mst Defrag (Workstation Edition)

Reviewed by: Paul Schneider, PhD, October 2004
Published by: mst Software
Requires: Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 or above
MSRP: $29.00

Cleaning your house, taking out the garbage and defragmenting your hard drive—what do these three things have in common? Well, besides being a bit of a pain, they are all things you really should take care of, at least once in a while. They also each have the distinction of being things that you wish someone else would just take care of for you. Well, mst Defrag aims to be your savior for one of these tasks. We tried mst Defrag on Dell Dimension 4550 desktop computer and Dell Latitude D600 laptop.

If you are not “in the know” about the never ending fragmentation of your hard drive, listen up. One of the not so great features of the Windows operating system is the manner in which files are stored and retrieved. Roughly speaking, Windows, when writing a file to your hard drive, looks for the first available space and if that space is not big enough, it parks a portion of the file there, and then moves on, looking for the next open location to store your file and then continues to repeat this process until your file is completely saved. Therefore, when Windows accesses this file the next time, it must look in multiple locations on your hard drive to retrieve the individual file. Fortunately for us, hard drives and processors are lightning fast, and for the most part you won't immediately notice the degradation in performance that results from this process. However, the problem is cumulative, and over time, the effects of this process will begin to result in a noticeable performance hit.

So what is a poor Windows user to do? Defragment of course! Windows XP and 2000 come with their own programs to handle this, and there are a number of commercial programs on the market that compete by claiming increased speed, ease of use, better defragmenting, or smoother operation. mst Defrag sets itself apart by adding a few new twists, with the most intriguing one being a non-intrusive background option. Most defragmentation programs require that you stop all programs, run the defrag program, and then wait until it is done before using the computer. mst Defrag actually uses a minuscule amount of system resources and sits in the background analyzing and defragmenting your hard drive all while you continue to work. Does this sound too good to be true? Well so far it has not been. I ran the program for several days, and it continued to chug along, doing its job while I did mine.

Besides the ability to defrag in the background, by taking advantage of a system’s downtime and lulls, MST Defrag also has the standard types of features you would expect from any defragmentation program. It includes multiple views, including the Cluster view which shows the fragmentation of all the clusters on your hard drive. There are also a number of reports that show how many and what files are fragmented. In terms of its ability to defrag effectively, it appears to defrag and analyze as well as the native Windows application, reporting roughly the same number of fragmented files and then correcting them to both its and Window’s satisfaction.

Although I reviewed the workstation version of this software, there is a network version as well. The network version is designed to aid system administrators in being proactive by enabling them to defrag their servers without needing to take the server down. This advantage alone probably warrants a closer look by any system administrator.

If there is one thing that could be improved, it's the documentation about how the program works when running in the background and what you need to do to start and stop the analysis. Don't get me wrong, it’s not hard to start the process. It’s just not immediately apparent that you are set and ready to enjoy the program’s benefits. For example, many programs that run in the background leave an icon in the system tray. The makers of mst Defrag however, chose to not include a system icon as it would add extra overhead, utilize additional system resources, and frankly isn't really necessary. The result is a small program that utilizes about 1.7MB of system memory. By comparison, my IM program, Trillian, uses about 7MB of memory.

Now if mst Defrag also came with 6 free months of Merry Maid service I would be set! That aside, this program is quite the gem. Put another way, this is the type of program you would expect to be included in the OS if you owned a Macintosh. Really, what more could you ask for? Well, I guess I could ask it to defrag my house and garbage while I was working, but aside from that, mst Defrag is definitely worth checking out if you are a heavy computer user or system administrator.




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