? The short answer is no.
There are two main reasons. The first has to do with the lack of performance improvements, which is, after all, the whole point of defragmentation. The second reason has to do with the health of your SSD It turns out defragmenting an SSD can shorten its lifespan
SSD performance and defragmentation
As we just saw, the whole reason fragmentation affects the performance of a mechanical hard drive is because it increases the mechanical lag of the process as heads jump madly to find different parts of your files.
By their very nature, SSDs don’t have this problem. They have no mechanical parts at all. They store information inside memory chips that are read electronically.
Although SSDs become fragmented just like a mechanical drive, it doesn’t matter to an SSD if all data is in one place or scattered across different locations on the drive. This practically does not affect the “search time”. This way, defragmenting your SSD will have little or no effect on the performance of your SSD
Even if defragmenting a mechanical disk may not improve its performance, at least it will not do any harm other than wasting computer time. On the other hand, with an SSD, defragmenting can really help kill it.
If you want to understand exactly why this is the case, be sure to check out our detailed article on SSD wear. The short explanation is that SSD memory cells degrade every time you erase data and write new information to it. Modern solid state drives can take serious damage when it comes to repetitive writes to disk. They use sophisticated â€œwear levelingâ€ technology to maximize the life of each memory cell.
However, since defragmenting leaves no bits of data intact, you can quickly turn your SSD into a paperweight if you defragment the drive regularly.
TRIM and Optimization: Send Defrag to Trash
Defragmentation is probably best left to the dustbin of computer history. At least from the point of view of home computers for everyday work. It was invented to combat a problem that has ceased to be relevant in our time.
So not only do we strongly discourage defragmenting on an SSD, but you probably don’t need to worry about doing it on a modern mechanical drive.
That being said, Windows 10 defragmentation tool knows the difference between solid state drives and mechanical drives. Instead of automatically defragmenting the SSD, it uses the “TRIM” command, which is a specialized SSD optimization command and some fragmentation management measure, but nothing like the brute force defragmentation used on traditional hard drives.