Diskeeper Professional v8

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, January 2004
Published by: Executive Software
Requires: Pentium CPU or faster, Windows 98 through NT and XP (all versions)
MSRP: $45.95 (download, single license)

Every time you perform a task using your computer, it's likely that the hard drive is used to save or re-save a file which has been altered in some way. Documents, spreadsheets, photos, graphics, e-mail (read and written) all take up space on your hard drive. Load a file into a program, work on the file, re-save it and it will usually be bigger than it was. Is the space on the hard drive where it was stored still big enough (with all those other files all around) to handle all of the larger file? Sometimes yes; sometimes no. But the operating system will try to fit that file into its original spot. Any left over part of that file gets stored elsewhere - in the next available location as determined by the hard drive's file allocation table. The operating system asks "Where do I put this extra bit?" and the file allocation table says "Over here!" What you end up with is a fragmented file. The fact is, it's not necessarily just a single fragment you'll end up with because the next available space might not be large enough for the particular fragment - so it will be fragmented further. Any file can wind up being chopped into many pieces and stored all over the hard drive. Typically tens of thousands of files on typical 80+GB hard drives (and larger) can present huge fragmentation totals, which in turn means your operating system and storage media require far more time and effort than necessary to load and save your data. Not good.

In the 'old' days (circa 1992) a 'giant' 60MB hard drive required defragmentation weekly. If you didn't do it - no matter what sort of computer you were using: DOS PC, Atari, Amiga, Apple - the system slowed to a crawl, life got very frustrating and the mere act of loading a small text file could take half a minute. Those days may be long gone, but so are those comparatively light demands on our hardware. As of January 2004, your average size RAW digital camera file is well over 10MB in size. Typical Word documents littered with a few graphics and tables run well over 2MB. Typical high resolution scans (1200 DPI and up) run well over 100MB. There's more, but the idea is that operating systems and hard drives are being asked to store, track and manipulate lots and lots of huge files. Despite the high speeds and large storage capacities, it's becoming apparent that file fragmentation is again becoming a problem worthy of note.

Diskeeper Professional v8 is the latest in a long line of releases from Executive Software. Diskeeper standards are embedded in various versions of Windows. The standalone Diskeeper software is available in everything from standard Home versions all the way up to remotely accessible Server versions. The software is widely used by everyone from Moms & Pops to the most seasoned IS/IT engineers. Of course, Windows is used by the same assortment of folks and we all complain about Windows. Diskeeper is a horse of different color however because Executive Software seems to have stuck to the principle that the way to make a piece of software better is to simply continue refining it, making it fully compatible with new operating systems on all platforms and concentrating on research and analysis of the ongoing problems the software was original designed to fix.

Installation of Diskeeper is uneventful. The routine is as quick and painless as anything you'll encounter. Configuration of Diskeeper is only a bit more involved. We already use Diskeeper (we've been renewing our licenses and upgrading for over 8 years), so in a change from Kickstartnews' usual "real reviews by real end users" we decided to do some genuine stress testing of Diskeeper in order to find out how much grief it could take in the form of automated demands, repeated work on heavily fragmented hard drives, schedule interruptions and repeated analysis runs. We set up two tests.

Our first test involved setting up a daily defragmentation scheduled on a workstation used daily by six different people for spot editing of research documents. The documents themselves consist of everything from pure text to graphics and photo/color graph-heavy scientific analyses. The hard drives in this workstation are overworked, backed up three times per day to a network server, RAM is always loaded up with at least 5 different major applications (Word, WordPerfect, Photoshop 7, Dreamweaver MX, Internet Explorer, etc.) and the machine is constantly running hot despite multiple oversize case fans. One person from the usual group using the workstation was designated to manually interrupt the preset Diskeeper schedule, spot defrag every two days at random times, stop and restart scheduled defragmentation runs, switch off scheduling in favor of boot-time defragmentation and generally do her best to mess with the software.

Our second test involved deliberately overfragmenting the second (primary storage) drive in the workstation. How did we do this? Simply by not allowing any defragmentation software to run on the workstation for two weeks. The result was a computer running about 10%-15% slower than normal when performing typical file loading and saving operations. Don't let anybody tell you that fragmentation has only tiny negative effects on current hardware - it's not true. So after abusing the poor P4 2GHZ workstation (which actually has a name in our office by the way - everyone calls it "Tiger"), we ran Diskeeper's analysis routine. The results were like an emergency klaxon had gone off: Defrag NOW buster or you're gonna lose this sucker! 15% fragmentation! Drive is Critically Fragmented (complete with a big red STOP sign)! It took well over an hour to fix the thing (80GB Western Digital WD800JB), as opposed to the usual daily 15 minutes late in the evening, and everything was back to normal. Needless to say, we're not going to do that test again any time soon. As the Diskeeper documentation states clearly - and as supported by numerous independent scientific studies by NSTL Inc., Microsoft and many others - fragmentation can result not only in data loss (like that's not bad enough) but also system instability and poor virtual memory performance.

So this latest version of Diskeeper Professional is a keeper. Our risky, real-world intensive testing revealed its stability and resistance to errors. In regularly scheduled use (the scheduling dialog is clear and simple to use), there's very little you'll notice about Diskeeper's activities other than a smooth running, stable system.

Cons: There are none.

Pros: The disk defragmentation sweepstakes are a hot area right now. If you're going to acknowledge that disk fragmentation can be a problem even on NTFS partitions located on 10,000 RPM drives installed in 3+GHZ Pentium 4 systems running over a gigabyte of RAM, then you've got to make a decision. There are lots of disk defragmentation programs on the market, but deciding in favor of Diskeeper Professional v8 is a good idea. Diskeeper's Smart Scheduling lets you work while it tracks disk fragmentation automatically and defragments once a certain threshold is reached. Scheduling options for regular defragmentation are robust and versatile. A long history of excellence which keeps getting better - highly recommended.





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