Diskeeper v9 Home Edition, Diskeeper v9 Professional Edition

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, October 2005
Published by: Diskeeper Corporation
Requires: Windows XP, 2000 Professional, Me and 95, 98 & 98SE
MSRP: US$19.95 (Home), US$49.50 (Professional)

Diskeeper has been in continuous development since 1986 and has long been a standard against which all other hard disk defragmenters are measured. Executive Software started something back then and continued to look back at its roots, retrenching itself with each successive version of Diskeeper. In June 2005, Executive Software changed its name to Diskeeper Corporation to better identify with its flagship product, certainly an example of how vastly popular the product is and how clearly dominant the product remains in the home and business consumer markets. Depending on which sales stats you choose to believe, Diskeeper accounts for up to 95% of all third-party standalone defragmenter sales. If the depth and breadth of Diskeeper's coverage doesn't impress you, it's at least instructive to realize how well Diskeeper's managers have built relationships throughout the industry and with Microsoft in particular. Windows, in all forms and versions, is Diskeeper's primary operating system target.

Diskeeper Home and Professional versions are distinctly different animals from the Administrator and Server versions, although their core functionality—defragmenting hard disks—is identical. After installing Home or Pro, you will search in vain for a program entry in the Start menu because Diskeeper integrates fully with the existing disk defragmenter provided with Windows (which is actually based on Diskeeper in the first place). Find it by going to Accessories> System Tools> Disk Defragmenter.

There are a couple of important differences between the Home and Professional versions. Diskeeper Home does not allow boot time defragmentation. That means the paging file (Windows' virtual memory file stored on your hard drive) and the Windows XP Master File Table (MFT—the file directory Windows uses to find everything on a hard disk) can't be defragmented with Diskeeper Home. Both of those files are accessible by something other than Windows only prior to booting into Windows. FragShield is not available in Diskeeper 9 Home. It's a function which helps you to configure the space allocated for the MFT as recommended by published Microsoft guidelines, to help prevent future defragmentation of this important system file. If you've got a home PC that sees only occasional use, Diskeeper Home is the appropriate purchase. If you've got a business PC or home PC that is used daily, you're much better off with Diskeeper Professional.

The question many people ask is why they should care about disk defragmentation in the first place. The answer is straightforward. Disk fragmentation occurs when a file on a hard drive is broken up into pieces which are written to separate areas of the disk. That happens when an existing file increases in size and no longer fits into its original storage place on the hard drive. The operating system writes as much data as possible to the original location, then begins writing the rest of the file data to the next available space on the disk, and so on, until the entire file is re-saved or stored. When the computer needs to access this file, all the pieces must be retrieved in order to assemble the file for use in RAM. Compare it to making a sandwich in a disorganized kitchen. If the bread is in the kitchen, the roast beef is in the basement, the cheese is in the guest room and the condiments are in the attic, it's going to take a long time to make lunch. On a busy PC, with lots of files being read, edited, viewed, modified, added and deleted, fragmentation grows like weeds in a field. One file can consist of hundreds of little fragments. It's not a great way to store valuable data, system files or anything else for that matter. As more files are fragmented into more pieces, it takes longer for the hard drive to read and write files. A computer may have the fastest processor that money can buy, but if the hard drive can't deliver information quickly, the processor will also appear to be slow. That’s why fragmentation can make even the fastest computers look bad. In our analogous kitchen, the smart organizer takes everything out of the cupboards, retrieves all of the kitchen stuff from different parts of the house, reorganizes to keep all the different kitchen things together, then puts in place some enforcement to reduce the possibility of disorganization in the future. Similarly, the disk defragmentation process lifts all the file data on the hard drive, reassembles all the pieces of each and every file, and lays each of them back down on the hard drive intact. By keeping fragmentation levels as low as possible, a hard drive delivers data as quickly as possible.

File fragmentation causes other problems, the worst of which is system instability. As a matter of fact, Microsoft has identified two critical system areas that must be defragmented to ensure stability: The paging file and the MFT. When a Windows computer suffers from mysterious crashes, hangs and freeze-ups, fragmentation is often to blame. Windows 2000 and XP in particular demand more resources and are constantly reading, writing and deleting files. Even the simple act of opening a web page results in several files being written to the disk. The problem has gotten so bad that fragmentation can begin slowing down and destabilizing a computer within a matter of days—sometimes even hours in the case of simultaneous high volume file exchange, web browsing and file editing. An awful lot of speed and stability problems can be traced to severe disk fragmentation.

To combat all of those issues, Diskeeper incorporates something called "Set It & Forget It" which is essentially a multi-part scheduling tool. We use it on all our Windows PCs to perform boot-time defragmentation (paging file, MFT) and regular defragmentation of boot drives and storage drives. We generally schedule drive service for after hours periods when none of the PCs are in use. The process works well. All versions of Diskeeper also include SmartScheduling, which essentially allows Diskeeper to determine the best time to run its defragmentation routines. Because of the absence of the Boot-Time defragmentation feature, we don't use Diskeeper Home on business PCs .

Diskeeper 9 has four defragmentation modes:

  • Max Disk Performance—performs full file defragmentation and partial consolidation of free disk space. This mode is designed to maintain top system speed while reducing the amount of time spent defragmenting;
  • Quick Defragmentation—defragments files only and does not perform any free space consolidation. This mode is recommended for volumes where large numbers of small files are regularly created and deleted (hard drives used strictly for file and data storage for example);
  • File Performance—uses short defragmentation passes to defragment files or portions of files to achieve a boost in performance.
  • Free Space Consolidation—full file defragmentation and complete free space consolidation into contiguous blocks. This mode requires the most time.

Cons: In the Action menu you'll find what amounts to an Options area called Change Your Settings which has several sub-menus in flyouts. The problem is, none of the items have flags or check marks indicating whether or not their functions have been set. You can go into Action> Change your settings> Set a boot-time defragmentation (in the Pro version) and set up a defrag routine to run whenever you cold boot your computer. The problem is that once you've set something up, a check mark does not appear beside the sub-menu item indicating that the function has been activated. Ditto for >Set performance data. We prefer user interfaces which save time and don't ask us to look too deeply in order to find out whether or not something is turned on (or off). The Diskeeper Pro installation doesn't overwrite the existing Windows Diskeeper online help system (located in the Help menu). Choose the help system in the Actions menu for full Pro support.

Pros: Diskeeper v9 Home Edition is ideal for home PCs used for e-mail, web browsing, occasional letter writing, list making and general light use. Diskeeper v9 Professional Edition is designed for working home and small business PCs—any Windows computer which is in daily or at least frequent weekly use. With these distinct version choices (as well as the separate Administrator and Server versions), Diskeeper Corporation provides enough versatility for purchasers to make decisions appropriate to their personal and business disk defragmentation needs. Diskeeper's so-called I/O Smart feature dynamically monitors drive access during defragmentation and allows other programs and processes to have priority access to the drive; in other words, you can keep working while the drive is being defragmented. We found the feature remarkably useful while Diskeeper Professional was doing its thing. In previous versions without I/O Smart, schdeuled defragmentation activity and SmartScheduling sometimes took place at inconvenient times, with the process rendering the PC useless for anything else. We don't deliberately use any PC while defragmentation is taking place, but sometimes it's unavoidable and I/O Smart makes it almost completely painless. Nice feature. In weekly use over many years, Diskeeper has provided full value during maintenance of every Windows PC at home on our research network. Among other things, version 9 provides an incremental improvement in defragmentation speed and also adds the extremely useful I/O Smart functionality. Those two items alone are worth the price of admission. Highly recommended.





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