Product Reviews

Product Reviews

In Brief

Your disk will never be happier or healthier than when it is defragged by Diskeeper 7.0. It blows away the defrag program built into any version of Windows. But this great software is marred by densely written on-screen messages and help files full of technobabble jargon, sure to leave many users feeling mystified and uneducated. And its overall user interface and experience are not nearly as polished as Norton Utilities’ Speed Disk.


Price

Home edition, $29.95; workstation edition (1 license), $44.95; server version, $249.95; small-business version (1 server & 5 workstations), $399.95

Executive Software
Burbank, Calif.


Competition

The defragger built into Windows XP is a slimmed-down version of Diskeeper 7.0 and was developed by Executive Software for Microsoft. The only other serious competitor is Speed Disk, which is one component of the Norton Utilities from Symantec.


utility software

Executive Software Diskeeper 7.0 Workstation

Rating:

By Joel Shore

October 1, 2002

Imagine your paper files being strewn about your file office in little chunks instead of all together. It would sure slow you down.

Well, your hard drive is no different. When you save a file to your drive, it’s almost never written in one long contiguous piece. Uh uh. Instead, it’s usually broken into fragments, with a little stored here, a little over there, and, well, you get the picture. This monumentally inefficient, yet technically necessary, way of doing things, can ... make ... your ... PC ... function ... so ... darn ... slowww. Why does this happen? Don’t ask. (Actually, we’ll explain it a little later.)

Diskeeper 7.0 is one of three major offerings that rearrange the contents of your system’s hard drive so that files are are defragmented—no longer broken into non-contiguous chunks. Another major defragmenting program (or “defragger,” as they are popularly called) is Speed Disk, which is included in Symantec’s Norton Utilities.

The third defragger is one you get for free: it’s the Disk Defragmenter program that’s built into every copy of Windows. In Windows XP, this defragger is a product developed not by Microsoft, but by, surprise, Executive Software. It’s based on a previous but recent version of the Diskeeper engine.


 

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Before defrag-mentation, the hard drive is in disarray, as shown by the numerous color bands. Colors indicate different file types; narrow bands identify small file frag-ments.

 

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After defrag-menting, few bands remain, indicating that fragments are gone. Colors indicate different file types. Some Windows operating system files must never
be moved.

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Installing Diskeeper 7.0 was a breeze. The software led us through the process and the job was done in just a couple of minutes.

Before you rearrange the contents of your hard drive, you should delete all the junk that tends to accumulate. You’d be amazed at the tens of thousands of temporary Internet files that your browser saves as you blissfully surf away. A good way to do this in Windows XP is to open Control Panel, choose Performance and Maintenance, and then select Free Up Space on your Hard Disk. Once you’ve cleaned house, go ahead and start up Diskeeper.

We fired up Diskeeper 7.0 and had it do an analysis. Not surprisingly, the contents of our system’s hard drive was very fragmented with lots of small open spaces—especially after deleting thousands of unneeded temporary Internet files. (This is an 80-gigabyte drive with about 55 gigabytes of unused space.)

The next step was to start the defragmentation process. The program took about 20 minutes to do its job, and we were able to watch its progress as the hard drive churned away, its activity light blinking away. It’s impossible to know if programs of this sort accurately display what’s going on, or if it’s just a “babysitter” function, but at least we knew things were happening.

When it was all over, we still had a few fragmented files, but these were system files that Windows expects to find in a certain location. This is completely normal and is not a problem.

A great feature of Diskeeper is the Set-and-Forget feature. You can, and should, schedule the program to run at regular intervals. Ideally, this would while you away at lunch or overnight (assuming you keep you computer on). Diskeeper even recommends that you consider running the program every day. That not really necessary.

As a piece of software, Diskeeper 7.0 certainly gets the job done. Your hard drive will be defragmented and it will certainly run more efficiently.

Not much help. Where Diskeeper falls far short is in the overall user experience. There’s no help where there should be plenty, and the help text that exists is astonishingly techie-oriented. Average users will be left scratching their heads and maybe even left feeling a bit stupid. This is most unfortunate and disappointing for such powerful software.

Example 1: Wouldn’t you expect a disk-defragmentation program to explain exactly what file fragmentation is?  Unfortunately, Diskeeper is of almost no help providing you with a user-friendly definition of what it’s all about. It never actually mentions “hard-disk defragmentation.” Look up “fragmentation” in the help index or printed glossary and you get this entry, which seems to have escaped from a high-school English class:

The word “fragmentation” means “the state of being frag-mented.” The word “fragment” means “a detached, isolated or incomplete part.” It is derived from the Latin “frag-mentum,” which in turn is derived from “frangere,” meaning “break.” So, “fragmentation” means that some-thing is broken into parts that are detached, isolated or incomplete.

Not only is that completely useless, it’s an insult to every home and small-business user looking to understand why disk performance degrades over time. Here’s my definition:

Fragmentation, the dividing of a file into two or more separate chunks, occurs as your computer’s operating system saves a file to its hard drive or other storage de-vice. First, as you delete unwanted files, locations on the hard drive become available. Later, when you save a new file, the operating system stores it into first open spot. If that spot isn’t big enough, the computer hunts for the next available spot and saves more of the file. This happens over and over until the entire file is saved. Fragmentation can happen to existing files too, as you add to them, making them longer. Now imagine this happening to hundreds, or thousands of files. What a disorganized and inefficient mess! That's why you need a disk defrag-mentation program.

Example 2: In the main Diskeeper screen, colored legend blocks identify different file characteristics. Red indicates fragmented files; blue, contiguous files; green, system files; white, free space; yellow, paging file; and so on. You’d think that hovering over these with your mouse, or perhaps double clicking on them, would pop up a description of just what these terms mean. But no. To learn what a paging file is you need to open the help function and type “paging file.” There is a printed definition of a page file in the printed glossary, but again, it simply doesn’t explain the concept in average-Joe terms.

Example 3: How about this, taken from the overview portion of the user manual:

Diskeeper relies on both the Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM) and the Microsoft Management Console (MMC), both of which are available for Windows 95 and Windows 98. MMC is built into Windows 2000/XP.

Sorry, Diskeeper, but this is completely useless.

Many more examples of this near-complete disregard for non-expert users abound, but you get the point.

In the end, the question is whether Windows’ built-in defragger is good enough. For many, the answer is probably yes. However, if you want complete control over how and when your precious hard drive is cared for, an investment in Diskeeper 7.0 will indeed bring better performance.<

 
Yeas & Nays

Yea:

4Many more features than Windows’ built-in defragger

4Set-and-forget option lets you schedule unattended operation

Nay:

4Useless help system

4Main screen is not interactive


Background Info

For more information, read the following:

Defragmentation white paper from Executive Software (PDF download)

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