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Diskeeper 6 SE

by Chris Taylor

I have always been a believer in the benefits of using a disk defragmenter. There is plenty of evidence that overall performance of your computer can be significantly impacted by heavy file fragmentation. It just makes sense — if the disk heads have to move to dozens or hundreds of different areas of the disk in order to read or write to a file, it is going to be slower than if all parts of the file are in one contiguous section.

Some of the impact may go unnoticed. You might be pausing at that moment anyhow, thinking about what you want to type next. But certainly there are times when you are specifically waiting for disk operations to conclude before you can continue. While companies that make disk defragmenting software would like you to believe you can put off computer upgrades simply by ensuring your disks are defragmented, I prefer to look at it as helping to get the best performance I can out of my current hardware.

I have been using Executive Software’s Diskeeper 5 for the last year and a half and wrote a review in May, 2000 (see opcug.ottawa.com/reviews/diskeep5.htm). They recently released Diskeeper 6 Second Edition (DK6) and I decided to take a look at the improvements.

Overall, not much has changed about the program. It is speedier and seems to be somewhat better at ensuring that free space on the disk is consolidated into a few large chunks rather than smaller, more numerous pieces, but essentially, the program acts the same as with version 5. DK6 works on FAT16, FAT32, and NTFS partitions. The Workstation version runs on Windows 95(OSR2 or higher)/98/Me/NT Workstation (SP3 or higher)/2K Pro. The Server version runs on WinNT4 Server and Workstation as well as Win2K Server and Professional. NTFS volumes formatted with a cluster size larger than 4K aren’t supported. DK6 requires DCOM and the Microsoft Management Console and will install or update these components as required.

When you run DK6, a dual panel window opens. The top window has a text listing of your partitions with info on the file system, capacity, free space and percentage free space. When you select a partition, you can click the analyze button and the bottom window fills in with a map of the partition. Different colours are used to show fragmented files, contiguous files, system files, paging/swap file, directories, and (for NTFS volumes) reserved system space.

Once analysis is complete, a summary screen pops up telling you the total number of fragmented files, the number of excess file fragments, and the average number of fragments per file. This is followed by an assessment of how bad DK6 thinks this is.

Diskeeper typically wants a fair amount of free space to do its thing. If you get below about 25% free space, you will get warnings that you should free up space to allow effective defragmentation. I don’t know about you, but now that 40GB+ partitions are not uncommon, being told I need 10GB free space for effective defragmentation seems a little excessive. Heck, the largest file I have on disk is only a couple of hundred megabytes.

You can click a View Report button to bring up a more detailed report on what was found, including a list of all fragmented files (listing file name and path, size, and number of fragments), information on the structure of the volume and fragmentation in areas such as the paging/swap file, directories, etc.

Clicking the Defragment button in the main window starts the defragmentation process. If you have low disk space, you may find that there are still fragmented files after DK6 has run. Additional deframentation runs may reduce the number of fragmented files. But, if you are finding a significant number of fragmented files at the end of a standard run, it almost certainly means that you should consider freeing up space on the volume, if possible. DK6 will rarely consolidate all the free space into a single chunk. Executive Software has determined that this will rarely result in any significant increase in performance. As long as free space is consolidated into a few large areas, that is good enough.

Once you have defragged all your volumes, you can keep them in good shape with the Set it and forget it mode. Through this feature, you can schedule DK6 to periodically run. As with previous versions, you can set it to a specific schedule, such as every 4 hours, daily at 3:00am, or Fridays at 7:00pm. DK6 adds a new option called Smart Scheduling. With this option, DK6 will automatically adjust how frequently it runs based on whether the number of fragmented files increases or decreases between defragmentation runs. Simple and effective.

There are a few disk structures for which Microsoft does not provide defragmentation APIs (application programming interfaces.) They are directory consolidation (all file systems under WinNT and FAT volumes under Win2K), Master File Table (MFT — only found on NTFS volumes), and paging/swap files. DK6 provides a boot-time defragmentation routine that can perform these operations before the OS completely loads. Boot-time defragmentation performance has greatly improved over previous releases, but can take significant time to complete. Unfortunately, there is no way to know in advance just how long the operation will take. Be sure to allow for plenty of down-time, particularly if this is being done on production servers. You can interrupt the boot-time defragmentation prior to completion if you find you simply can’t afford to have the machine off-line any longer. However, if you interrupt the boot-time defrag, it is recommended that you run CHKDSK /F, which is another boot-time operation that can take a long time to complete.

Once a complete boot-time defragmentation has been done, a feature called Frag Guard helps keep the paging/swap file and MFT defragmented. As well, should they become fragmented, you can optionally configure DK6 to automatically perform a boot-time defragmentation during a time of day that you specify.

DK6 provides excellent logging capabilities. You can select from nine different categories of information to be logged. Under Windows NT/2K, the information goes into the Application Event log. Windows 95/98/Me log to a regular disk file.

In previous reviews of Diskeeper, I dealt only with the Workstation version. For this review, I decided to try out the Server version to see how effective it is at taking care of multiple machines on the network. I installed DK6 Server on my Pentium III/933 running Win2K Pro and DK6 Workstation on a Pentium 200 running WinNT.

From my machine I was able to call up a list of computers on the network and connect to any running DK. The main DK interface then contained all the info on the remote computer and anything I did was applied to the remote machine. You can also select multiple computers from a list and apply set it and forget it options with a single click. I can say it is better than having to physically visit each machine to do this, but I have think enterprise manageability should go further. Since they are using DCOM to talk to the remote DK process, one simple thing they could do is create a console (character mode, command-line) program that had the ability to do anything the GUI can do. Then, by running commands, such as:

DK \\gamma /defrag=cdef /prior=normal

you could have it start a defrag on a computer named gamma, for partitions c, d, e, and f, with priority set to normal.

DK \\gamma /setandforget=smart,all,x-weekdays,08:00-18:00 /prior=lowest

might have it connect to the gamma computer, configure set it and forget it to all partitions, smart scheduling, run any time except weekdays between 8:00am and 6:00pm, and run at low priority.

Administrators love console utilities. They can easily be combined into batch files for complete automation. It can turn manual work in a GUI into a job that can be started in seconds and run completely unattended.

Another needed enterprise feature is one that can report on the level of fragmentation on all partitions in the entire organization. This can help you zero in on those machines that have unusually high levels of fragmentation to find out the reason why.

Almost every version of Windows has included a disk defragmenter. So why should anyone spend money on a third-party utility for defragmentation? The built-in defragmenters are generally short on features. They can’t do things like defrag the paging/swap file or master file table. The defragmenter in Win2K (which is based on Diskeeper code) requires that you be logged in as administrator to run and can’t (easily) be scheduled. They can’t be controlled over the network without the addition of something like Winternals Defrag Commander. They don’t allow you to set the priority level to minimize impact on other running applications. They do a decent, but basic, job. If that’s enough for you, there is little need to spend money on Diskeeper. But if you want the best performance out of your computer, Diskeeper will ensure disk fragmentation is not what is slowing you down.

If you want to compare the performance of the built-in Win2K defragger with Diskeeper, Executive Software has just released a test program you can use on your own hardware to see the difference. It is available at www.diskeeper.com/diskeeper/test-for-yourself.asp.

A 30-day eval copy may be downloaded from www.execsoft.com. Street prices in Canadian dollars should be around $75 for the Workstation version and (a rather steep)$400 for the Server version.

Bottom Line:

Diskeeper 6 SE
CAN $400 Server version or CAN$75 for Workstation version
Executive Software
http://www.execsoft.com

Originally published: October, 2001

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