Defrag Your USB Drive – Yes or No?

I recalled several months ago one of the loyal readers, I believe it was Don Naphen, who asked whether defrag a USB drive would improve performance. I responded that to defrag of a USB drive was not necessary which I still feel is correct. But during the past several months I have read in some of the forums that folks are recommending to defrag USB drives. With this in mind I thought I would post the question and see what everyone thinks.

Here is my take of why USB drives do not need to be defragged. First of all fragmented files on a hard disk is casued by the read write head banging all over the hard disk. In a USB drive there is no mechanical arm and fragmented files can be found quickly no matter how they are stored. Next is the limited life of a USB drive. If you defrag a USB you may actually shorten the life of the drive itself.

So there you have it. Defrag or not – you decide.

Give us your opinion on what you think is correct for a USB drive.

Comments welcome.

[tags]usb, defrag, yes, no, mechanical, wear, out,  [/tags]

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I have been writing for Lockergnome for eight years.

  • NewJohnny

    This is not opinion, it’s fact: usb drives should not be defragged. It’s an entirely different technology from mechanical hard drives. It’s not even relevant.*

    *This doesn’t apply to programs that require contiguous files, but these are rare.

  • Nehalem

    I agree. The magnetic hard disk benefits from defragmentation because the mechanical work and time to read a file is reduced, thereby improving it’s performance. Defragmentation may also improve the life of the HDD in the long run, thereby staving off premature replacement costs. In an enterprise environment it can reduce the number of complaints of poor performance from non-techie users, etc etc. (No surprise why automatic defrag is becoming the norm these days!)

    A solid state drive has NO moving parts. It is NOT mechanical. So defragmentation will definitely not help performance or hardware life in any way. Ironically, it may actually reduce the life of a SSD because of the limited number of write cycles of the data storage material. So, don’t bother defragging a SSD, you’ll only waste time and make things worse.

  • Peter

    What if your USB drive is not a solid state drive and is actually an external hard drive connected through a USB port?

    A couple thoughts:
    1. Defragging speeds up disk access. Fine. But disk access is not the bottleneck here… the data transfer speed of USB is, so defragging an external USB drive wouldn’t help speed.

    2. All of those read/write operations on a large external drive would take a long time, as the computer basically reads all data on the drive through the USB port, re-orders it and then re-writes it through the USB port again, which means it would take a VERY long time to defrag a large external drive. Unless of course, defraggers use function calls to the drive’s hardware itself to do the job. Is this the case?

    3. Another reason to defrag is that it makes recovery operations easier. But is it worth the risk in point 2?

  • TheName IsInTheMail

    There is a difference between Solid state drives(Thumb) that attach at the USB port, and External hard drives that connect at the USB port.

    Is there any opinion on USB External Hard Drives ?

    Thank you..

    • Ron Schenone

      Hello The NameIsIn The Mail,
      I personally use two USB external hard disks to back up my personal system and my wife’s computer. Both function very well.
      I also save important programs and tools that I use on client systems to thumb.

  • not really

    If is a USB FLASH there is no need .

    If is a HDD via USB … EVERY HDD need to be defragmented .

    As simple as it is .

  • QuickHare

    This is a really interesting topic. As far as I can tell, Peter has a really strong case with the bottleneck being that of the USB transfer rate.

    However in extremely fragmented drives, where maybe two files were copyied to the drive at the same time, the amount of additional backwards and forwards would not help. It is not so much the head moving, as the USB transfer rate covers that, but the fact the operating system (Windows/Unix/Mac OS) has to re-read the allocation table of MFT to find the next part in the process. This would throw out the cache and cause more mayhem.

    However this is very rare that this would slow the drive down so much that it causes more trouble. Even two very large files you copied to the drive together wouldn’t suffer this problem easily.

    I tend to think of it as portable security. USB drives tend to be portable, and so during transit can get knocked and shaken. Though while the drive is unplugged or is a solid state drive (Flash memory or a memory card) this would not cause trouble, there is a risk things going wrong while using the portable hard drive in transit.

    In these situations, when the drive suffers a read/write error, the fact it was defragmented means there is greater chance that only one file was effected. When fragmented there is a risk that a group of files in the same area will be damaged.

    Basically if there are, on average, about 100 frgaments per file and it is a drive with movable parts, I will defragment it when I can. If it is solid state (no moving parts) or not very fragmented then I’ll leave it for a bit.

    Having said that I do tend to transfer a lot of files and use my drive as a Firewire device too, which excels at “sustained file transfer”, or copying lots of data in one big block and benefits from defragmented files.

    Horses for courses, really…

  • A

    This is my humble opinion on the subject. Obviously, there are all types of people in the world. Furthermore, there are both male and female perpetrators. I’ve seen the Best and Worst in people through my chosen profession of 30+ years. Love can be wonderful – or it can hurt terribly – especially, if you end-up at the hands of the wrong person(s). Don’t be afraid to Live Your Best Life – yet, we all need to take responsibility for our own personal safety. Heed the warnings of the professionals and don’t go out with someone unless you believe there is a reasonable level of safety. If you’re not sure about a potential mate, have them investigated by a licensed professional &/or politely decline their invitation – before giving them your personal data and going on a first date with them. Don’t put yourself in a situation/secluded area where help is not readily available. Should you be on that first or subsequent date and you suspect something – get away as safely and quickly, as possible. Go to places with lots of people. Don’t be afraid to make lots of noise, if you have to. One thing I learned from Detective JJ Bookbinder on Wonderama, years ago is to yell ,”Fire” and run in the opposite direction – towards people. Don’t run in a straight line – run in a zig-zag manner – in and out – so it’s harder for someone to grab or harm you. People are more likely to pick-up the phone and call 911 (or the Local Emergency Number) if they think their home and Family will be negatively impacted by a Fire. Because if you just yell, “Help”, most people will be afraid to get involved. Don’t become another statistic/unsolved case. Don’t take my word for it – educate yourselves – and share the information with the rest of us. Thanks in advance.