Diskeeper's defrag saves time

Even with today's hard drives packing storage by the tens of gigabytes, performance can become anemic from the fragmentation of applications, system files and data over time.

Defragmenting disks — and then continuing to keep fragmentation at a reasonable level — in many cases can have more effect on sluggish performance than upgrading RAM, the CPU and other hardware.

The defrag process, however, generally has been resource-intensive and time-consuming.

Enter Executive Software International's Diskeeper 6.0 Server and Workstation versions for Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 95/98, NT, Me and 2000.

Although previous versions of Diskeeper featured easy network-based administration and scheduling, the latest version of Diskeeper implements a new algorithm emphasizing low resource utilization for safe background defragging without slowing systems to a crawl.

For years, consumer versions of Windows have included a defragmentation utility. But Windows 2000 is the first NT version to bundle a disk defragmenter with the operating system. And with Windows 2000, Microsoft has changed from using Symantec Corp.'s Norton Speed Disk to using an implementation of Diskeeper for its bundled defrag utility.

Microsoft's switch to Diskeeper may represent a passing of the torch. In bygone days, when the user was responsible for his or her own system (if anyone was), disk optimization was often seen as a toy for performance-hungry hot-rodders. Now network administrators are reclaiming more authority over users' drives and desktops, and defragmentation increasingly takes a place alongside virus defense as a network-based resource strategy.

Diskeeper's place has been achieved on the strength of its network strategy. Diskeeper makes defragging easy on administrators because resource utilization is low enough to allow other work to go on and because it gives the option of installing over the network to any modern Windows client using Microsoft's System Management Server.

Running the program manually was easy. A volume tree allowed me to select a particular drive, generate a fragmentation analysis, and/or commence defragmentation with a couple of clicks. Unlike with Norton Speed Disk, there were no optimization options such as file placement preference or defragmentation of free space. Instead, Diskeeper keeps the choices simple.

The actual defragmentation process contained a few surprises. On the Windows 95 system, it appeared to proceed much as previous versions of Diskeeper — laboriously and with lots of apparent iteration involved. But on a machine running Windows 2000, the first run on a 2G partition was done in about a minute, at the end of which a window popped up to inform me that the volume was still heavily fragmented and would benefit from several more passes.

"Several" in this case meant more than a dozen. Once this became apparent, I decided to try out the Set It and Forget It scheduling feature. Rather than launching defragmentation manually for each run, I set the program to run continuously for a couple of hours and proceeded to other work, checking on Diskeeper occasionally in order to monitor progress. I was pleased to notice little slowing of my other applications, a clear distinction from my past experiences with defragmenters.

In the end, I found that a small number of files (three out of more than 11,000) remained fragmented, with a correspondingly small number of "extra" file fragments (30), resulting in a reported file fragmentation percentage of zero.

Other defragmentation utilities, including Norton Speed Disk and Raxco Software Inc.'s PerfectDisk, are capable of reducing these numbers further. Diskeeper still does not attempt to defragment Windows NT/2000 paging files or master file tables online, though I was able to set it to do so at boot time, which should be a rare occurrence on servers. But while a perfectly clean sweep feels nice, it is hard to imagine significant performance enhancement from differences such as these. Regarding competitors' non-defragmentation optimizations (such as file-placement preferences), Executive Software plausibly argues that the benefits of these methods are dubious.

Aside from its new low-profile background defragmenting, Diskeeper's forte is networked scheduling. From a Windows NT or 2000 system to which the server version had been installed, we could easily assign a schedule to an entire domain or to subgroups or individual computers within it. Schedule options were extremely flexible, including the opportunity to defragment every weekday except Tuesdays, within a specified time. Alternatively, the new Smart Scheduling feature sets the program to run only as often as needed, depending on the fragmentation of the volume in question.

Those looking to eke the last ounce of performance out of their volumes may prefer another defragmentation utility. But harried network administrators, particularly if they are running mixed Windows networks, will want to talk to Executive Software about volume discounts.

— Marshall is a freelance writer who has been reviewing computer software for the past 10 years.

REPORT CARD

Diskeeper 6.0 Workstation and Server

Score: B+

Executive Software International

www.execsoft.com

Pricing and availability: Diskeeper 6.0 Workstation is available onthe GSA schedule for $45. The server version costs $240. Volume licensingis available.

Remarks: The key benefit of Diskeeper 6.0 is its network smarts. Scheduledoperation was easy and flexible for individual computers and domains, andthe program's Smart Scheduling feature allows for no-brainer scheduling.This version also offers faster performance and relatively low demands onWindows resources.

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