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Tip #4: Defragment the Hard Drive. . .Or Not?

Imagine a word processor document created and then saved to the disk. Some other files are then saved adjacent to that document. When that word processor file is edited, there's no space next to it to add the new stuff, so the computer writes the rest of the document somewhere else. This all happens transparently of course, but the net result is that one file you see as an icon in the Finder actually refers to lots of different chunks of data all over the hard drive.

In reality, this doesn't actually matter much. For a variety of reasons the specifications of modern Macs and the sophistication of OS X combine to eliminate the performance problems that fragmentation of files caused older Macs during the 80's and 90's. But under some situations, for example where you work with very large files such as video files, you may get improved performance where the drive is not fragmented.

There are two ways to defragment a hard drive. The "brute force" method is to reformat the hard drive and then reinstall everything from CDs, DVDs, or backups. A more subtle approach is to use a disk utility that has a defragmentation tool, such as Prosoft Drive Genius. Keep in mind that if defragmentation stalls or otherwise gets interrupted half-way through, your files may be lost, so be sure and back up important data before defragmenting. It's also worth mentioning that if you're working with video or graphics files that take up a lot of disk space, you're better off keeping them on a dedicated external scratch disk rather than cramming them onto your Mac's startup disk. This scratch disk will take longer to fill up and can be quickly and easily reformatted any time you feel performance is affected.

Figure 4

Figure 4 Defragmenting the hard drive is of dubious real value, but many disk tool suites still offer it.

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