The iMac I use at home has been running slower recently. So it seems. I use my Mac to try out software and after hundreds and hundreds of downloads, installs, and deletes it might just be that defragging the hard disk drive is in order.
Wait. Do Mac users even need to defrag drives? The answer, of course, is it depends. Here’s my recent experience on a slowing Mac and what I did to speed it up.
Performance Is The Problem
My home iMac runs the latest Snow Leopard, has multiple backup options, and gets two or three new apps installed and deleted every day. Could that be a cause for a slow down?
Slow down? Yep. Apps take longer to open.
Apps take longer to close. Dialog boxes take longer to open and close.
In fact, it just seems that everything on my iMac is running slower than it did when Snow Leopard was installed last summer. The problem may go back as far as the fall of 2007 when I bought my iMac. It came with OS X Leopard and I didn’t do a clean install for Snow Leopard last year.
Since my Mac seems to run slower and hasn’t had a clean installation since 2007, could it be a fragmentation problem?
Defragging Is A Solution?
Fragmentation seems to mean that important files get recorded in disparate areas of the hard disk drive, making it slower to read and write files, ostensibly reducing drive performance.
But Macs come with Journaled hard disk drives, right? Do they need to be defragged, too? The answer is, of course, it depends.
Since it was obvious to me that my Mac had slowed down considerably, I decided to try a few tools to see what happened. First, I made a solid backup to an external disk drive, and checked it to make sure it worked.
Coriolis Systems, the makers of iDefrag, state that constant system updates may cause file fragmentation, but admit that the files may remain contiguous. If so, is there still a problem? And, will defragging a hard disk drive improve performance?
More Than Defragging
My previous method of making sure my disk drives were in optimum shape was to do a backup, wipe the hard disk drive, do a clean installation of OS X, then add all my apps—a somewhat tedious effort that resulted in peace of mind—and a faster Mac.
This time around I decided to do a short cut. First on my list was iDefrag 2. It runs on OS X Snow Leopard, supports the Mac’s journaled file system, including Mac OS X’s so-called Hot Zone (where OS X puts important system files).
iDefrag has lots of bells and whistles to help justify the price tag. You can select which files you want to defrag. You don’t need to make a bootable CD or DVD; iDefrag works without it. It also handles case sensitive HFS Plus, and monitors the temperature of your hard disk, slowing things down if it gets too warm.
iDefrag displays the individual sections of your disk, and lets you view the changes in real time. This utility also uses multiple defragmentation algorithms to optimize your disk, and, if you’re really geeky, rearrange blocks and files to suit your needs.
The steps to get started are simple. Start up iDefrag, select the hard disk drive to defrag, select a specific algorithm (I chose Full Defrag and the Default class set) and click Go. iDefrag checks your disk drive, displays a graph and a list of fragmented files, and you’re a click away from defragging.
I clicked again. Then I had lunch, washed the car, chilled with a cold beer, and a few hours later it was done (it may have been done sooner, but I was chillin’).
Was my Mac faster? Yes. I think so.
What was noticeable was how quickly dialog boxes opened and closed, and how quickly apps opened.
Previously, even the lowly Dictionary sometimes took 15 seconds or more to open, now it pops up in a couple of seconds. That’s faster, so my satisfaction level is higher and my credit card balance is higher by $30.
The problem, of course, is that the defragging effort took about the same amount of time (though far less effort) as a clean wipe of the hard disk drive, a clean installation of OS X, and installs of all my Mac apps. Some Mac users say the same results occurs when you clone your Mac’s hard disk drive to an external drive, erase the Mac’s drive, then clone back from the external drive. Maybe. Either way, it’s about the same amount of time. For now, what was slower is faster.