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Delivering speedy and smooth performance, Macs are known to be fast and reliable. However, despite being considered close to computer perfection, Macs are not immune to slow-downs. Bogged down performance can be caused by a number of reasons. These include scattered empty clusters on the hard disk that had appeared as a result of multiple reads and writes performed. To deal with the issue on Windows OS, you would have to defragment your HDD, but can you defrag a Mac?

Does Defragmentation for Mac Work?

It’s no secret that macOS is different from Windows. Among other things, they differ in the way they approach writing files on disk. Windows breaks up all files when writing them into clusters, while OS X does not fragment the small ones. As a result, there is no need for defragging them.

On one hand, this eliminates the need for regular defragmentation. On the other hand, once in every few years defragmentation is still needed due to app installs, big updates and flow of other large files on your Mac HDD.

Things to Know Before Defragging a Mac

In order for you to keep the hard drive running at its top speed, it is recommended to keep your data on the first 50% of the drive. HDDs operate faster in the first half due to having more sectors on the track with less travel time taking the heads to reach them. Running a defraggler helps contain maximum of your files on the first 50% of the drive which results in it performing faster.

Defrag also provides a solution to some of the more serious hard drive performance issues like failing sectors on the drive. It is worth mentioning that it will not repair physically damaged sectors, but only solve the soft bad sector errors.

Defragmenting Hard Drive on Mac

Fully defragmenting your HDD is a fairly complicated thing to do on a Mac, though don’t let it stop you from doing so in the first place. After all, this should be done only once every few years and reclaimed drive performance will definitely be worth it.

Defragging on the Live System

Let’s get it straight, defragmenting your drive will require a third-party application as Apple does not provide any native defrag tools.

Hands down, running defrag software on live system is the quicker way of getting it done. It is the one that’s riskier too. The drill is, no matter how good the software is, you always run the risk of something not going as intended, and if it does — you’re stuck. At this point, making backups just goes without saying.

Essentially, to defragment your Mac’s hard drive you will have to:

  • Find and download a reliable third-party defragmentation software
  • Review all of your files and take out the Trash (ideally try to stay within 50% of your total HDD capacity)
  • Run a trusted cleaning app to get rid of outdated and corrupted support data
  • Make a backup of your data in cloud or external drive
  • Run the software of your choice and follow the onscreen instructions

It’s also worth noting that this method does not guarantee that you will defrag your disk in its entirety.

Defrag Using External Clone

Those of you who are willing to take the high road and invest more time towards achieving reliable results, will favor this approach.

Instead of trying to defrag a disk from within the system itself, this method will have you create a clone of your current HDD, wipe the slate clean, and import things back, yet this time in the right order fitting all the clusters.

To make it happen:

  • Remove outdated and unneeded files from your hard drive (try to fit all of your data in under 50% of total drive capacity)
  • Scan and Clean your system of redundant leftover application data
  • Find and download a trusted drive cloning software
  • Create an identical clone of your boot partition (Macintosh HD) on an external drive formatted as OS X Extended Journaled
  • Reboot your Mac holding down the Option Key and boot from the clone drive using Startup Manager.
  • Test out the clone to make sure it operates correctly
  • Using Disk Utility fully erase data on Macintosh HD
  • Get back to the cloning software and reverse clone all of your data back to the main boot HDD

This may take significantly longer, however, it is worth the time spent to confirm your hard drive working to the best of its ability.

Can You Defrag a Mac SSD?

The introduction of solid state drives has brought in significant improvements in read and write speeds. There is no surprise in Apple making a move to swap out HDDs for SSDs in their computers. Besides improved read & write speeds, SSDs feature trim commands which inform the OS how to treat blocks of data and when to wipe it internally. In other words, TRIM provides built-in self-maintenance processes that do make a world of difference as they nullify the need for defragmentation.

Moreover, defragging an SSD does it more harm than good. Solid state drives operate differently from a traditional hard disk and have limited erase cycles. Defragmentation attempts to reallocate data and puts your drive through multiple reads and writes. Because SSDs feature their own maintenance scripts, attempting to defrag your drive will only reduce its lifespan.

To draw the line, defragmentation will only benefit your Mac if it’s still got a hard drive in its heart. Running the full cycle every couple of years will help squeeze out more performance out of your HDD. On the contrary, defragging an SSD will show no positive result and only hurt its longevity.