Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


Defrag Commander
Personal Edition
by
Chris Taylor

I have done reviews in the past of Executive Software’s Diskeeper (see opcug.ca/public/reviews/diskeeper6oct01.html and opcug.ca/public/reviews/diskeep5.htm). While I was quite impressed with the program’s ability to keep my disks defragmented, the program — at about $75 — is not what you would call inexpensive. As such, many people will forgo the program and use the defragmenters built into almost every version of Windows since Windows 95.

But relying on the built-in defragmenters has its problems. The main problem is that some versions of Windows make it difficult to schedule the built-in defragmenter. If you have to remember to defragment your disks manually, there is a good chance the job simply does not get done, or at least not as frequently as might otherwise happen.

If you wish you could easily defragment your hard disks more frequently but find that Diskeeper is too expensive, you might want to look at a more cost-effective alternative – Defrag Commander Personal Edition from Winternals Software. At the bargain basement price of US$19, it just might be what you need to keep your disks in tip-top shape.

Defrag Commander PE runs on every version of Windows from Windows 95 through Windows XP. However, the program differs considerably between the Windows 9x kernel (Windows 95, 98, ME) and the NT kernel (Windows NT, 2000, XP).

Under the 9x kernel versions of Windows, all Defrag Commander PE does is provide a scheduler to control the built-in defragmenter. This left me scratching my head a bit, because I found it quite easy to use the Windows Task Scheduler to schedule the job. More on this a bit later.

Once you move to the versions of Windows that use the NT kernel (NT, 2K, XP), things become more interesting. First, NT did not include a built-in defragmenter. You could download a free version of Diskeeper 3.0 from Executive Software that could do the job, but you couldn’t schedule it. Windows 2000 includes a defragmenter (written by the folks at Executive software and based on Diskeeper) but it cannot be scheduled and requires that you be logged in as an administrator. I am not sure about Windows XP, but I assume its limitations are the same as Windows 2000.

Defrag Commander can be used to schedule the built-in defragmenters of Windows 2000 and Windows XP, but it also includes a much better defragmenter written by the folks at Winternals Software which runs on any NT kernel version of Windows (Windows NT, 2000, XP).

The Defrag Commander defrag engine is quite nice. It is fast, defrags the disk in a single pass (unlike Diskeeper which can require several passes to complete its job), is effective when there is a low amount of free space (Diskeeper has severe problems operating effectively if there is less than about 25% free space on the volume), and is very effective at consolidating free space, which helps prevent future fragmentation.

I have used Defrag Commander PE on my Pentium III/933 machine for over a month now. It hums away once a day ensuring my Windows 2000 disks are kept nice and neat. The daily run takes less than 5 minutes.

You can get Defrag Commander for less than half the price of Diskeeper, but is there anything lacking? Well, you don’t get the ability to defrag the page file and it doesn’t include the ability to defrag some of the system areas of NTFS volumes, most notably the Master File Table (MFT).

For the page file, Winternals Software does have a free utility you can download from their web site that will handle this. As for the MFT, there is considerable debate on just how important it is to have a contiguous MFT. Even Executive Software (Diskeeper) staff have admitted that there is no performance impact by having a somewhat fragmented MFT.

Oh, and you don’t get a pretty display. While the built-in defraggers can display a nice map of the disk, showing where contiguous files, fragmented files, and free space are, Defrag Commander runs entirely in the background. It does provide a report after each run that details things like the number of files, average file size, number of fragmented files and average fragments per file. The numbers are reported for analysis before defragmentation as well as after. The total number of moves are also reported.

I promised to come back to the discussion of Windows 95, 98, ME. While there is really no benefit to using Defrag Commander Personal Edition on such machines, Winternals also has the full Defrag Commander product that may be of interest to folks who administrate many machines. The full product allows you to schedule defragmentation across the network.

Again, for Win9x machines, I really sort of question the value. It would be a fairly simple job to go to each machine once and set up a scheduled task using the built-in scheduler and defragger. But if you have lots of machines, remote machines, or machines that end up being in locked offices – well, it might be worth the money.

For Windows NT/2K/XP machines, Defrag Commander also allows you to deploy the Winternals defragging engine and schedule it – all over the wire. In fact, the defragging engine is not even left on the remote machine. It is deployed as two 62K packets. When the defrag run is done, the defragging software simply disappears. Very slick!

The full Defrag Commander costs US$169 and includes ten client licenses. You can download a 30-day eval version of either Defrag Commander or Defrag Commander Personal Edition from the Winternals web site at www.winternals.com.

If you haven’t defragged your disks in the past month, and you use Windows NT, 2K, or XP, I highly recommend you try out Defrag Commander PE. If you use the 9x kernel, fire up the Windows Task Scheduler and set up a scheduled job to defrag your disks.


Bottom Line:

Defrag Commander - Personal Edition
US$19
Winternals Software
Web site:  www.winternals.com




Copyright and Usage
Ottawa Personal Computer Users' Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON  K2G 1S6

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