Keep Your Hard Drive Healthy
Diskeeper helps keep today's monster hard drives neat and organized.
1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent
5: Average, performs adequately
There's no end to an admin's to-do list. The top three tasks these days are
invariably running anti-virus and anti-spyware checks, installing software updates
and patches and defragmenting hard drives. While the latest virus and the headaches
of "Patch Tuesday" grab more headlines, the health of your hard drives
is no less deserving of attention. Not running a regular defrag has a huge impact
on system performance.
In a perfect world, hard drives would store every file contiguously and arrange
them so each file would be quickly accessible. This would save on hard disk
access time, which translates to time saved and less wear and tear. However,
that's rarely the case.
When you save, the file system breaks files into blocks so they can fit in
a contiguous space. As you add or delete files, you end up mixing up blocks
of data because the file system will start using the first free space it finds.
Because you have no real control over where or how it gets stored on the disk,
the OS ends up making generally inefficient decisions and your data ends up
scattered across the drive. This causes your hard disk heads to thrash around
looking for chunks of data, which takes time. While we're only talking milliseconds
of access, if you're accessing a couple thousand files, that adds up.
[Click on image for larger view.]
|Figure 1. Diskeeper
shows you fragmentation levels on a time-stamped chart.
Some users thought bigger hard disks would alleviate the problem, but it only
made things worse. People store larger files and more data in larger volumes.
Improved hard drive seek times, faster processors and vast quantities of RAM
have helped, but the hard disk is typically the slowest component in a computer.
Fragmented files can grind performance into the ground.
Diskeeper has been a mainstay since the days when it filled the void for Windows
NT 4 (NT 4 had no defragmentation utility). Even today, Windows XP ships with
a scaled-back version of Diskeeper 6, paving the way for Diskeeper 10 to impress
you with some of its more advanced features.
At the core of the suite is the product we all know and love, the defragmenter
tool. Diskeeper 10 has five editions, each suited for systems with increasingly
larger file volumes: Home, Professional, Professional Premier, Server and Server
Enterprise. Professional will defrag a 768GB volume, whereas Server operates
in the terabyte range. Server Enterprise is virtually unlimited. As with previous
versions, Diskeeper 10 does an excellent job of quickly sorting through your
disk and aligning your data.
Diskeeper reports the average number of file fragments per file, the fragmentation
of your master file table (MFT) and the response time you would potentially
gain by reading a fully defragmented volume. All the machines upon which I ran
Diskeeper showed me nearly a 50 percent gain in seek time performance by executing
the defrag. In most cases, I found my MFT to be more fragmented than what Diskeeper
was calling acceptable. In each case, I noticed a modest performance increase
What's really cool here is version 10 sports a boot time defragmentation sequence.
This lets you defragment the paging file rather than deleting it. It turns it
off in Windows, performs the defragmentation and then re-creates the page file.
Apart from the defragmenter utility itself, Diskeeper Administrator is a great
interface that lets you control your enterprise defragmentation efforts. From
the console, you can roll out the appropriate versions of Diskeeper to machines
across your network, schedule primary and secondary policies of when to run
defrag operations on groups of machines, and even let non-administrator logins
access the defragment utility.
I did have one hang up with the Admin tool. You have to make sure TCP/IP is
turned on as a protocol if you opt to use SQL Server 2005 Express as your database
engine. I'm told Diskeeper will update this info as part of the documentation/installation
in subsequent versions. While this is certainly not a failing of Diskeeper,
but rather a change in how MSDE/SQL provides surface exposure, it can throw
you for a loop if you're not ready.
Diskeeper 10 contains a number of features designed to conduct defrags in an
intelligent way. I-FAAST adapts to the changes in your file storage habits based
on your disk geometry. This makes the product adaptive because it essentially
analyzes a volume to determine what type of volume it is and how often you're
actually retrieving "commonly accessed files." It then arranges the
files on the drive in such a way that the most common files are within the easiest
It used to be that if you were going to defragment your system, you had to
wait until later at night to ensure that disk activity would be at its lowest.
If the computer had to read or save to the hard disk while a defrag routine
was in process, the integrity of the data would often be in question and the
software would begin the process again. It could also end up running so slowly
that performance would be heavily affected.
Diskeeper created I/O Smart so the tool could continue working through accesses
by halting the defrag process and allowing the file activity to continue and
complete before resuming defrag. This is powerful because the system takes advantage
of idle time when it would otherwise have to do maintenance.
As this review went to press, Diskeeper
was just preparing to ship a new version of its defrag tool.
Diskeeper 2007 automates many defragmentation and disk maintenance
tasks. Here's a look at the significant upgrades coming in
- InvisiTasking technology performs true real-time defragmentation,
automatically handling fragmentation as it occurs.
- I-FAAST 2.0 speeds file access through intelligent monitoring.
It learns which files are needed most and accelerates access
to those files by anywhere from 20 percent to 80 percent.
(This feature is available in Professional Premier, Server
and Enterprise Server versions.)
- The Frag Shield maintains system stability and reliability
by preventing fragmentation of critical system files.
- The Terabyte Volume Engine 2.0 (TVE) provides thorough
real-time defragmentation of large volumes (more than 60GB).
- The improved interface provides flexible and intuitive
controls, simplified configuration, and reports on disk
health, real-time performance and fragmentation statistics.
- Automatic online directory consolidation boosts antivirus
scans, back-ups and file searches.
- Diskeeper 2007 now has native 64-bit support for Windows
Depending on the level of file activity on the disk, the size and types of
files used, and the amount of free space available, Diskeeper can use the Smart
Scheduling feature to figure out what the period between defrags should be.
This is pretty cool, as your system doesn't kick off a defrag cycle when there's
little to defrag.
In Professional edition, Diskeeper has a power-saving function that works for
notebooks. It cuts down on power consumption while quietly cranking away on
those pesky fragments.
You can just use the Windows Defragmenter, which works reasonably well for
most situations. You'd still be using a proven version of Diskeeper, albeit
several versions earlier than the current version. Diskeeper's key selling point
is that it's a huge improvement over the packaged Windows version.
It all comes down to how you use your storage, what your read/write activity
is and whether your drives are getting fragmented. You can run an analysis in
Windows and begin measuring how fragmented your data has become.
If it's truly getting thrashed around on a regular basis, and you're able to
determine that it's due to drive fragmentation, latching onto a tool like Diskeeper
is probably a good idea. Diskeeper has been at it a long while, so it's worth
a long look if you need an enterprise-level defrag solution.
About the Author
Rick A. Butler, MCSE+I, is the Director of Information Services for the United States Hang Gliding Association.