But are they actually any better than the built in Windows one?
And how can I tell?
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Well, it's very relative, but one of the things I'd look at is why and what I'm defragmenting.
I've stopped defragmenting my Windows 7 systems manually because it's automatic. My Windows XP systems use the last available version of JkDefrag - it runs portably (which is useful since in some cases, I go into a service call, and magically fix a slow computer by defragging it), I can set it as a screensaver, and it's simple. On the other hand, the newer version, MyDefrag is scriptable, and can be run on a schedule.
These are the things I'd look at in addition to the obvious stuff like speed and resource usage:
Defragmentation is just an algorithm so this means people can write better algorithms, such as algorithms that optimise the hard drive while it defrags. So, algorithms with fancy features.
They are all going to have more features than the standard Win defrag utility, because it's not a highly developed or frequently updated product. I think a lot of the choice is going to come down to personal preference and bundled features.
For example I use Auslogics because it allows me to optimize my hard disks to different profiles while I am de-fragmenting them. It performs this optimization by moving files you wish to access faster to the centre of your hard disk - which means less time is needed to read the data because it's closer together.
Auslogics Defrag free only allows you to do this with system files, the paid version has many more algorithms for different purposes.
To answer the question "How can I tell" I would suggest checking out the overviews of each product to see what features they contain that you'd want to use. You could also check search engines for benchmarking information, but performance speed doesn't seem important factor for a defragger to me. I leave them on overnight anyway.
Better? Well there's many discussions about this but I would like to stress on the fact that fragmentation have an impact on system performances only when you have to read often files such as Web Browser's cache for example but have no impact on performances for files such as Restore Points which, most of the time, are never to be read (unless you have to restore and for one time only...).
Therefore a better defragmenter than the Windows native's one must allow (at least) a targeted defragmentation and not only a entire disk volume defragmentation...
For such targeted defragmentation I have two suggestions for you:
1- Sysinternals contig: easy to use but limited in features
or (a better solution imho)
You have to know that Ultradefrag do not use complex algorithms for defragmentations like JKDefrag ot other softwares but it's easy to use and give reasonable results... There's a GUI and command lines options with a (very) good documentation.
Ultradefrag may be run at boot time and run as command line for targeted defragmentation. For example you may keep the various command lines in a scheduled task and keep it disabled to run it only on demand if you want...
Hope this help. Let us know.
Have you tried Diskeeper? It's not free - but removes and PREVENTS fragmentation automatically using only idle system resources.
I personally recommend Defraggler. It's simple, has all options one would look for but comes with a great default setup so you also can simply click defrag and wait. It can also completely replace the Windows 7 default defrag-algorithm and is updated on a six weeks cycle, so it will always be up to date.