On a recent episode of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” the good guys had captured the laptop computer of a very bad guy, but when one detective asked the other about the contents, the reply was that nothing could be accessed because the drive had been “defragged.”

That may sound good, but unfortunately for the show’s veracity, the fact is that defragging has nothing to do with removing files or blocking access to data on a computer. Actually, quite the opposite is true.

When the computer stores a file on your hard drive, the assumption may be that the entire file is stored in once place. Often, however, parts of a file are stored in different places on the disk, meaning that when you want to retrieve that file, your hard drive has to be accessed at several different locations in order to assemble the file.

The result is that these “fragmented” files take longer to access than those that have been stored as a whole. Often that’s not a big deal, but as fragmented files pile up on your computer, access takes more and more time–to the point where the system seems to be dragging.

Defragmentation is a process whereby Windows scans a disk, finds the fragmented files, then reassembles them whole on the disk. When “defragging” is done on a regular basis, it helps maintain optimum system performance. Defragging can be done via the operating system on any modern Windows-based computer. The sad fact, however, is that most of us don’t think of defragging our drives until our computer’s performance becomes annoyingly slow.

That’s where a product like Diskeeper 2007 Professional Premier Edition from Diskeeper Corporation, Burbank, Calif., can be most useful. According to the company, this utility not only automatically defragments a disk quickly, “but also enhances the speed of the Windows file system itself.”

They add that defragging is done “on the fly as fragmentation occurs, using only idle system resources. This approach ensures maximum PC speed and reliability at all times, without the performance hit of a manual defrag.”

For those of you who like to do things the old-fashioned way, manual defragging is still possible with Diskeeper 2007 Professional Premier Edition. We tested our software in both the manual and automatic modes.

Diskeeper claims that the level of computer resources taken from applications and services during its defragging operations “is so close to zero that it’s virtually undetectable.” Indeed, with the program running in the background, we noticed no change in system performance, even though periodic checks of the utility’s activity log showed that defragmentation activity had definitely been taking place.

We also turned off the auto defrag function and used the computer for several weeks without defragging. At the end of that time, we used the utility to analyze our hard disk and found a number of fragmented files. When we did the manual defrag on those files, the program told us that we had eliminated 663 fragments and gained a “42% improvement” in access time for the fragmented files, with a slight improvement in overall access time. While the access time for the previously fragmented files was only about 2 seconds faster, the point was certainly proven.

The company also claims that its technology outperforms “ordinary” file defragmentation “by an average of 10% to 20%, and by as much as 80%.” We were unable to test this assertion, however.

We liked the helpful, step-by-step instructions provided on screen in the utility’s Quick Launch panel. Users can also search for and download updates to the program from this screen.

The software also allows you to specify individual files for defragging, or to view the “most fragmented files” on your hard drive. Some tech junkies may find this fascinating or useful, but our bet is that most users couldn’t care less. The strength of this program is that it runs in the background and keeps files on your disk nicely organized for better performance, without the user having to intervene–or even think about what is going on.

Users can also choose to automatically run boot-time defragmentation on startup. This feature defragments files at boot time that cannot be moved safely when Windows is running, the company says.

The bottom line is that while you could defrag your disk without this software, you probably won’t remember to do so all that often, and that could result in degraded systems performance.

This product offers an easy-to-install-and-use solution that lets you play with dashboards, charts and graphs if you really want to–or you can just let the application run in the background and stop worrying about boring, and often time-consuming, manual defragging.

Diskeeper 2007 Professional Premier Edition carries an estimated street price of $99.95. Home ($29.95), Professional ($49.95), Server ($299.95), Enterprise Server ($999.95) and Administrator ($199.95) Editions are also available.

Further details are available at .

This article is part of a series dealing with technology products for use in the agency environment. The evaluations offered in these articles are based on our experience with and impressions of the review units provided by the manufacturer. For in-depth reviews of technical specifications, we recommend consulting technology publications that carry such evaluations.