To D or not to D, that is the question…

“D” being defragmentation when it comes to the latest innovation in personal computer technology, solid-state hard drives – SSD’s for short. This question has been bandied about and kicked around more than a taped-up sandlot soccer ball held together with baling twine and chewing gum. To make matters worse, the opposing camps (“To D or not to D”) are more than willing to come to fisticuffs over the argument.

The truth: both camps are right and the solution lies somewhere in between.

Because of the way Windows organizes data there is always going to be a certain amount of “messiness” involved in how files get written to a drive, whether it be a hard-disk-drive, a USB, an SSD, or the venerable (and, thankfully, retired) floppy disk. Think of your teenage son’s bedroom. Windows just isn’t very good at putting things where they belong. It’s sort of like, “Oh, this space is empty, I’ll just put it here.”

This doesn’t necessarily pose a problem with SSD’s because they are basically USB discs on steroids, but as the size grows so does the time to access the bits and bytes that comprise your valuable data. Think of your 16GB USB with pictures of your last vacation versus your 4TB SSD with your mission critical business files. Finding your photos takes a few tens of seconds but the proposal for that new client needs to be accessed “now.”

The issue that arises is not so much accessing the data but rather locating “where” the data is on the drive. This task is handled by the MFT (Master File Table) that the Windows operating system creates to keep track of all of those bits and bytes. As long as the MFT is well organized, data access is fast and accurate. Difficulty arises when the MFT gets fragmented–and it does get fragmented. This is where Windows comes to the rescue.

Starting with Windows 7 Service Pack 1 and continuing through Windows 8, 8.1 and 10 (not to mention the server operating systems), the team at Microsoft has designed “intelligence” into the Windows defragmentation (or optimization) technology to recognize SSD’s and behave accordingly. When the defragmentation (Windows 7) or optimization (Windows 8 and beyond) routines (we’ll call it grooming technology) are set to automatic, Windows first analyzes the disk to determine if it is a legacy hardware Hard Disk Drive (HDD) or a newer SSD. If the operating system determines the drive is a new SSD, it focuses exclusively on the MFT and acts accordingly (this routine is slightly different in Server operating systems where a technology called Shadow Copy is implemented). The grooming technology organizes the files in the MFT to provide the fastest access possible to the data upon which your business depends, reducing the time it takes to get to the data you need. And as we all know, time is. . . .

To understand more of how this process works, see Scott Hanseleman’s excellent post on the nuts and bolts of how Windows manages disc maintenance.