Optimistic Optimization

Few people, be they lackadaisical users or hardened sys admins, can resist the hypnotically compelling display of a disk defragmentation program working its magic while optimizing a hard drive. However entertaining this can be (it beats most screen savers), it is an important maintenance task that many IT departments just don’t have time for.

With the release of Executive Software’s Diskeeper 7, networkers now have the ability to both optimize disks and their own time. The program offers a Server module requiring Windows NT, 2000, or XP; and a Workstation module, which can run on any version of Windows from 95 on up (including XP).

Deployment is simple enough. Diskeeper can be installed (or upgraded) simultaneously from a single machine to multiple computers on a network, using the Remote Installation feature. Though the Workstation version will run on any Windows platform from 95 on up, the machines taking advantage of the push technology must be running NT, 2000, or XP. However, once installed, all machines can be administered and scheduled from the server, with the exception of XP Home Edition. Times to run the software can be scheduled by individual machine or Groups. Better yet, the “Set It and Forget It” feature can make its own determination as to when optimization is required. You can also set the machine to run Boot Time Defragmentation on system files.

Information sent to the Windows NT/2000/XP Application Event Log can disclose which specific files were affected by the process, disk and directory information, and (assuming the client machine is running NT/2000/XP) Paging File or Master File Table (MFT) information.

We found the time Diskeeper took to accomplish its task almost alarmingly fast. Processes that have been clocked at over 2 hours using the Norton or Microsoft offerings took about 20 minutes using Diskeeper.

Norton Utilities’ Speed Disk gives you the ability to determine where particular files or classes of files are to be placed on the physical volume, and examine the disk map on a sector-by-sector basis, providing analysis on the volume placement and fragmentation status of each file. Diskeeper provides a file (or folder) exclusion list, but little customization control beyond that.

Most of the defrag programs we’ve worked with demand the CPU’s full attention, and frequently restart at the slightest hint of another process requiring disk access. Our tests showed Diskeeper to be, for the most part, a happy exception (no pun intended). The program allows you to establish high/low priorities that the optimization process will take for either the automated “Set It and Forget It” mode or the Manual Defragmentation Mode. Obviously, the greater priority the defrag process has on your machine, the more efficient it will be. However, it’s nice to know that you can have the process running in background when needs be without too much problem. In our tests, we had no problems defragging two volumes on the same PC concurrently.

When analyzing the status of the hard drive, the program offers sage advice that users can easily understand. One of our tests evoked the following response:

"This volume is somewhat fragmented, with 6% of the total volume space available for defragmentation. This level of free space is so low that performance is suffering from that fact alone. Indeed, fragmentation is the least of your worries under these conditions. Clear some files off this volume to achieve a minimum of 20% free space for acceptable performance. You should schedule Diskeeper to run at least once a day (if you haven't already done so) to keep fragmentation at a low level."

There are some caveats to running Diskeeper. For example, there have been incompatibilities with volumes using Partition Magic or lock by Scan Disk. In addition, on Windows XP systems, manual defragmentation of large files (4 GB or larger) at the default priority may result in the system responding poorly.

Prices begin at under $50 for a single new license (or $30 for the upgrade) and drop incrementally based on volume purchase. Server prices start at about $250 new, or $150 for the upgrade. A trial version is available for download.

Ultimately Diskeeper offers a trade-off. While lacking some of the customization, complexity, and thoroughness of its competitors, this package makes up for it in ease of deployment, use, and convenience for both clients and administrators. It may behoove you to ask the question: Just how far does each local drive attached to your network need to be optimized? If the answer falls short of the anal-retentive, this might just be the solution for your needs. On the downside, Diskeeper’s display while optimizing isn’t quite as mesmerizing as that of Norton Utilities, or even Microsoft’s equivalent, but then, what is?

Jim Freund is the Managing Editor of CrossNodes.

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