Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


Acronis Disk Director Suite 10.0
by Alan German

If you run Windows, and need to modify the partitions on your hard disk, for example to create a separate partition on which to store all your data files, the Disk Director Suite from Acronis may provide a very cost-effective solution. Even more so since, as a member of our user group, you can purchase this product at a discount – but more on this later.

Disk Director has a rather interesting modus operandi. By default, the program opens in “automatic mode” and provides wizards to create a new partition, increase free space on an existing partition, copy or recover a partition. Advanced users can switch the program into “manual mode” where many more features become available.

The first two options in automatic mode – creating or resizing partitions – are likely the most common tasks that users of the program wish to undertake. With the other two tasks, copying a partition provides a duplicate of all the data on the drive and can be used for backup, while the Acronis Recovery Expert will let you recover hard disk partitions accidentally deleted or damaged due to a hardware or software failure.

Because of the limited number of options, the user interface in manual mode is clean and simple. The main window displays icons for the partitions present on the hard disk, with details of the used and free space on a selected partition. Wizards for the four available tasks are provided in a menu in the sidebar on the left of the main program window. There are also options to create a bootable CD-ROM for use as a rescue disk (in the event that your system won't boot normally), and to view a log of disk management activities.

Each of the wizards is easy to use, with a series of clearly defined steps. For example, to create a new partition, the first step is to select if unallocated disk space or free space from an existing partition is to be used. A graphical display shows the various areas of the disk in different colours. To select the desired location for your new partition, you simply click in one of the areas. The next step is to specify the size of the new partition. This can be done with a slider running along a line between the minimum and maximum available sizes, by using up and down “spinners” to change the numerical size (in which case the slider moves automatically in the appropriate direction), or by simply typing a number of gigabytes.

Next, you specify if the new partition is to be active (the bootable partition of the disk), primary (to contain an operating system that can be booted from a boot manager), or logical (simply for data files).
The subsequent wizard provides a drop-down menu where you must specify the file type for the partition. Options include NTFS and FAT32 (Windows), Ext 2, Ext3 and Linux swap (Linux). On the next two screens you can select a drive letter for the logical drive, the next available letter being provided as a default value, and type the entry for a disk label into a text box.

The final screen of the wizard re-displays the graphic of the disk structure, now showing the new partition (indicated by a check mark) with its drive letter, file system and size. Note however, that this does not mean that the new partition has been created. Rather you have defined a task for the program to create the desired partition. The actual partition is not created until you commit the changes to disk by clicking on the chequered flag icon on the menu bar. Note that, for the faint of heart, the left arrow on the menu bar is the “undo last action” command which at this stage will remove the new partition creation task.

You may need to increase the size of a partition if you don't have enough free space in which to create data files or install new applications. The wizard for this process is much more succinct than that for creating a new partition. You simply need to select the partition that is to be given more space, the partition from which space is to be taken, specify the new size for the partition, and review the modified disk structure, prior to committing the changes.

At least the process is just that simple if you have suitable partitions available with which to exchange disk space. The wizard helps in this process by greying out any partitions that cannot be used for such purposes. But, in certain situations the wizard continues with strange options such as the ability to extend a Windows' data partition into a Linux operating system partition, but only for sizes between 10 GB and 10.01 GB, i.e. no real size increase. Another odd result, after selecting the partition to be extended and the partition with the space to be used, is the production of an error message indicating that the program is unable to increase the free space on the selected partition since the current size is the maximum possible. However, I should note that these “problems” resulted from pushing the program to modify combinations of Windows and Linux partitions on a dual-boot machine. At least Disk Director is smart enough to indicate what it can't do – or doesn't want to!

So, as we have seen, Disk Director will let you easily create a new partition or resize an existing partition. But, it will also perform a multitude of other tasks on your hard disk. Some of the program's options are to resize or move existing partitions, and to split or merge partitions. You can even copy an entire partition to another partition or hard disk on your computer system. This provides a comprehensive backup system for any given logical drive (such as a dedicated data partition). Similarly, there is an option to back up the disk's master boot record (MBR).

There is also a whole host of disk management tools including menu items to modify the disk label, change the drive letter, check the file system for errors, and defragment the files on the disk. The security conscious can wipe unallocated disk space in order to completely destroy deleted files, or you clear data from an entire drive.

More advanced users can access tools to reformat a partition; change the partition type, file system, and cluster size; hide or unhide a partition; and set a partition to active. Such brave folks can also format or delete a partition. However, a note of caution is in order here. If you wish to remove an existing partition, please be very sure that the partition is no longer required. There is a partition recovery tool available, but this may not help you if your machine will no longer boot! (Did we tell you about the partition and MBR backup capabilities of Disk Director, and the ability to create a rescue disk?)

Advanced users may also like to know that, included with Disk Director, is Acronis OS Selector (look for the file C:\Program Files\Acronis\Acronis Disk Director\OSSelectorSetup.exe once you have completed a standard installation of the main suite.) OS Selector is a boot manager that will allow you to install and use multiple operating systems on one computer. You can boot an OS from any partition, on any hard disk, or have several multi-boot systems on the same partition.

And, for the really advanced users – you can use Disk Director to change the root size of existing partitions, and resize the i-node table. Now if you know what these latter two options actually do, please write a follow-up article 'cos these are definitely out of my league!

However, the point is that Disk Director Suite is very simple to use on one level, and yet extremely powerful for users who can take full advantage of the feature that the package offers. For most users, changing the size of a partition, or creating a new partition from the available unallocated space, will probably be all that is required. And, for these latter tasks, the suite will readily direct you to take good care of your disk.

Finally, as a member of the Ottawa PC Users' Group, you can purchase a copy of Disk Director Suite from the web site of our friends at User Group Relations (
http://www.ugr.com/DiskDirector.html). The discounted user group price is just US $29. For this price (use the special price code UGEVAL07), you can download the software and obtain an authorized serial number (required for installation) or, by paying a small additional charge for shipping and handling, you can receive the package on a CD-ROM by mail.


Bottom Line:

Disk Director Suite 10.0
US $29 with
User Group Discount
Acronis, Inc., Burlington, MA
http://www.acronis.com


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

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