Have You Played… Windows Defrag?

Before there was Clicker Heroes or Adventure Capitalist, there was Defrag: the prototypical timewaster for the bored or disaffected PC gamer. SSDs have cost us dearly.

For years – the Windows 95 to XP years specifically – Windows Defrag was my hangover cure. Well, cure’s the wrong word, but certainly it was something I used to stare at for far too long on Sunday mornings as an effort-free attempt to distract myself from my self-poisoning. I’d gun it up and watch Windows try to put my whirring, chuntering system drive in order.

Distraction. Pain relief. Therapy. Enlightenment.

All those tiny rectangles flicking about and changing colour, creating some false sense of progress: that, after hours of this, my hard drive, hell, my whole PC, would become some roaring light-speed beast now that all its data was efficiently ordered.

Clearly, I projected myself onto this. My bruised brain slowly, painfully rebuilding itself, eventually reaching the point where I would feel able to rise from my chair and go make a cup of tea. That would be triumph.

‘Twas a silly thing; an insane waste of time whose results upon my hard drive were probably more placebo than actual. But I missed it when I moved to SSDs (and when defragging of the larger magnetic drives that I use for document/photo/video storage was a) not particularly necessary b) automated by Windows anyway), and it was only when I was fairly deep into number-clicker game Adventure Capitalist that I realised I was replicating the same habit a decade later.

An ever so slightly more interactive variant, yes, but really I was in the same place as I’d been with Defrag – willing a progress bar to max out, falsely convincing myself that some great reward awaited at the end of it. It never did, never does: it only goes on.

If there is an afterlife for me, I am quite sure that it will involve watching an infinite hard drive defrag forever.

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  1. Premium User Badge

    Awesomeclaw says:

    The spiritual successor, MyDefrag, has been around for a while. The gameplay is similar but it goes for a kind of different graphical style.

    link to mydefrag.net

    • yildo says:

      Defragging is actively bad for SSD drives. Their lifetime is literally measured in the number of read/writes, so copying files around for no reason kills them. There is also no speed benefit to a defragged file on an SSD drive, because any part of the drive can be accessed simultaneously without spinning the drive. Do not defrag SSD or flash drives.

  2. Pop says:

    Curse those unmovable files! Like awkward shapes in Tetris, getting in the way of perfection

    • Premium User Badge

      distantlurker says:

      Stop typing!
      It’s not funny, it’s just SAD!


      Turn off paging, reboot to Safe Mode With Command Prompt, run defrag from the command line, (wait 2 days….), reboot and re-add paging.

      You’re an embarrassment..

    • Gordon Shock says:

      Yes curse them….how dare they destroy the symmetry of a work of art unfolding before my eyes!

  3. Czrly says:

    Thank goodness we can still to deep system anti-virus scans and watch the folder names flashing by…

    Actually, anti-virus scans are far more satisfying because you get to employ your knowledge of your own hard-drive and your operating system to try to predict when the progress bar will jam to a halt as it hits the tiny little files in one folder and then seem to accelerate to ludicrous speed when it hits the great big ones in a second. This sort of interactivity, while passive, still makes them more engaging for the computer pro.

  4. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    So relaxing. To link to John’s article a couple of days ago, watching the defragger was my computing hot bath for a while.

  5. GallonOfAlan says:

    It’s a fairly pointless exercise for NTFS volumes on Windows 7 and later.

    • Baines says:

      It is a fairly pointless exercise on Windows 7 because Microsoft broke the Windows defrag program with an update, and ended support without ever bothering to fix it. (The result was that the program would “finish” after defragging only around 25-50% of a drive.)

      • Premium User Badge

        daktaklakpak says:

        And thus was defraggler born! More options than you can shake a stick at (and all about as meaningful as shaking said stick). Still has the dancing squares. If it finishes too fast, you can make it move stuff to the end of the list, then make it move them back again!

        No, no, I was never obsessed with keeping my drives in “top performance” shape… Why are you looking at me like that?

  6. AngoraFish says:

    Ah yes, many an enjoyable hour was spent watching those little boxes progressively move around. Truly, my life does chart an almost direct line between Defrag and my more recent obsession with incremental idle games.

  7. NelsonMinar says:

    My favorite part of playing Defrag is the tension, the danger that something would go wrong and your files would be shredded to useless confetti.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Ah, a kindred spirit.

      I play roguelikes for that now.

      • Scandalon says:

        After surviving that, we used Stacker/Doublespace for a Newgame+ experience.

  8. chuckieegg says:

    Oh, the mysterious cargo cult of Defrag. If ever there was a problem with my PC, if all other options had been tried, there was always Defrag. It was impossible to explain quite what it was doing, but it was clearly DOING SOMETHING. And so the current malady would surely be solved in a few hours time.

  9. Premium User Badge

    keefybabe says:

    Best game.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Haldurson says:

    I started with PCs around IBM DOS 1.1 (or was it 1.01???). I can recall the time before such utilities existed, when if you had to unerase a file, you had to actually use Norton Disk Edit, and figure out how to do it manually (Peter Norton’s books were like our bible back then).

    And then Peter Norton came out with his utilities, and they certainly were not placebos in the time when hard drives were slow as sloths. Had he visited us in person, we would have lined up to kiss his ring. Disk defragmentation was no placebo.

    • Fnord73 says:

      If Peter Norton had visited you in person as an avater of his programs, he would still be in your livingroom unless you changed houses.

      • Premium User Badge

        phuzz says:

        If antivirus programs were more like their creators then McAfee would be much more fun.

        I do remember a period in the early 2000’s though when pretty much any time I searched for information on an error of any kind, one of the first posts would say something along the lines of “this is a known problem with Norton antivirus. If you want to do X then uninstall Norton and get something better”

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          Indeed. The rumours of Norton Antivirus identifying itself as a virus are also not exagerated. Know this one first hand, and good lord did I ever laugh.

          • Bing_oh says:

            There are more than a few people in the world who would argue that Norton IS, in fact, a virus…

          • C0llic says:

            Indeed, Norton and to a lesser extent McAfee, are solid proof that to be successful you just need to be in bed with the major OEM manufacturers and retail chains. It comes pre-installed and people renew the licence because they don’t know any better.

          • Premium User Badge

            Haldurson says:

            You do know I wasn’t writing about Norton Utilities. Back in the 1980s, Peter Norton had, basically, some of the best technical books and utilities available for anyone who had to work on PCs. He sold everything to Symantec back in 1990, so what you are likely talking about has absolutely nothing to do with what I’m talking about.

          • C0llic says:

            But everyone I was replying to above was talking about the awful anti-virus program, which is what I was also talking about.

  11. trappski says:

    All jokes aside… Failure to mention Progress Quest whenever games about idling are on topic is a little sad.
    I mean it has been around for some 15 years. Way before we had Coockie Clicker, Clicker Heroes or others. And it has multiplayer! :P
    link to progressquest.com

    And besides who doesn’t want to play as an
    Enchanted Motorcycle – Hunter Strangler?

    • orionite says:

      I was about to post a link! I never got into Defrag. Maybe the real-world setting didn’t appeal. However, Progress Quest did the trick, with a great fantasy theme and wonderful character classes.

  12. Rizlar says:

    Still some fun to be had watching WinDirStat catalogue your drives. Needed to find some space earlier and discovered I had accidentally recorded several hours of Planetside 2 on to the OS SSD. Woops!

  13. Ejia says:

    Oddly enough, I used to run the Norton defragmenter while it played the music from a stage of one of the Gradius games.

  14. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    I worked with guy back in the mid-90s who somehow convinced his manager that he needed to run defrag every day to keep his computer running smoothly. And of course it could only be run during work hours. Clever bastard.

    His manager actually spent several hours a day playing Minesweeper. Once for a joke, we changed all his icons so they kept the original icon but all of them pointed to Minesweeper. He was oddly not amused.

  15. BluePencil says:

    I miss watching defrag too :(

  16. Dodj33 says:

    I did the same- I can’t stop watch progress bars of any sort- and defrag is the biggest most complex beuatiful progress bar created by mankind

    • Scandalon says:

      Eloquently put. Being in IT, and thus despairing at the amount of my life I’ve spent waiting for progress bars to complete, I had to train myself to look away and do something else.

  17. Vesperan says:

    The strange thing about defragging is that it stuck in the consiousness of older relatives etc. I haven’t done a defrag for a relative in over a decade but even now the question is “my computer is running slow, do I need to defrag it?”

    No – you need to stop buying terrible OEM computers that run on the bare minimum of memory!

    • Marr says:

      Also stop visiting websites and opening email. Just stop in general, really.

  18. C0llic says:

    I’m glad I don’t have to bother with that anymore since the advent of SSDs. I used Diskeeper in the XP era myself. The little graphics were a bit prettier and it let you defrag the pesky protected system files and page-file (and if you needed it, when that got fragmented, it wasn’t good).

  19. DeadCanDance says:

    Can someone please answer me how to defrag on win7 or why it might be unecessary to do so?

    • TheLetterM says:

      Win 7 is set to defrag on a schedule auatomatically:
      link to howtogeek.com

    • Scandalon says:

      Click start, start typing “defrag” until the defrag util comes up…

      • Scandalon says:

        (Obl. lament of missing edit button).

        Alternately, bring up admin command window, “defrag /?” to show you commandline version options.

        Defragging is still necessary/useful in Win7 (assuming HDD and not SSD*). It should be on by default, but if not, or working on an offline disk or something, the command is there.

        *While it “shouldn’t” matter, in my experience once with an older, particularly fragmented SSD install, it made a noticeable improvement. (At the very least, there’s some tiny overhead for NTFS for file fragments, and I expect certain SSD controllers it’s even more important). You don’t want to make a habit of it due to the excess writes, (a backup/wipe/restore with a file-based image (ImageX/DISM) would be preferable), but a single in-place defrag say, once a year, won’t kill it prematurely.

    • DeadCanDance says:

      Ty all

  20. phylum sinter says:

    I have the same issues trying to enjoy defrag as i have trying to enjoy cookie clicker: too monotonous, not enough variety, and complete lack of imaginative engagement. Now, some of the last one might be my fault, but if the media is only feeding you colored blocks of several types, and you don’t get to move them, then all you can do is pretend it’s putting something else together, or counting something important.

    I’ve never been able to turn off the part of my brain that always says something to the effect of “this is boring, find something more engaging” i guess. Whenever i defragged, i was reading, writing, drawing, making music, taking something else apart, or something. It basically just meant no computer time for awhile in my house.

  21. Bweahns says:

    I used to keep my old 486 DX66 in tip top shape. That 540MB hard drive was lean and clan.

  22. Alasher says:

    You never really played defrag if not tried ULTIMATEDEFRAG! That’s a kind of graphics every modern defrag should have, behold: link to img.techpowerup.org

  23. Rikard Peterson says:

    I also played the DOS version of it. (It already existed in DOS 6.)

  24. Don Reba says:

    I’m surprised no one made a version with microtransactions yet. Stumbled on an immovable file? Well, you can move it for only 100 crystals. You get 150 crystals free and can buy 147 more for only $10.

  25. Shigawire says:

    You MISS defragging? I guess I miss it about as much as I miss floppy disks, dial-up and in-grown toe nails..

    I was waiting a long time for these old inefficient systems to die.. and chief among them that took the longest to get phased out were floppy drives, dial-up and the HDD.. I was overjoyed when SSD came to the mainstream market. Defrag is not something I miss.