Drive Genius 1.1, by ProSoft
Posted: 14-Jul-2005

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: ProSoft Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Mike Lloyd Class: UTILITY

Overview
Drive Genius is a set of tools that maintain and repair your hard drives. It optimizes and repairs volumes, evaluates the performance of the drive, performs media surface scanning and examines the drive's data integrity. Drive Genius also provides a powerful repartitioning feature that restructures the volumes on a drive without reformatting in addition to moving partitions on the volume. It also can perform volume and drive image copying, supports sector editing, initialize a drive and erases information on a drive using a process that meets the Department of Defense standard.


Requirements

  • Mac OS X version 10.2 or later
  • G3 processor or better

The evaluation configuration consisted of a 17" G4 iMac with 768 Mbytes of memory, an internal 80 Gbyte hard drive, a 200 Gbyte drive connected using Firewire 1394a, a 300 Gbyte drive connected using Firewire 1394a and running Mac OS x 10.4.

Installation
Open the CD or disk image and drag and drop the file labeled "Drive Genius" into the Applications folder on your hard drive. The downloaded image contains all of the information to create a bootable CD. However. the image is read-only, which requires the user to have the 32 character serial number available to get full usage when booting from the CD. I found this restriction to be most inconvenient.


EDITOR'S NOTE: According to ProSoft, version 1.1.1, a free update to 1.1, eliminates the issue with tedious serial number entry.

In Use
Drive Genius consists of a set of tools to backup, maintain, and test your hard drives. The Drive Genius general interface is list of tools that can be activated through the initial window. Selecting the buttons that designate whether the focus is to be the available volumes or drives changes the mode. This toggle changes the list of objects to be either drives or volumes. It also changes some of the tools in the toolbar at the bottom of the window.


Drive Genius window - Device selected

The most noticeable change of the tool list are the two tools on the left side of the list. The two leftmost tools for Device are Initialize and Repartition, and these tools change to Repair and Defragment when Volume is selected. For the rest of the tools, the switch just changes the scope of the tool from drive to volume. Below the Volume/Device toggle, there are two buttons. The Rescan button scans the system for new devices or volumes, which refreshes the pick list of device/volumes on the upper left of the main window. The Details button shows the details and structural information of the device/volume selected in the pick list (see figures above and below).


Drive Genius window - Volume selected

There are four menus in Drive Genius: "Drive Genius", "File", "Edit" and "Help". The "Drive Genus" menu contains: "About", which provides details about the program; Uninstall, removes the Drive Genius program from your system; Register, displays the middle portion of the program's serial number; and "Quit", which terminates the execution of Drive Genius.

The "File" menu contains: "Open", "Save", "Attach Disk Image", "Mount", Unmount", "Rescan" and "Close". The "Open" and "Save" items allow the user to open and modify files using the Sector Edit tool. The "Attach Disk Image" opens and mounts disk images, so that the user can treat them as physical drives. "Rescan" performs the same function as the Rescan button that is discussed earlier. "Mount" and "Unmount" add and remove drives from the list of drives available for use or examination. The "Close" item closes the window and quits from Drive Genius (same function as Quit item).

The "Edit" menu appears to be there only to meet the OS X interface guidelines, since all of the items are grayed out. The "Help" menu item has only one item that opens the Drive Genius User Manual in Preview.

Drive Genius requires that all drives and volumes that are to be worked on must be dismounted. This means that the user must boot from the CD to access the startup drive. This is no surprise, but it does require the user to enter the twenty character serial number to use Drive Genus in this mode. Unfortunately, Prosoft does not provide a mechanism to avoid this requirement.

Device Tools


Drive Genius Device Tools

Partitioning
Drive Genius allows the user to change the partitioning of a drive. The user selects "Device" toggle option and selects from the list of drives that are available. Once this is done, the user selects the "Repartition" function. A window is brought up that contains a list of partitions/volumes defined on the drive and a set of buttons that allow the user to "Reset", "Add", "Hide", "Shift" and "Resize" partitions. The window provides a good explanation of each of its elements. The window also provides additional information on how to the use each function as well as the reason why that function should be used. The "Reset" function reallocates space on a drive to recover a space over-allocated when a bit for bit copy is made. For example, a copy of a 20 Gbyte drive to a 60 Gbyte drive will show that the 60 Gbyte drive is only 20 Gbyte in size. "Reset" recovers the 40 Gbytes and makes it available for use. "Add" creates a new partition from free space. "Hide" hides the selected partition. "Shift" repositions the partition on the hard drive and requires free space adjacent to partition to be shifted. "Resize" allows the user to change the size of a partition. The advantage of this capability is that the data is preserved on the drive, and this function will also defragment the partition to consolidate its free space in order to help the user to manipulate the partition structure on the drive.

Repartitioning a hard drive can provide several possible advantages. It allows the user to create volumes that contain only the operating system, which reduces the risk of failure when migrating to a new operating system version. Some experts have suggested that separate partitions for the Mac OS X swap areas can improve performance and reliability. This topic is covered in more detail in the Drive Genius User's Manual, which also discusses how to setup the swap partitions. The advantage of Drive Genius is that it allows you to explore these configurations without having to completely reload the data on the drive. However, anytime that you use these functions you run the risk of corrupting your drive, so having a good backup would be a wise precaution.

The Repartition function works well with the exception of a couple of interface problems. When I first started using this tool on a new drive, I found the interface confusing. One example of this was a 128 Mbyte Free Space partition was placed at the beginning of the drive. I could not merge this partition with other partitions on the drive. Apparently, Mac OS X requires this space, since I could not get rid of it. Disk Utility's partition map does not display this partition. There was no mention of this partition requirement in the Drive Genius documentation.

The second problem deals with the selection of the size of a new partition. This function allows the user to enter the size using a slider bar or a numeric field. The slider bar is the only way to determine the minimum size that can be used for the partition. If I entered a size using the numeric entry display that was too small, the repartitioning would not be performed and no feedback would be provided as to why the size of the partition had not changed.

As stated earlier, if the partition contains data, Drive Genius defragments the partition/volume automatically before the repartioning is performed, which took approximately five hours to defragment and resize a 100 Gbyte partition. This was about the time that I would have expected to perform this task.

Duplicate
The Duplicate tool makes a bit for bit copy of a drive's contents. According to the Drive Genius documentation, this method provides the best assurance to produce a copy that can be rebooted, since it is an exact copy. Unfortunately, if a volume has a problem with its file system, the flaw is transferred to the copy. I discovered this when I first used Drive Genius to defragment the primary hard drive on my iMac and Drive Genius could not correct a problem that it had found, so I was forced to use Carbon Copy Cloner, which eliminated the problem. According to the documentation, this device copy will work with other file systems, such as OS 9, Linux and Windows.

Other Drive Functions
The other functions include: Integrity Check, which exercises the drive with random or sustained reads and writes to help determine if the drive has any problems; Benchtest, performs the same kind of tests as for Integrity Check, but provides a graphical comparison against a theoretical performance level for your machine; Scan, examines your hard drives to see if the drive media has any defects; Sector Edit, allows the user to manually modify specific areas on their hard drive; and Shred, performs the standard deletion with multiple overwrites to protect sensitive data on the drive.

I would recommend that only people who are very knowledgeable of the underlying structure on Mac OS X file systems and drives should mess with the Sector Edit function; otherwise, you can get yourself into some trouble. The Shred function performs three overwrites using multiple characters to ensure secure deletion of files.

All of the functions mentioned here are the same for both the Drive and Volume modes.

Volume Tools


Drive Genius Volume Tools

Repair
The repair function contains four sub-functions: Verify, Repair, Rebuild, and Repair Permissions. Verify performs a general scan of a volume to detect any errors. Repair checks for and repairs any errors on a volume. Rebuild constructs a new volume Catalog B-Tree and replaces it. All of these functions work fine with the volume mounted, except for the Verify option. The Verify option requires that the volume be dismounted. This means that if you want to repair the startup volume, you will need to boot from the CD (and enter that serial number again).


Drive Genius Repair


Defragment
Defragment consolidates the free space fragmented on the volume. The reason this is desirable is to improve the performance of Mac OS X "Hot-File Adaptive-Clustering." A detailed discussion of defragmentation and Mac OS X is provided in that Advanced section of the Drive Genius documentation. Defragment works in the same manner as many of its competitors, except its focus is on the volume's free space (versus the files taking up space). Its display gives much better feedback concerning its actions than the competitors.


Drive Genius Defragment

In the figure above, the yellow band shows the unfragmented space. The purple area shows the space allocated to files, and the black space shows the free space. These areas are update continually during the defragmentation process. Below this display, the tool provides a progress bar indicating the status of the complete process. Below the progress bar is a short and long description of the status of the current activity. This multiple mode approach for status display gives the user much better feedback concerning the progress and status of the defragmentation process. In general, the defragmentation process in Drive Genius is somewhat faster than other approaches because of their focus on free space consolidation.

Duplicate
Duplicate for a volume works in the same fashion as the drive copy, except it resizes the volume at the end of the duplication to minimize wasted space. This duplication mode will only work with HFS+ volumes.

Other Features
Drive Genius provides a unique feature that allows the user to attach drive images and manipulate them as if they are physical drives or volumes. In fact, I discovered this feature processing a volume mounted from a Drive Genius .dmg file. I downloaded an update to Drive Genius from the web, but it showed to be corrupt on load. Using the version of Drive Genius that was already installed, I attached the image to Drive Genius and then repaired and defragmented the image. After this, I was able to load the image and complete the update.

Drive Genius also provides extensive detail on the drive and volume characteristics. This includes many of the operating system values, such as the free blocks, catalog file size and next allocation. In addition to this arcane information, it also provides more mundane information, such as the folder count, file counts, space available and space used.

Documentation
In general, the documentation is informative and is provides an adequate description of Drive Genius' capabilities and their usage. The appendices are where the documentation shines. This is where they prove a detailed review of defragmentation strategies and the rationale for their approach. There is an appendix that describes how to expand the size of a Windows XP after its has been duplicated using the their device duplicate function. Finally, they provide detailed instructions with references to a web site and a tutorial on the creation of swap partitions.

Highlights
In general, Drive Genius is a stable tool that performs as advertised. I did not find any performance problems during my use. In fact, because the Defragment function works on free space instead of files, the defragmention process takes far less time than I expected. The Repartition function allows the Mac user to explore alternate configurations of their drive architecture. Aside from a couple of minor problems in the Repartition function, the documentation is clear and easy to use. The user interface provides built-in explanatory material that reduces the need for the user's manual. However, the Drive Genius User's Manual covers more sophisticated topics, such as swap partitions, which makes it a very useful supplement to the information provided through the user interface.


Summary

Drive Genius is a reliable disk maintenance and repair tool. It supports a number of disk related functions, including repair, repartitioning, and defragmentation. It is offers good value for its price and is worth consideration if you are looking for a disk management utility, especially if you require the "Repartition" function or need to work with drive images. Overall, Drive Genius is an excellent tool for drive management and maintenance, and I highly recommend it.


Pros

  • Reliable and useful disk repair and maintenance functions
  • Strong Supporting Documentation
  • Works with disk images
  • Status displays are informative, especially during defragmentation

Cons

  • Requires long key entry to use tool during CD boot
  • Feedback after repartition failure is weak
  • Partitioning/Repartitioning process is initially confusing


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice