(Last Updated On: August 20, 2021)

There were over two billion PCs in the world in 2019. In our digital world, having access to a desktop or a laptop is essential for both work and play, so it’s no surprise that almost a third of humanity is making regular use of one.

But despite that importance, too many people have machines that are running slower than they ought to be. And the reason for that is failure to defrag.

That’s right, although millions of people are annoyed at how slow their old computers run, very few of them know how to defrag their machine. 

So let’s find out how to defrag a computer and get your machine back up to speed!

What Does Defragging Do?

Remember the old days? Back in the 2000s and 90s, your laptop or desktop computer was accompanied by the comforting whir of a spinning hard drive.

These drives worked by storing your data on a stack of spinning disks. Not majorly different from storing stuff on CD-ROMs (remember CD-ROMs?).

That worked fine, except as the life of a computer dragged on, gaps began to develop as files were added, deleted, and moved around. That meant your PC had to work harder to get all the data you were requesting from across your hard drive.

Think of it as a town. It’s very quick to head out to the grocery store down the street, but when they demolish that store and rebuild it on the other side of town, the simple task of ‘buying dinner’ takes way longer than usual.

Defragging exists to prevent that kind of, well, fragmentation! Your computer collates all the data that’s been strewn across its hard drive and slots them back into neat, ordered rows. If the drive was fragmented, the speed increases that process can achieve are phenomenal.

Suddenly, it takes 10 seconds to load your game where before it took a full minute. Your PC doesn’t have to go all the way to the other side of town to get what it needs any more!

Do We Still Need to Know How to Defrag a Computer Today?

If you’re up to date with tech news, you’ve been thinking one thing through this article so far: ‘yeah, but we all use SSDs now, so what’s the point?’.

If you don’t know what an SSD is, here’s the lowdown: the old whirring platter-based hard drives of yesteryear are pretty old-fashioned now. These days, most modern computers (Mac and PC alike) will use something called a ‘solid state drive’.

Solid state drives are great: they use less power, are more resistant to shocks, are way faster, and your PC can access everything on them pretty much instantly.

That means the defragging process isn’t much use for SSDs. Think of the town metaphor again: they’ve knocked down your grocery store and rebuilt it 10 miles away. Except this time, you’re a superhero and can just teleport wherever you want.

Seems like less of an issue, doesn’t it?

But here’s the rub: SSDs still need to go undergo a regular process that’s a lot like defragging called optimization. In fact, it’s so much like defragging that on some operating systems, the same app will handle both defrags and optimization.

Let’s learn how to use those apps!

Defragging a Windows PC

Over a billion of the PCs out there are running Microsoft Windows, so let’s start with how to defrag them. 

Like with so many other things on Windows, it’s an easy process once you understand it. Just hit the Start Menu, go to Control Panel, then System and Security. Once you’re in there, hit Administrative Tools then Defragment and Optimize Your Drives.

From there, you can defrag your HDDs and optimize your SSDs. Easy, right?

But that’s not all. Sure, if you’re so inclined you can just follow that process whenever your Windows PC gets a little slow. But if you don’t want to defrag your computer manually every time, you can set up a handy schedule.

This way, you can set your PC to automatically defrag/optimize your drives on a timeframe that suits you. Once a day, per week, or per month, Windows will take care of it for you.

That leaves you to get on with the important business of doing actual work (or maybe just firing up a game or two of Fortnite).

How to Defrag a Mac

Given Apple’s ‘It just works’ mantra, you’d expect defragging a Mac to be just as easy as it is on Windows, if not easier.

Well, no.

Apple doesn’t offer any built-in apps to handle disc defragmentation, so users looking to janitor their Mac drives have their work cut out for them.

Now, to be fair to Apple, there’s a reason for this. Most modern Macs use SSDs anyway, and macOS prefers to handle its filesystem on its own – including defrag functions – out of the way of the user.

But what if you have an external drive you want to take care of, or an old Mac that still uses an HDD?

First of all, you’re gonna want to look into the tools setapp.com has on offer to make sure you don’t mess anything up too badly if your Mac defragmentation adventures go awry.

Then, you’ll want to download a third-party defrag tool like Drive Genius 5 to defrag your drive. Once you’ve downloaded the app and gotten it up and running, the actual defragmentation process should be straightforward. Just point it at the drive or files you want to defragment and go.

But remember that Apple would rather you let them handle it!

Keeping It Neat and Tidy

So there you have it. That’s how to defrag a computer whether Windows or Mac. If you’re one of the billion+ Windows users, just open up that start menu and go.

And if you’re a Mac fan, do consider leaving it to the experts.