Product Reviews

Snappier Throughput Through Thorough Defrag

Executive Software's Diskeeper 8.0 can restore speed lost to scattered files.

Chances are you have heard of the defragging game. Sorry gamers, I'm not referring to the destruction of your online opponents. No, I'm talking about our less-than-favorite pastime of waiting and waiting as our machines slowly optimize their drives.

Since the dawn of Windows computing, PC users have been plagued with a performance eating phenomena known as fragmentation. As the average computer's storage has grown from megabytes to tens of gigabytes, the task of keeping data organized on disk has spiraled out of control. The computer savvy have long given up on Microsoft's built in fragmentation defenses as they are slow and resource intensive. Our friends in Redmond have acknowledged this, and are now bundling a scaled back version of Executive Software's Diskeeper with both Windows 2000 and Windows XP. This watered down version is certainly better than its Windows 98 predecessor, but in a networked environment it is simply too hard to manage effectively.

Executive Software has upped the ante in the defragmentation game with the release of Diskeeper 8.0 Professional Edition.

Unbeknownst to the average Joe computer user, a hard disk does not automatically store data in the most efficient manner. Think of a hard drive as you would a planner (electronic or otherwise). Logically, you will be able to locate your information most efficiently if like items are stored together. For example: All notes pertaining to Monday's meeting are stored on Monday's page. But unused sectors on a hard drive are often not available in a location that will allow like items to be stored together. As a result, pieces of a single file may be stored in many different areas across the drive causing unnecessary delay while loading files into memory. This performance hit can really stack up over time. In preparing for this review I found my own work PC, on average, took 32 percent longer than necessary to access files due to fragmentation.

A defrag tool sorts through the clutter and puts files back into contiguous clusters on disk; the way they should have been stored in the first place. If you are using 2000 or XP the included defrag tool will clean your hard drive. However, you must run this tool manually and there is no accurate tracking as to what has been accomplished. The process will bring a PC to its knees while running and cannot be managed across a network.

This is where Diskeeper really shines. Between dodging viruses and sorting through spam, the average network user has far too much to worry about already. With Diskeeper, a network administrator can deploy and configure transparent network wide defragging without leaving their desk. The tool can be configured for "set it and forget it" mode which automatically runs in the background upon detecting fragmentation. Running in the background, it will not slow down users as they go about their day to day activity (Remember, the goal is to speed things up!).

Diskeeper can also be run on-demand in the foreground. This is similar to how the built-in Windows defrag tool works. Running a manual foreground defrag is fast but should only be used on your own machine. I found this out the hard way. As I raced through the setup on my corporate network, I picked a random user's machine to push-install and run Diskeeper on. As soon as I began the manual foreground defrag operation on his system he sent a message complaining that the machine was chunking and something surely was wrong with the computer. The ability to perform background defragging , which does not impact the target machine's performance, is a key benefit of Diskeeper; be sure to take advantage of it!

Executive Software has put together a powerful product and managed to keep it simple. The interface is intuitive and while not recommended, it is possible to have your entire network up and defragging without reading the directions. The included analysis tool gives a no-nonsense overview of how much performance a machine has to gain; and there is much to gain. Given an administrative user account, Diskeeper can be push-installed to every client on your network in one shot and the users of said computers will know only what matters to them: that their machines are running a bit faster. Diskeeper has earned my thumbs up for packing powerful network wide defragging into a slick and easy to use package.

About the Author

Michael Morgan, MCP, works as the Systems Administrator for TechSmith Corp., which produces SnagIt, Camtasia Studio, and Morae. He has a BS in Computer Engineering from Michigan State University.

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