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May 19th, 2009

In Part 1 we ran some routine maintenance tasks, using tools that come with your Mac or are available at low or no cost. Moving on from the “regular maintenance” tasks, we will take a look at how and why you should defragment (“defrag”) your hard drive, and how to use your primary installation disc to perform repairs.

OS X handles file fragmentation pretty well. This is where a file gets broken up into pieces and strewn across your hard drive, but it happens much less now because the Mac automatically reassembles files up to 20MB in size. Drive fragmentation, on the other hand, is where there are bits of free space between files, and this is still a problem on everything from laptops with a single drive to Mac Pros with four internal disk drives.

When entertainment-industry professionals work with large audio and/or video files, it is important for them to manage defragmentation to keep the files streaming smoothly. In less-demanding scenarios, fragmentation is not a severe problem, and rarely affects performance, unless you start running out of large “contiguous” blocks of free space. When this happens, and OS X needs working space for virtual memory, temp files or databases, the system has been known to “get flaky.”

Rent Mac computers

Rent Mac computers

No built-in tools

OS X does not have any defragmenting tools, although as explained above it does handle small file issues on its own. For more effective defragmentation, there are some low-cost (but no free) utilities available. However, remember that you only need to defragment when your remaining free space is all jumbled up, so it would behoove you to get Andreas Michalak’s free tool for checking your disk for this problem.

If you need to defragment after all, you can use the tools in DriveGenius or TechTool Pro or get hold of the highly recommended, highly focused application, iDefrag. For around $20, you can’t go wrong. Before we wrap up this final section of our two-part “Helpful Hints” article, let’s take a look at the serious repairs you can do with the tools that come with your new Mac.

Disk Utility for repairs

In Part 1, we showed how to use Disk Utility for repairing permissions. The tool can be used for various other purposes, too, including making partitions (be careful), erasing disks (ditto) and performing repairs. The problem is, you cannot use Disk Utility to repair the drive it’s running on, so if you don’t have an external, alternative start-up drive, it’s time to grab your Apple Software Restore or Mac OS X installation disc.

When you have problems (or every few months even if you don’t), insert your install disc into your running Mac and restart, holding down the “C” key. Booting up will take a bit longer, so be patient. Depending on your version of OS X, you will find the Disk Utility program in one of the menus. Now that you’ve booted from a different drive, you can run the First Aid utility. When it’s finished, restart again, and enjoy smooth – sometimes much smoother – sailing!

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