Product Reviews

Bring Order to Hard Drive Chaos

PerfectDisk is an industrial-strength defragmentation solution.

The files on your hard drive are like the stars and galaxies that make up the known universe, constantly pulling themselves apart—billions and billions of bits hurtling across the media in response to the laws of engineering and cosmology.

OK, Carl Sagan I am not.

While there's little chance that a fragmented disk will cause your hard drive or the known universe to implode, fragmented program and data files are cumbersome and inevitable consequences of using a computer. Fragmentation decreases a computer's performance by forcing it to use extra resources to read and write files; taking extra time to locate all portions of a document or program; and increasing downtime and required network maintenance. Fragmentation also causes unnecessary wear on your hard drive heads and can lead to data loss. A seriously fragmented hard drive makes your computer feel like it's trudging through molasses.

A defragmentation utility puts files back together, which helps the operating system read and use them faster, store them quicker and maintain them with fewer resources (such as CPU time, RAM and disk space). While Microsoft's operating systems ship with a built-in disk defragmenting application, it is basic in scope and limited in functionality.

Figure 1. PerfectDisk's graphic representation of how badly your drive is fragmented.
Figure 1. After PerfectDisk does its initial scan and Drive Health Report, it will give you a graphic representation of just how badly your drive is fragmented. (Click image to view larger version.)

Flexible Management
Raxco Software's PerfectDisk Version 6 (PDV6) is a disk defragmentation program that works with Windows Server 2003, Windows 2000 Professional or Server and Windows XP Home or Professional PCs, workstations and servers. PDV6 is touted as an industrial-strength defragmentation solution for distributed Windows networks. It works on every type of file on Windows 2003/2000 and XP PCs, including the Master File Table, all NTFS metadata, paging files, hibernation files and directories. The software is designed to defragment data files in a single pass, consolidate free space and organize hard disks according to usage patterns.

The program's Perfect Management technology integrates with Active Directory for flexible enterprise management according to a preset, adjustable fragmentation level (threshold) or automated scheduling across a network. It can also work with PerfectDisk for Exchange to automate the offline defragmentation of Exchange data stores. PDV6 can defrag hard drives with as little as 5 percent of free disk space remaining on the drive. It can also defrag disks of a terabyte in size or more. PDV6 includes boot time defragmentation, network management, command line support and a few other tasty bits as well.

Installing PDV6 on a single computer is child's play, requiring little more than the CD and the ability to click a mouse. Simplicity is a sure sign of good engineering.

You'll need Windows 2000/2003 or XP for successful installation. A minimum of 64MB of RAM is required, but at least 128MB is recommended. When installed, PDV6 requires 2.5MB of disk space.

You can easily deploy PerfectDisk on remote systems using any of the following: Active Directory Group Policy, Windows Installer and SMS. It also supports remote deployment using most third-party remote deployment tools with the PerfectDisk command line installation interface.

First Pass
When you run PerfectDisk for the first time, the application makes a pass through your hard drive and determines the extent to which the drive is fragmented. After this initial analysis, the program shows you a “Drive Health” report, which outlines overall fragmentation, as well as the fragmentation levels of specific files, directories, page file and NTFS metadata. It also indicates the amount of free space available on the drive.

PerfectDisk then offers a defragmentation recommendation based on the information retrieved during its analysis.

Two Choices
If PerfectDisk determines that your drive needs a defrag, it gives you the option to defrag in one of two ways; Smart Placement Defrag or Defragment Only.

Smart Placement Defrag defrags your files, arranges free space in contiguous blocks and optimizes your files based on the frequency with which they are accessed. Placing files in a logical order helps reduce unnecessary drive head movement, thereby reducing wear and tear and hopefully prolonging the life of the drive itself. According to Raxco, Smart Placement Defrag also optimizes the drive so refragmentation occurs at a slower rate.

If you choose Defragment Only, PDV6 will defrag only your fragmented files. It will not place them in any particular order based on usage patterns and it doesn't consolidate free disk space on your drive. If you just need to perform a fast defrag of your data files, this is the option to choose.

Figure 2. Run Smart Defrag to defragment your drive.
Figure 2. Run the Smart Defrag option, and PerfectDisk will defragment your hard drive and reposition data in order of most frequent use, reducing wear and tear on drive heads and slowing the refragmentation process. (Click image to view larger version.)

Network Scheduling
You can configure PDV6 to perform defrag routines using threshold-based defragmentation, wherein it will only defragment a drive once it reaches a certain level of fragmentation. Alternatively, an internal wizard lets you schedule unattended defragmentations that run as background operations. I was particularly impressed with the network scheduling capabilities. PDV6 lets both users and administrators easily schedule online and boot time defragmentation runs throughout a network. You can cancel or change schedules easily through the scheduling interface. A Schedule Query Wizard helps you determine when PDV6 is scheduled to run on any system in a network.

The Disk Trending tool lets you collect detailed fragmentation statistics for a system over a period of time, with the statistics collection running in the background on a scheduled basis. The data is stored in a comma delimited file that you can import into Excel, Access or any other program capable of reading a CSV file. You can use the data to help you make decisions about when and how to run defragmentation routines in the future, either by automated schedule or manually.

An AutoUpdate Feature periodically checks Raxco's support site for newer versions, or you can customize it to check for updates on your own update server. PDV6 also not only provides its own independent GUI, but can also be used as a Microsoft Management Console—a nice feature.

Industrial Strength
PerfectDisk 6 lives up to its billing as an industrial strength defragmentation utility for both Windows 2003/2000 servers and Windows 2000/XP workstations. With support for RAID and Volume Set, PDV6 can provide high level defragmentation capabilities for even large and complex environments with multiple storage arrays and volumes.

If you want more control of your hard drive defragging chores, PerfectDisk is a well-suited, reasonably priced solution for getting the job done.

About the Author

David W. Tschanz, Ph.D., MCSE, is author of the recent "Exchange Server 2007 Infrastructure Design: A Service-Oriented Approach" (Wiley, 2008), as well as co-author of "Mastering Microsoft SQL Server 2005" (Sybex, 2006). Tschanz is a regular contributor to Redmond magazine and operates a small IT consulting firm specializing in business-oriented infrastructure development.


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