I am a big fan of NT. I like the
robustness and security it can provide but there are
infuriating shortcomings. A few months ago, I reviewed St.
Bernard Software's Open File Manager
which overcame one shortcoming - the inability to back up
open files under NT.
NT also lacks tools to deal with disk defragmentation.
Again, you must turn to a third-party utility to get the
job done. There are a couple of products on the market.
The most complete and feature-rich product is Diskeeper 3.0
from Executive Software. For four years they have
provided the ability to defragment FAT and NTFS hard disk
partitions running under NT.
What does it do?
Disk fragmentation occurs when parts of a file are
stored in non-contiguous areas of the disk. Although it
may not seem like a big deal, it is possible for a file
to be fragmented into hundreds or even thousands of
different regions of the disk. The operating system must
perform extra work to read the entire file and it takes
extra time for the disk drive heads to locate all the
file fragments. A heavily fragmented partition also means
that free space is fragmented. When new files are
written, chances are this causes further fragmentation.
Some people have assumed that NTFS, being an advanced
file system, is somehow immune to file fragmentation -
untrue. In fact, trade magazines have reported that NTFS
partitions can become too fragmented to access.
You can run Diskeeper either in interactive mode or as
a service. When run interactively, you can perform an
analysis on any partition and see the level of
fragmentation. You can view the information graphically;
different colours depict fragmented files, contiguous
files, the Master File Table (MFT), paging files,
directories, system files and free space. The information
is also available in text format. In text mode you can
also see a list of the filenames of fragmented files;
this assistance can help you decide if it is important to
defragment the affected files. The graphical display is
updated in real time as you perform a defragmentation. By
default, Diskeeper runs at normal NT priority: the middle
of five possible priority levels.
When run as a service, Diskeeper runs in "Set and
Forget" mode. You first specify a schedule which can
be one-time, continuous, or repeated. The latter offers a
flexible schedule but it is not the easiest to use. You
choose from drop down lists with choices: for example,
every 2, 4, 8, 12, 24, 48, or 72 hours. Other lists allow
you to choose a range of hours the program is allowed to
function within (in one hour increments) and the days it
may run. You can also specify the priority level this
mode should use, with a default of lowest priority. At
the default setting it will give up CPU cycles to most
other programs - even screen savers. Once you have
configured "Set and Forget" mode, Diskeeper
will run according to the schedule, even if nobody is
logged onto the system.
The NT Server version of Diskeeper adds the ability to
control all copies of Diskeeper running on your network.
You can check fragmentation levels, run the program
directly or activate the "Set and Forget" mode.
You can easily select multiple computers and set the
schedule for all of them in a single step. All this can
be done whether or not people are logged onto the system.
You can create exception lists for files you don't
care about defragging: for example, infrequently accessed
files or those in the Temp directory.
Diskeeper makes good use of NT's Application log. You
may want to consider expanding the size of the log; after
all, it not only logs summary information but also
creates a log entry for every defragmented file.
What won't it do?
Diskeeper will not make the partition look pretty.
Files will not be moved to the start of the partition,
with all free space left in one chunk at the end;
Executive Software has determined that this gains little.
They aim to defragment files and ensure that the free
space is concentrated in a few large chunks.
Diskeeper will not defragment all files, particularly
on NTFS volumes. If there is less than 25% free space on
the partition, you will almost certainly end up with some
residual fragmentation. This is due to several factors
beyond Diskeeper's control. One example is the effect of
space reserved for expansion of the NTFS Master File
Table. NT can write files into this disk space. Diskeeper
can move files out of this disk space but it can't write
to this area; hence it is unavailable for defragging
Diskeeper will not defragment directories under normal
operation since NT does not permit directories to be
manipulated during normal operation. However, Diskeeper
can do directory consolidation during a reboot before NT
has taken complete control of the file system. Chkdsk
should be run before directory consolidation; this can
add considerable time to the boot process. Fortunately,
this is not an operation you will need to run frequently.
Executive Software has a free version called Diskeeper
Lite. Its main limitation: it runs only in interactive
mode at normal priority level. This defragmenter will be
included with NT5. You can download Diskeeper Lite from
PUB II (DKLITE_I.ZIP in the Disk Utilities file area) or
from Executive Software's Web site (http://www.execsoft.com).
How Did it Work for Me?
I am sorry to say that I could not really notice any
performance difference after running Diskeeper. The
reasons are two-fold. First, the evaluation machine was
the PUB II server: used mostly by others accessing our
communications server. Second, since I had been running
Diskeeper Light, the disk was not too badly fragmented.
Prior to installing the full version, Diskeeper Lite had
not run for a month. The result was more than 1,000
fragmented files with a total of over 4,000 fragments.
Diskeeper was unable to defragment eight files since only
20% free space remained on the partition. Diskeeper was
only able to use 11% of the partition for defragmenting;
the remaining 9% was being reserved for expansion of the
MFT. Once I moved some files to provide 30% free space on
the partition, Diskeeper was able to defragment all files.
Although I was not able to notice a performance gain
from a defragmenter partition, I am sure it really does
make a difference. I am a true believer in
I called Inly systems for a price quote on Diskeeper:
$399 for the server version and $84.95 for the
workstation version. Quantity discounts are available
through Executive Software.
As I was finalizing this review, Diskeeper 4.0 was
released. The main new feature appears to be the ability
to defragment paging files.
Diskeeper 3.0 (Proprietary)
$399 (server version)
$84.95 (workstation version)
Originally published: November, 1998