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Executive Software Diskeeper 7: a computer can't be fast when its hard drive slows down. Hard disk maintenance is a must.

How fast is your computer? Is it as fast as it could be? Even if you have a fast CPU, your overall experience is limited by your disk access speed. As a mechanical device, the hard drive is far slower than even any common CPU. To work fast, you need to keep your hard drive in top shape.

In the online version of this article I describe the serious but common laptop problem that brought my IBM ThinkPad to its knees. It's quite possibly affecting your computer too. And I present tips and tricks to help you cure it. Here, I summarize the problem and solution: lack of hard drive maintenance, fixed by Executive Software Diskeeper 7.

My laptop had a serious case of the invisible "disease" that inflicts every hard disk: file fragmentation. It can suck the life out of even the fastest PC. On a mobile computer, where disk space is limited by size and cost, and where the laptop spends much of its time turned off, file fragmentation can become a show-stopping problem. (More on file fragmentation in the online article.)

Diskeeper to the rescue

The defragmentation software included with recent versions of Microsoft Windows is a stripped-down edition of Diskeeper (DK). To cure my almost-unusable laptop. I turned to the full-featured edition, Executive Software Diskeeper 7.

Defragmenting is a sophisticated cut and paste of disk storage clusters. Diskeeper identifies a file or folder/directory that is in scattered pieces, and tries to move the pieces into a contiguous chunk.

One of the fragmented files was the paging file, used by Windows to provide virtual memory that exceeds physical memory. Because Windows accesses the paging file frequently, fragmentation can make the computer very slow. Unfortunately, Windows is usually setup to resize the paging file as needed, which leads to fragmentation. I recommend you set your paging file to a fixed size (instructions in the online article) so you can defragment and keep it that way.

Using Diskeeper

When you first install Diskeeper, Executive Software recommends you defragment once, then run the boot-time defrag as needed to get the master file table (MFT), directory, and paging files contiguous. Run an analysis once a week to see how the MFT and directories look. When the MFT gets to a couple dozen fragments, do boot-time defrag. If you keep disk free space of at least 25% and run Diskeeper daily, the company says DK should move files out of the MFT zone and cut down on how quickly MFT fragments.

You can run Diskeeper manually, automatically, or continuously--the mode I found necessary to cure my problem. You can use Set It and Forget It and specify a schedule, or you can use Smart Scheduling so Diskeeper runs based on what it thinks your computer needs.

In my experience, Smart Scheduling can be ineffective on laptops, which often have relatively small disks packed with files. When disk space is tight, fragmentation builds up quickly. Then, Smart Scheduling can't run Diskeeper often enough because a laptop is frequently turned off. Instead, every few days I run Diskeeper manually in continuous mode overnight.

It's a tad inconvenient to run DK manually because there's no Desktop icon and when it's running you can't access it by clicking on the icon in the System Tray. So I dragged the Diskeeper icon to a top-level menu and copied it to my Desktop.

Diskeeper doesn't try to intelligently relocate files. Executive Software told me the overhead to reposition, such as putting the most-used files at the front of the disk, uses more resources than is justified. DK defrags based on what it sees at the moment, but it doesn't know the purpose of the files, so I found it defragmenting an obscure data file I rarely use, while not making much progress on files that really matter to my daily work. Because each run rearranges the playing field, manually running multiple passes is worthwhile.

Diskeeper does move files if necessary to consolidate flee space. This is what brought down my laptop. While my drive had 56% free space, it was in many small fragments, none large enough to give DK enough working space. I had to do major manual steps to allow Diskeeper to be effective (see the online article).

I recommend you initially and periodically save Diskeeper's Analyze reports to text files (click the Save button). Compare reports to see how Diskeeper is doing and which files are still a problem.

Defrag-resistant files

Total defragmentation might not be achievable because Diskeeper can't move certain Windows system files such as the Recycler and Recycled folders. Some files Diskeeper can only move when Windows isn't running, such as MFT, memory paging, and folders/directories. DK handles such files differently depending on the version of Windows (see online for details).

Caution: If you attempt to improve Microsoft Window's lame security, you might cut off Diskeeper's access to files. See the online article for details.

Diskeeper also can't defragment files that are in use. Many programs keep key files open, and they can be the files that fragment frequently. The need to close programs for a thorough Diskeeper run is another barrier to relying on Set It and Forget It.

How's it work?

I can't fault Diskeeper for the sorry state of my spare laptop and my need to do serious surgery to help Diskeeper help me. However, after testing on other computers, I'm skeptical that Diskeeper in automatic mode keeps fragmentation under control. For instance, I tried Diskeeper on my main ThinkPad, using Set It and Forget It with Smart Scheduling for a month. DK made initial improvements, but its report told me of lots of remaining fragmentation that repeated runs didn't clear up, even though this laptop has a huge amount of contiguous free space. Fortunately, the fragmented files are of minor importance, and my paging file is contiguous, so in daily use the computer performs well.

I don't care for Diskeeper's user interface. Buttons/menus are odd, and the Analysis report displays in a tiny dialog box you have to scroll to read.

I encountered two oddities. On one computer, Diskeeper kept stopping with the error "Failure to launch Diskeeper engine for this volume." Apparently this is a timing issue where the Diskeeper scheduling agent would try to start two runs at the same time. This makes it difficult to reliably do an overnight or other unattended defragmentation. On another computer, Diskeeper set CHKDSK to run at boot-time. But even after running CHKDSK, Diskeeper would insist on running it again. Executive Software provided a trick (see the online article) to regain control in such situations.

Can Diskeeper keep you defragmented? I tried it on several computers and results varied, apparently due to how the computer is used, the size and nature of the files, and the version of Windows and disk formatting (see the online article for details).

No matter how much I ran DK, I never got a fragment-free drive. But Diskeeper improved every hard drive I tested, and the benefit was always worth the effort.

Understand that defragmentation is a process, not a status. You can't escape fragmentation. For instance, a browser can create or update hundreds of files when you wander around a single Web site. And some software causes many file size changes which quickly create fragmentation.

Even though I haven't seen your computer, I can safely say, you need defragmentation. If you have a version of Windows that includes a simple defragmenter, run it.

If you don't get the defrag results you need, or you want an automated, powerful solution, I recommend Diskeeper 7. I bet you find it indispensable.

BUSINESS BENEFITS

A fragmented hard disk is driving with flat tires. Defragmenting is not an option. This software does the job.

(+) Improved every hard drive tested

(+) Provides several run modes

(+) Handles files that require boot-time defragmentation

(-) Manual operation and repeated runs needed for some drive problems and laptop situations

(-) Lacks desktop & System Tray quick program access

(-) Unconventional user interface

Executive Software http://www.executive.com

Diskeeper versions:

Diskeeper Server 7, US$259; volume discounts available. For Windows XP, Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Professional, Windows NT Server 4.0, and Windows NT Workstation 4.0.

Diskeeper Workstation 7. US$49; volume discounts available. For Windows XP, Windows 2000 Professional, Windows NT Workstation 4.0 SP3, Windows Me, Windows 98, and Windows 95 OSR2.

Diskeeper Home Edition. US$29. For non-networked computers running Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows 98, and Windows 95.

Diskeeper 1.09. Price on request. For Windows NT 3.5 and 3.51 SP0 through SP4.

Diskeeper supports most SCSI and IDE disk configurations, including primary partitions, extended partitions, logical drives, volume sets, RAID arrays, and mirrored disks.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Advisor Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Disk Management
Author:Hawkins, John L.
Publication:Mobile Business Advisor
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2002
Words:1458
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