Over time, even the fastest hard disk becomes fragmented, with bits and pieces of fi les stores in noncontiguous areas of free space. Fragmentation makes the process of opening files and programs a whole lot slower than it needs to be and it's a problem that only grows worse with time.

While Windows does include a capable disk defragmentation utility, it's a manual affair and anything but speedy. On a large and badly fragmented drive, the defragmentation process can take hours, bringing your system to a virtual standstill in the process. If you're serious about system performance, then you need an alternative solution such as Diskeeper 10.

Continuous defrag

The latest version of this popular utility makes keeping your hard drives in tip-top shape easier than ever before.

First, you can kiss the manual defrag goodbye. Diskeeper 10's 'set it and forget it' feature will keep all of your drives defragmented automatically by doing the job incrementally in the background when hard drive use is low, or even when your screen saver is running. The manual scan is still an option, of course, but after installing the program you should rarely have the need.

We installed the program on our test system, defragmented one partition manually, and then let it do its thing against all other partitions (about 30GB worth). Then we left the program alone. When we went back to check on it after two days of regular PC use, every drive on the system was completely defragmented.

The best thing is that Diskeeper just keeps getting better over time; once an entire drive has been defragmented, it only needs to deal with fragmented fi les here and there, as the need arises.

The only major feature missing in the Home edition is the ability to defrag the Windows paging file. Diskeeper has limited this feature to the Professional and Premier editions. We think it's silly to cripple the program in this way, but it won't make a big difference to anyone but the most demanding power user. Dan DiNicolo