Fragmentation is everything when it comes to maintaining your hard drive. Over time, as your hard drive fills up and you install and uninstall programs and games, the files on your hard drive can become fragmented, as Windows has to find open spots on your hard drive to place the file. Often the file is broken up into thousands of little pieces and scattered all over the hard drive. This cannot cause any significant problems for your computer, but it can cause a noticeable performance slowdown, which can be easily cured by just running a software program known as a defragmenter.
Defragmenters do the simple task of moving the bits of the files around on the hard drives so that they are all placed together. This arrangement allows the hard drive to load a file faster since the head, which is the arm that reads the data off the plates inside the drive, does not have to scatter all over the place to read the data.
In Chapter 8, I discussed using several utilities to defragment the boot files. The same utilities can be used to defragment the whole drive as well as the special files. The next section concentrates on two of those special files since defragmenting the whole drive is done at the same time.
The Windows paging file can be quite large, as you know from the previous sections. After you have created a constant size paging file, or if you just want to defragment the paging file, you can defragment the file during the next system boot. Windows will not allow any program to move the paging file around on the hard drive when the operating system is in use. The main reason Windows does not allow this is that other programs are running in the background, as are operating system services that will depend on the paging file. Defragmentation can be done only during the boot because very few files are in use at that time.
The built-in Windows defragmenter does not defragment the paging file during a normal defrag. Microsoft has a workaround for this limitation. It tells users to do a normal defrag first, and then after the free space is consolidated, to delete the paging file by disabling it and then recreating it right after a fresh defrag. Doing so will cause the operating system to create one big, continuous file on the hard drive.
There is nothing wrong with Microsoft's approach-it will accomplish the task-but there is an easier way to do this. I recommend that, if you have not already done so, you download the disk defragmenter utility called Diskeeper, by Executive Software (http://www.executive.com), which was discussed in Chapter 9. All that you have to do to defragment the paging file is to run a boot defrag. By default, the option to defragment the paging file is already set. If you do not remember how to do a boot defrag, go back to Chapter 9 and review the step-by-step instructions in the section "Boot-time system defrag with Diskeeper."
The master file table, or MFT, is very important to the operation of the file system on your computer. Think of it as a phone directory of all the files on your computer. It is a big database of every file on your computer and it is stored on the hard drive. As the number of files and directories on your computer increases, so does the master file table. Over time, the master file table can also become fragmented. Because the master file table is so important to computer operations, it is used any time you want data from the hard drive. Defragmenting it will help your performance.
The built-in defragmenter will not defragment the MFT. Microsoft recommends that you adjust the amount of space that is reserved for the MFT, then back up your drive, then do a full reformat, and then restore your whole drive. This seems like way too much effort to me. Once again, Diskeeper comes to the rescue. Also, by default, when you perform a boot defrag, the option to defragment the master file table is already selected.
Using the Diskeeper method instead of the Microsoft method will save you hours of time that you would otherwise waste backing up and restoring your drive.