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Ways to Defragment a Mac Hard Drive

Ways to Defragment a Mac Hard Drive

It is quite simple to defragment the internal hard disk drive of a PC that runs Microsoft Windows; the utility that performs this task can be set up in a few mouse clicks. But doing it on a Mac is a completely different story. In the first place, one wonders whether it is even required. Techspirited answers this question along with many more, and provides a guide to defragmenting the HDD of your Mac.
Padmini Krishna
A Word of Caution!

If your Mac (or Macbook) is fitted with an SSD (Solid State Drive), which nowadays is a popular alternative to the traditional HDD (Hard Disk Drive), then you need NOT defragment your main drive (namely, the Macintosh HD directory). This is because defragmenting an SSD is not just pointless (as files stored in an SSD do not undergo fragmentation in the first place), but also it may speed up the process of wearing out the drive.

In the eyes of Windows users, especially to Microsoft loyalists who have been faithfully using Windows ever since its earliest versions hit the shelves, defragmenting one's primary or main hard drive (the C:/ drive in Microsoft Windows) is a regular task undertaken during the process of computer maintenance.

Even though nowadays defragmentation has become somewhat irrelevant, as contemporary HDDs are better designed to deal with the issue of fragmentation, not to mention, the use of hybrid disks that combine flash memory, as well as the quintessential rotating magnetic disk technology, is gaining momentum, those who are habituated to defragmenting their disk do not fail to perform this task regularly.

What is Disk Defragmentation?

HDDs are generally fragmented, which means that there are fragments of different files, as well as blocks of free memory, both of which are of different sizes, distributed in a completely unorganized manner all over the disk's memory.

The reason behind the existence of this scenario is that large files cannot be stored as a whole in the HDD, but rather, they need to be broken into smaller fragments. These fragments are stored at various locations of the disk's memory. A fragment of any random file of a particular size is stuffed wherever a block of free memory (of sufficient size) is available. Conversely, whenever any file is deleted, all of its fragments from different parts of the disk are cleared out, freeing correspondingly sized blocks of memory at various locations on the disk.

As a result, eventually, the entire memory of the HDD becomes a hotchpotch of fragments and blocks of unallocated memory, wherein the free blocks may often not be of the appropriate size to accommodate fragments of a newly added file, and thus, the disk may appear to have no free memory although the collective sum of unallocated memory space is actually a quantifiable amount. Also, the computer slows down.

At this point, defragmentation can salvage the situation. It rearranges the various file fragments in such a manner that they are placed in contiguous locations, thus accumulating the various blocks of free memory together. This, in turn, ensures that there is space on the disk to store more files on it. The other advantage of defragmentation, obviously, is better system performance because the system will be able to more easily access file fragments that are located close together, thus minimizing the time lag of its response.

On Mac OS X, defragmentation is not really required, and in fact, this concept is quite unheard of in circles of devoted Apple patrons. The reason for this is that, in OS X (version 10.2 and above), files that have a size less than 20 MB are automatically defragmented by the system. Additionally, a system feature called hot file adaptive clustering automatically moves files that are used more frequently, to a portion of the disk known as the Hot Zone, so that they can be easily accessed.

An average user, who does not use his Mac for specialized purposes like software development, high-quality graphic designing, or sound/video engineering, will never need to defragment his or her hard drive. The requirement of disk defragmentation arises only when either the disk in question is really old, or otherwise, if the user engages in any of the aforementioned tasks, which will result in his computer being full of large files.

Since OS X does not come with any built-in software, utility, or app that actually defragments the entire hard drive on demand, anyone who wishes to perform this function will need to resort to a hack that can help achieve it.

How to Defragment Your Mac's HDD

Using Third-party Software

• Since neither does OS X come with a pre-installed system tool that can perform complete hard disk defragmentation, nor has Apple developed any apps optimized to implement this task on a Mac, a user who is in dire need of disk defragmentation could think outside the box, and opt for third-party software.

• A number of third-party software are available that serve this very purpose. Some concentrate only on defragmentation, while others are generic software aiming to improve system performance. The cost of these apps ranges from free of charge to exorbitantly priced.

• We recommend the following apps to users who wish to get the HDD of their Mac defragmented:

  • iDefrag
Developer or Publisher Coriolis Systems
Cost USD 39.95 to purchase the full version
Features ♦ Individual files can be defragmented.
♦ Can be implemented even on Time Machine backup volumes.
♦ Works with a complete understanding of the Hot Zone.
♦ Can defragment the whole disk even when it is in use.
♦ Automatically pauses the process in the event of the disk getting overheated, and automatically resumes when the situation is favorable.
Download Link iDefrag 2 - Defragmentation & Optimization for Mac OS X
  • Drive Genius
Developer or Publisher Prosoft Engineering
Cost USD 99 to purchase the full version
Features ♦ Complete drive maintenance; not restricted to defragmentation
♦ 13 different drive management utilities
♦ Can additionally scan the disk for errors and repair them
Download Link Drive Genius 3 - For Mac

The Alternate Method

• Since fragmentation results in clutter in the hard drive, and an unoptimized distribution of file fragments, and free blocks of memory, a good way to get rid of the mess and reorganize everything in an orderly manner, is to start again on a clean slate.

• What we are trying to imply is that if the hard drive is completely wiped, following which, everything right from the operating system itself is reloaded, the same effect of defragmenting one's disk can be achieved.

• Of course, do not forget to back up your HDD before you format it, or else it will be as good as impossible to retrieve all the files you have deleted.

• Formatting your hard drive is the most 'organic' way of getting rid of disk errors too, as you will be starting again from ground zero.

• On your Mac, you could use the Disk Utility app to erase the contents of your drive. It is located in the Utilities folder, inside Applications. Disk Utility can also be used to scan your disk for errors, which can then be resolved by using a good hard disk drive repairing tool.

Things to Remember if You Wish to Defragment Your Mac's HDD

✏ We reiterate, before manipulating the contents of your hard disk, whether it is by formatting, deleting the so-called errors on your disk, or even using a third-party drive management software, ALWAYS back up its contents.

✏ Keeping in mind that defragmentation may result in file loss, consider adopting a different method to resolve the issue with your Mac. Some of the other measures that can be taken are:

• If your computer is running slow, delete unnecessary duplicate files.
• Store all your personal media files, such as your photo albums and your music collection, on an external hard drive rather than your Mac's internal one.
• Delete the contents of the cache of your web browser.
• Scan your computer with a good antivirus software, and confirm whether it is infected with a virus or any other kind of malware.

We hope that we were able to provide you all the guidance you need to defragment the hard disk drive of your Mac. Do not hesitate to leave a comment in case of any doubt.