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By B. Boyers

More than 42% of PC users neglect to defragment their computers, according to a client-sponsored survey conducted by online opinion polling and market research service provider Vizu Corporation. This failure to conduct routine computer maintenance can adversely affect system performance for both home and enterprise users, slowing operations such as boot up, file retrieval, Web browsing, backups, and anti-virus and spyware scans as well as contributing to system crashes.

Nearly 16% of those who answered the poll said they had “no idea” what disk defragmentation is, while more than 26% said they never defrag their machines. The remaining respondents said they “frequently” defrag their systems using either a built-in manual defragmentation program designed to eliminate wasted space between file fragments (44.9%) or a standalone utility that automates the defrag process (13.1%).

Disk fragmentation is a byproduct of normal computer use. As files are created, modified and deleted, the computer stores different fragments of each file in non-contiguous sectors of the hard drive. This forces the PC to search through different parts of the disk to assemble a single file, slowing data recall in much the same way as storing different components of a toaster in different parts of a factory would slow an assembly line.

In recent years, the fragmentation problem has been exacerbated by the increasing size of applications, operating systems, and multimedia files such as songs, photos and movies. Also worsening fragmentation headaches is the exponential growth of storage, spurred in part by the availability of larger hard drives and in part by government regulations that require long-term archiving of business files.

Defragmentation reorganizes the file fragments on a hard disk into contiguous clusters that help speed response time. Tests have shown that activities such as word processing, email searches, Web surfing, and anti-virus and spyware scans can take almost 15 times longer on hard drives that have not been defragged than on those that have.

Experts recommend that end users defrag their computers on a regular basis to optimize performance, with frequency depending on the amount of usage, the type of work being performed, and how full the disk drive is. In enterprise environments, some analysts recommend daily defragmentation for critical systems and weekly defragmentation for non-critical systems.

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