Monday, May 28, 2007

The Great Defrag Shootout XI: Windows Disk Defragmenter

My recent Windows XP reinstall provided a unique opportunity to test out some of the features of the built-in Windows Disk Defragmenter (WDD) program, as well as a nifty free utility called SpeeDefrag that works with it. WDD is based on software developed by Executive Software, now known as Diskeeper Corporation, which Microsoft licensed.
SpeeDefrag 5.0.2 is a front-end utility that allows you to run defrag.exe (The command line part of WDD) during a special boot-up session. Once the defrag is completed the PC either shuts down or reboots, depending on the choices you select.
It's a clever idea, and well implemented. The only problem is that you are encouraged to install some kind of toolbar in your browser. I chose not to, and would warn anyone running the installer to do the same.
The reason I wanted to try using WDD in this way was to get rid of the fragmentation I was experiencing in the master File Table (MFT) on both hard drives. WDD reports the fragmentation, but doesn't fix it. Neither does any of the free software reviewed so far, nor does PerfectDisk 7 or 8. Only Diskeeper fixed it. Since one usually only needs to defrag the MFT once after a major install, you can download the trail version, fix the MFT fragmentation by doing a boot-time defrag, and then uninstalling the software. I know this sounds really mercenary, but I have other reasons why I don't use Diskeeper.
The reason I don't use WDD much is shown in the graphic at the top of the page. The "before" stripe (above) is a perfectly defragmented disk, with the exception of the red part which is the MFT. The "after" stripe (below) is the file map as rearranged by WDD. I have no idea why it would want to break up the free space into additional segments, but this is what it does. Its more expensive cousin, Diskeeper, does much the same. WDD complains bitterly when the free disk space goes below 15%, and starts going wrong around the 20% mark.
WDD can be scheduled using the standard Windows Task Scheduler, and it has no ability to tell you which block on the display belongs to a particular file. It's a basic utility that can sort out some of the more common fragmentation issues, and if used regularly can make a difference to the performance of a PC. It doesn't get a thumbs up or thumbs down, because it's part of Windows anyway.
The next product to be tested is the Power Defragmenter GUI.
Update 13 Nov 2007: WDD scored very well in some tests I have been running. The first results are quite encouraging: 32% faster than a fresh WinXP installation.

The Great Defrag Shootout: Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV | XVI | XVII | XVIII | XIX | XX | XXI | XXII | XXIII | XXIV | XXV | XXVI | XXVII | XXVIII | XXIX| winner | all | why


Anonymous said...

nice review. i myself and going through troubles finding the right defrag software. like you, i have been using pd 8.0 for a while now and it has a few options i find neccessary in a defrag program. firstly is boot optimization. it seems raxco is the only one out there that monitors what files are loaded during boot, and consolidates them at the front of the drive. secondly is the fact that raxco doesnt need "reserved" space like diskeeper. so far so good, but raxco is missing some method to pro-actively defragment files in the background. i hate having to use task schedules because they intefere with daily usage.

so thus came my search for alternatives having all things i need:

1. boot optimization
2. no constraints on free space to defrag
3. auto-defrag without user interaction
4. system file defrag (mft, etc)

i tried diskeeper premier, but the method it uses just plain stinks, not to mention the 20% free disk space it requires.

i also came across O&O version 10 pro. it has everything BUT boot optimization......
O&O has auto background defrag without need for interaction, and a totally nice interface redesign to boot.


when will they make a perfect defrag program?

have you tried O&O 10? they say it's totally revamped from previous versions. maybe it might work for you. i would also like to hear what you have to say about it too.

Donn Edwards said...

I will add O&O Defrag 10 onto the list, which never seems to end.

Kevin said...

Why do you care so much about the MFT? Can you notice a difference when its defragged? Just curious :)

Donn Edwards said...

Great question!

The MFT is the data structure that keeps track of where all the data is. If it gets fragmented and particularly if those fragments are spread out over the disk, then there is a potential performance issue when opening files. You are most likely to notice it when loading an application, which generally involves opening the main EXE and several DLLs and stuff.

What bugged me the most when my MFT got fragmented was that it got in the way of other files, fragmenting them as well. Having the MFT in a single place meant that other files could remain defragmented as well.

Many systems run with fragmented MFTs, just like many systems run with fragmented files. I just wanted to keep my drive organised, that's all.