To many, carrying out a defrag is something they approach with trepidation. It’s often not fully understood what it is, the benefits and at the same time  – what could go wrong.

Many people think that defragging will automatically make the computer run faster. This isn’t necessarily so and if carried out without knowledge of what to do – and why, there’s a risk of losing huge amounts of data and the possibility of ruining the PC or laptop completely.

What is the point of defrag if it’s not about speed?

Carrying out a defrag is all about making your device run more efficiently. This is the overall goal and any other reason quoted is a misunderstanding of the process. A slow laptop isn’t necessarily down to an inefficient hard drive, there are many other reasons such as bloatware, malware or registry problems as well as just far too much data being stored, so these areas should be looked at first before attempting a defrag.

The risk to data loss with a defrag

Many versions of Windows include a ‘file move’ that is used when defragging takes place. The point of this is to stop files being movable and in turn prevent data loss. This usually happens and all is well but if there’s a power failure when the file is being written to the hard drive, there’s a possibility of the data being lost.  Another risk is the OS being corrupted and there being a catastrophic failure; this would certainly mean data is lost. This is an extreme scenario however and is rare but it’s important to know what could happen.

Data loss during a defrag is more likely to take place because of a bug in the defrag code or clashing drivers. If you rely on a defrag programme which is a boot CD you are looking at the most risky situation and if you decide to try to speed things up by running two defrag programmes at the same time you are quite likely to encounter severe problems with the result being the ‘blue screen of death’. If this happens, any data not on the hard drive will be lost.

Always back up data

Defragging means you’re about to rearrange hundreds or even thousands of files so the most important step to take is to make a copy of all the data and programmes installed. A full copy image of the hard drive will mean that if the unthinkable happens it can be put back to just how it was before you started.

Always have three copies:

  • the original
  • a local back up; for convenience and upgrades
  • a remote back up; for emergency disasters such as fire or flood

What not to defrag

A defrag is only ever for a hard drive. Never attempt to defrag the following:

  • Memory sticks
  • RAM drives
  • Mobile phone memory cards
  • Hard drives which are making a noise or you know are corrupt

Before you start, remove all the temporary files which clutter a computer such as cookies or the browser cache. A good tip for ensuring a smooth running device is to check the software you have installed every so often and remove what you don’t use. The less complicated software set up you have, the faster your machine will run.
If you aren’t sure you have the confidence to defrag or you attempt it and run into trouble, talk to a data recovery specialist. They deal with this kind of situation all the time and will always help you out of a sticky situation.