Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


PerfectDisk 2000
by Chris Taylor

I have looked at a number of disk defragmentation utilities over the years. And you know, they have all been pretty good. Any of them, if used regularly, should help the performance of your machine. But I am always intrigued by new defraggers. What is it they are doing better? Are they faster? Do they do a more thorough job? Do they do it cheaper? Those were some of the questions I had when I came across ads in e-mail newsletters for Raxco Software’s PerfectDisk 2000 v5.0.

Raxco’s claims are impressive. They say they can defrag in a single pass, nearly full disks that other programs either simply can’t handle, or take many passes to completely defrag. They say they will place files so as to help prevent future fragmentation. And they claim that PerfectDisk is the only program that completely defragments all data and system files.

Installation was simple and straightforward. Immediately after installing the program, I ran the update procedure to get the latest build. After updating, it displayed an excellent What’s New file explaining all the changes in the interim releases. It even references bugs that were fixed. It is rare that a vendor is willing to be so open about bugs and Raxco is to be applauded for including this information. Unfortunately, the What’s New file gets created in a temp directory, so it gets deleted after installation. As the file is an HTML file that opens in the browser, I noticed the odd location and snagged a copy before finishing the update. Ideally, this file should be created in the program directory.

The program layout is very easy to work with. The left pane has a tree listing of all local drives. As the program is designed to allow you to control PerfectDisk running on other machines, it also has an icon for My Network Places. Once you configure scheduled jobs, they also appear in this pane.

When you start an analysis or defragmentation, the right pane shows the disk partition. Details are updated as the analysis or defragmentation progresses. There are two available views. The SmartPlacement View colour codes files according to how recently they have been modified. The Fragmented File View colour codes files according to whether they are fragmented or not. Both views show the location of free space, excluded files, directories and boot files. On NTFS disks, it also shows the location of the Master File Table (MFT) and other metadata files.

Smart Defragging

There are two modes PerfectDisk can run in. There is a standard defragment only, which defrags the files, with no regard for optimization of where files are placed or consolidation of free space. While this mode will certainly make accessing your current files much quicker, a disk using this mode of defragmentation will quickly become fragmented again.

The default mode is smart placement. By default, files not modified in the past 60 days are considered rarely modified and are packed together at the start of the disk. Files modified between 30 and 60 days ago are considered occasionally modified and are placed next on the disk. Files modified in the past 30 days are considered frequently modified and are placed last on the disk. The date ranges can be easily changed. All free space is consolidated at the end of the disk.

Smart placement is a good way of keeping a disk defragmented. Because files that have not been modified in the past 60 days are not likely to be modified tomorrow, they will stay nicely defragged at the start of the disk. Those files likely to become fragmented are all grouped together at the end of the disk. This makes subsequent defragmentation runs operate much faster.

Since my last defragmentation program did not arrange files according to how recently they were modified, PerfectDisk had a lot of work to do on the first pass. The first run on a 35GB partition (Pentium III/933, 512MB RAM, Maxtor 5T040H4 DiamondPlus 40 Ultra ATA 7200RPM) took only 40 minutes, which is quite impressive!

After the massive amount of work was done arranging files the way PerfectDisk wanted them, subsequent daily runs generally took between 2 and 5 minutes. I was quite astounded at how fast PerfectDisk does its chores.

As with other defragmentation programs, there are some files that can’t be defragged while the operating system is loaded. This includes files such as the swap or paging file. Directories can be defragged on-line for Windows 2000 and XP, but not for earlier versions of Windows. Under NTFS, areas such as the MFT cannot be defragged on-line.

For these operations, PerfectDisk has an offline mode. When you select this, on next boot up, and before Windows fully loads, PerfectDisk kicks in and defrags those areas of the disk.

There are a couple of things PerfectDisk does that I have not seen done by other defraggers. First, on NTFS volumes, it moves the MFT towards the middle of the disk. Since the MFT is accessed all the time, this can have a big impact on the speed of disk operations.

As well, PerfectDisk can optimize all the metadata on an NTFS volume. Most people know about directories and the MFT, but there are actually a number of files containing metadata. Just a few examples of these critical files: $LogFile is the transaction logging file for the volume, $BadClus contains a list of all clusters on the volume that have been marked as bad so they won’t be used, and $Quota contains information on disk quotas. On my 35GB main partition, it appears those metadata files (not even counting the MTF and directories) use about 70MB. I have to believe making sure they are defragged is a good thing!

Scheduling a defrag is a simple wizard process. You define which partitions you would like to defrag and whether you want it to be an online or offline defrag (or both). You set the timing for once, daily, or weekly. You can also set a frequency, e.g. every 3 days. Finally, you can set the maximum duration for online defragmentation if you are concerned about a defrag run taking too long and perhaps impacting on other processes.

Command Line

For those who like to run things from the command line or script with batch files, PerfectDisk has a complete command line interface. Through it, you can start or stop a defragmentation pass. This can be on any local partition or a remote machine on your network that has PerfectDisk installed. You can obtain the status of any active operation on local or remote computers. And you can schedule an off-line defrag to occur on the next re-boot.

Perfect PerfectDisk?

Raxco claims, “PerfectDisk 2000 is the only defragmenter that does a COMPLETE defrag - All data files and all system files.” So I was surprised that it left fragmented files, even after multiple passes. For example, even after three passes, on my 35GB partition, with over 11GB free space, it left a 272MB mpeg video file in 19 fragments. But it did completely defrag an 11MB Outlook Express mail file that was originally in 1,172 fragments.

After a week or so of nightly runs, almost all files eventually ended up being defragged. But there are 2 files that seem to defy any attempt at defragmentation: a 617MB data file for Microsoft MapPoint, which remains in 14 fragments; and a 161MB file from Microsoft Digital Image Pro, which remains in 2 fragments. But, out of some 150,000 files, hey, that’s not too shabby!

Make a Good Thing Better

I do have a few wish list items I passed on to Raxco. The documentation is OK, but not in the format I like. There is a PDF Getting Started guide which is excellent, but is, in fact, aptly named. Then there are all the details in the help files. I hate hunting though help files. I much prefer a complete manual in addition to help files. PDF format is fine. Many times, I have found obscure things by browsing through a manual that I never would have found in the online help.

I would like to see threshold control on scheduled jobs. I might have a nightly job that will run only if the fragmentation level reaches 3%, and a weekend job that will run regardless of fragmentation level.

Currently, there is no way to specify in a scheduled job if the defrag pass should be defragment only or smart placement. It runs in the same mode as the last time the program ran. If this could be specified, I might set the nightly job to defragment only and a weekend job to smart placement. I have been told this will be in the next release.

Notwithstanding the above, I found PerfectDisk to be incredibly fast and (almost completely) thorough. It is simple to work with and offers flexibility in its operation. I highly recommend this program to anyone looking for a good defragger.

PerfectDisk runs on any version of Windows from Windows 95 OSR2 and later. Windows NT requires SP3 or higher. Memory requirements are 16MB for the 9x kernel and 64MB for Windows NT/2K/XP. Disk sizes up to a terabyte are supported.

Prices: Workstation versions of Windows - US$44. Server versions of Windows – US$219. A Personal Edition is available that runs only on workstation versions of Windows. It doesn’t include the boot-time optimization features, the command line interface or network support. It costs US$35. My advice; spend the extra US$9 and get the ability to do boot-time optimization.

If you are currently using Diskeeper, you can get a 20% discount on PerfectDisk. Just click the Diskeeper Trade-in Program link on their home page.

You can find out more information and download a 30-day trial version from www.raxco.com
 


Bottom Line:

PerfectDisk 2000
Personal Edition US$35 plus US$9 for boot-time optimization
Raxco Software
Web site: http://www.raxco.com


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

The opinions expressed in these reviews may not necessarily
represent the views of the OPCUG or its members.