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Utilities - Diskeeper 5

by Chris Taylor

When Microsoft was looking for a defragging tool to include with Windows 2000, they went calling on Executive Software. On every Win2K CD-ROM you will find a manual defragmenter based on Executive Software's technology. When I went looking for a defragging tool, I looked no further than the full-blown version of Diskeeper 5.
Diskeeper 5

While Executive Software is best known as an NT defragger, it has been in the disk defragging business since before NT. They produced a defragmenter for Digital's VAX VMS. When Microsoft brought out NT, Executive Software was the first to defrag NTFS disks. It was probably inevitable that Symantec came along with Norton Speed Disk for NT. Diskeeper kept its lead with network scheduling and the ability to defragment paging files and the Master File Table (MFT). Besides Windows NT and Windows 2000, Diskeeper now works on Windows 95 and 98.

I last looked at Diskeeper when it was in the closing months of v3.0. It did a decent job of defragmenting my disk. Version 4.0 added the ability to defragment paging files. While this might have been a big advance technically - NT locks paging files for exclusive use - I didn't find this to be a major enhancement from a user point of view, so I stayed with 3.0. 

I did have one problem that v3.0 did not solve: a fragmented Master File Table. The MFT is one of the critical disk structures on an NTFS volume. Its function is roughly analogous to the File Allocation Table on a FAT partition, but it considerably more complex. When a disk is formatted as NTFS, NT creates the MFT and reserves some space for its expansion. If disk space gets tight, NT can create files in the space reserved for MTF expansion. This will result in a fragmented MFT as it expands around files. A fragmented MFT hurts performance. This is the biggest reason why you should never let an NTFS volume get more than about 75% full. 

Another two factors that can cause MFT fragmentation are converting partitions from FAT to NTFS and resizing partitions with a utility like Partition Magic. The first factor occurs with almost every NT installation. During installation, even if you tell NT that you want your primary partition to be formatted NTFS, it actually creates a FAT partition. Later during the installation the partition gets converted to NTFS. 

I had an NTFS partition that had been converted from FAT, resized a few times using Partition Magic, and filled to about 90% more than once. As a result, although my files had been defragmented quite well, the MFT was badly fragmented. My MFT was 20MB in size, with 83% in use. It had an astounding 565 fragments. 

There are a total of three disk structures that even v5 of Diskeeper is unable to defragment while NT is running - paging files, the MFT, and directories (directories can be moved on-line with Windows 2000.) For all three, you must queue up jobs to be run prior to NT loading completely. Defragging these structures can take a long time and this is the one thing that I find inconvenient about Diskeeper. Unless you can afford to have your computer down for several hours, it is best to only queue up a single task for a single volume at a time, at least until you are familiar with how long it takes to handle your disks. Fortunately, these tasks are ones that should not have to be run too frequently. 

Defragging these disk structures is one area where Norton Speed Disk has leap-frogged ahead of Diskeeper. Speed Disk does have the ability to defrag them while NT is running. Executive Software maintains that it cannot be done safely and takes the safer course of only doing it before NT loads fully. Although I have always had a strong tendency to trust programs with the Norton name on them, in this case I wonder. Microsoft has stated that this is not a safe operation. For more information on Microsoft's position, you can read an article at:

Diskeeper can be run in an interactive mode any time you want. It can perform an analysis and report the level of fragmentation among files, directories, paging files, and the MFT. A colour-coded map of your disk gives a good overview of how fragmented things are. A single click on a button starts the defragmentation process. 

Computers should make life easier and interactively defragmenting disks is only slightly more exciting than watching paint dry. Fortunately, Diskeeper has a "set it and forget it" mode. Through it you can set a schedule for automatically defragging all your volumes in the background. You don't have to stop using your computer while it operates and you can set the priority the program runs at. By default, it runs at the lowest priority, which means it will not take CPU cycles away from your running programs. Once you configure the "set it and forget it" mode, you should never have to be concerned about file fragmentation again. The server version of Diskeeper has the ability to set the schedule on all Diskeeper machines on the network. 

I tested Diskeeper 5 on Windows NT 4 with NTFS partitions and Windows 2000 with FAT32 partitions. It performed well on both platforms. I never felt it was impacting the performance of other running applications. The "set it and forget it" mode runs in the middle of the night and keeps the disks in good shape. I did not try to do precise measurements due to the difficulty in doing controlled tests. Personally, I did not notice a big difference in performance on either machine, but there have been tests performed by independent labs such as NSTL that have found some pretty dramatic performance boosts from defragmenting. I do feel more confident knowing my disks are defragmented. 

Bottom Line:

Diskeeper 5 (Proprietary)
US $44.95
Executive Software

Originally published: May, 2000

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