TechTool Pro 4, by Micromat
Posted: 4-Aug-2005

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Micromat Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Robert Schumann Class: UTILITY

Overview
I believe in doing hard disk maintenance on a regular basis to keep my Mac running smoothly. Since Symantec has decided to make no further updates to its Norton Utilities to support the latest versions of Mac OS X, I have been considering which full featured disk utility program will take Norton's place in my arsenal. TechTool Pro 4 was the leading contender since they had an attractive competitive upgrade price plus testing features that went beyond the hard drive tests, repair, and optimization. TechTool Pro 4 will also test your Mac's hardware to ensure that it is running properly. It can also be configured to run background tasks to check the health of the drive and to aid in data recovery or repair if a problem occurs.

The software was reviewed on a Power Macintosh G4 Quicksilver 867 MHz with 1.125 GB of RAM running Mac OS X 10.3.9. The TechTool Pro 4 software reviewed was version 4.0.4.

Requirements

  • A Macintosh capable of running Mac OS X 10.2
  • CD-ROM or DVD drive
  • 256 MB of RAM


Setup
TechTool Pro 4 is supplied on a OS X bootable CD and uses an installer to properly copy the application and support files in their proper locations. It is recommended that you should initially startup from the TechTool CD and run the diagnostic tests along with repairing any problems before you install the program. Before you use any disk repair utility, make sure that you have first backed up the important data on your hard drive. Launch the installer from the CD and follow the prompts to install TechTool on your target hard drive. The installer also has the option to uninstall TechTool (change Easy Install to Uninstall from the pop-up menu) which will delete all of its associated files along with the application.

In Use
When you first launch TechTool Pro 4, the application window will appear with a toolbar row of five selectable icons on top and the Suites icon is initially selected. Below the toolbar are the options available for the selected category.


TechTool Pro 4 - Suites


Suites
The Suites category contains three levels of test suites for testing your Mac: Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced Tests. For regular maintenance, the Intermediate Tests are the best choice and this is the suite that I will run most often. This suite will run through a battery of tests on the hardware along with the tests on all of your hard drives. To start the suite of test, you simply click on the begin button next to the suite name (looks like a "play" button). I found this suite of tests to be very complete and it took about a half hour to run the tests on my machine, consisting of one internal 60 GB hard drive, one internal 120 GB hard drive, and one external 10 GB Firewire hard drive.

The Basic tests include Cache, Clock, Firewire, Main Memory, Network, USB, and several other checks on your major hardware components. The Intermediate tests include the Basic tests, plus tests for your Finder Info, File Structures, and Volume Structures. The Advanced tests perform the Basic and Intermediate tests as well as a Surface Scan check of your hard drives.

I only had minor problems (bad dates, bundle bits) on my system, so I did not get a chance to have it correct a more serious problem. When the tests are complete, a report window will pop-up and you can review the report, print it, or save it. I found the reports to be very detailed and informative.

Tests
The second toolbar icon on the TechTool window is the Tests category. The Tests category is further divided into four tabbed categories: Hardware, Drives, Volumes, and Files.


TechTool Pro 4 - Hardware Tests


The Hardware Tests will run diagnostics on the processor, memory, and interfaces. These tests are what differentiate TechTool from its competitors. No other utility suite that I know of combines hardware tests along with hard drive utilities. The components tested are cache memory, the processor clock, the Firewire bus, the main Random Access Memory (RAM), mathematics processing, the Ethernet Network ports, the Central Processing Unit (CPU), the USB bus, and the video memory. To run all of the tests, click on the begin button next to "Hardware" at the top the hardware test list. While the test are running, the progress bars of each test will advance and text above the bar will show exactly what test is being executed. The dot above the right end of the progress bar will blink green if the tests are passing and will become solid green with the text reporting Passed if all the tests pass. If the test fails, the dot will be red and the text will state the failure. You can limit the tests that are run by clicking on the left check box next to each test. Or you can run an individual test by clicking on the begin button next to that specific test. Clicking on the Info button next to each component will open the Info drawer and display information about the item being tested. These tests will report the hardware health of your Mac and can be used to troubleshoot if you suspect your hardware is not operating properly. One concern with the Network Test, it did not show the active Airport compatible third-party wireless 802.11g PCI card in my Mac even though the documentation implied that it should.


TechTool Pro 4 - Drives Tests


The Drives Tests exercise and diagnose the hard drive hardware. The test sub-categories include tests of the Disk Controller, Read/Write tests of the buffers and media, tests of SMART (an industry standard technology for monitoring hard drive behavior to warn of pending failure) supported hard drives, and Surface Scan tests which reads and checks data from every block of the drive. Some of these tests can also be run on CD/DVD drives if a Macintosh formatted CD/DVD is in the drive. These tests examine the mechanics of the drive and report on the drive's health to warn you before a drive failure occurs. For example, the Disk Controller tests include Diagnostic Check, Format Check, Rezero Unit, Spare Sector Check, Supply Voltage Check, and Unit Ready Check. When you first click on the Drives tab, TechTool will scan for the available drives for a few moments, and the dot above the progress bar will be yellow until it identifies all of the drives and is ready to start the tests.


TechTool Pro 4 - Volumes Tests


The Volumes Test will test the hard drive's volume structure to ensure the integrity of the disk catalog and directory. The volume structure keeps track of where folders and files are located on the drive so this is a very critical test of the health of the drive. You can select which drives you want tested buy clicking the check box to the left of the volume icon. The startup volume cannot be tested or repaired so the Volume Tests must be run from the CD, another startup drive, or the eDrive (more on this later).


TechTool Pro 4 - Files Tests


The Files Tests includes the sub-categories of File Structure and Finder Info tests. The File Structure tests determine whether files have structural damage to their resources. TechTool will identify any corrupt files, but cannot repair them since the original data is unknown. Corrupt files must be replaced manually from a known good source. The Finder Info tests check for bad files date, proper bundle bits, and proper custom icon bit setting. Problem in these areas, while usually minor, can be fixed by TechTool if the Repair On checkbox is checked for the volume you want repaired.

Performance
The third toolbar icon on the TechTool window is the Performance category. The Performance category is further divided into two tabbed categories: Maintenance and Optimization.


TechTool Pro 4 - Maintenance


The Maintenance task will rebuild targeted volume's directory so that its data structure is optimized. The directory rebuilding cannot be performed on the startup volume so the Maintenance task must be run from the CD, another startup drive, or the eDrive. You can display a graph to show the directory fragmentation to help determine if a rebuild is warranted.


TechTool Pro 4 - Optimization


The Optimization task will defragment the files on a volume and consolidate the free space on the volume so that it is in a single, contiguous area. The volume optimizing cannot be performed on the startup volume so the Optimization task must be run from the CD, another startup drive, or the eDrive. You cannot optimize a journaled volume so you must first turn off journaling and you may turn it back on once you have completed the optimization. You can display a graph to show the relative disk fragmentation but unlike in Norton Utilities, you cannot tell which files and types of files are where in the graph. You can choose the option to just optimize the files and not the free space which will be faster than performing a full optimization. It is important that you make a backup of the volume you are optimizing in case a power failure or other unforeseen problem occurs. Also, make sure that the Energy Saver control panel is set to not sleep or shut down as this could cause damage to the volume being optimized if the processing is abnormally terminated.

Tools
The fourth toolbar icon on the TechTool window is the Tools category. The collection of tools includes EDrive, Data Recovery, Wipe Data, Volume Journaling, Audio, and Video Lab.


TechTool Pro 4 - Tools


The eDrive tool is one of the most important tools. With it, you can create an emergency startup partition on your hard drive that contains a basic Mac OS X system along with TechTool Pro 4. This partition can be created without having to reformat your hard drive and you can use the eDrive instead of the CD when you want to perform repairs or maintenance on the startup drive. The eDrive will remove itself from the Desktop when you startup from another volume. However, after running Apple's Disk Utility, I found that the eDrive no longer removed itself. To boot with the eDrive, startup while holding down the Option key and you will be given the choice of which volume to continue the startup process.


TechTool Pro 4 - Tools


Another very important tool is the Data Recovery tool which is used to recover data from a damaged volume and reconstruct a damaged volume. If you cannot copy files off of a damaged volume by normal copying methods, you can then use the Data Recovery tool to attempt to recover the data files. To increase the likelihood of recovering files, use TechTool's Protection Setup via Safety in the Toolbar as discussed below. Clicking on the Go button next to Data Recovery in Tools brings up the Data Recovery screen which presents four recovery methods: Recover Files using Protection data, Recover Files using Directory Data, Resurrect Protected Volume, and Scavenge Volumes for Data. For example, if you previously had TechTool's Protection enabled on the volume you are trying to recover, using the Protection Data would be your first option to try. Your next step would be to select the Protection file for the volume from which you want to recover data. The Select Protection File window will list all of the protected volumes and the Protection files available with the date and time that they were created. Select the Protection file for the volume want to recover data from and click the OK button. Next, the Select Files to Recover window will list the available files and folders. Select the files or folders you want and click on the Recover button. Since I did not have any damaged volumes, I thankfully did not have to test this tool. Of course, the best way to prevent loss of important data is to back it up regularly on a separate volume.

The Wipe Data tool is used when you absolutely want to wipe file data from the hard drive. A normal file deletion only deletes the directory entry so that space may be used to write data. The actual file data will remain until it is overwritten. Wipe Data will make sure these files are actually overwritten so they cannot be recovered.

The Volume Journaling tool is used to enable or disable journaling on HFS+ volumes. Journaling provides protection from volume corruption and data loss and is supported by Mac OS X 10.2.2 and above. As noted above, Journaling cannot be on if you want to optimize your volume so this tool is convenient for changing the state of Journaling.

The Audio tool generates a single frequency tone that can be adjusted between 30 Hz and 3 kHz. The volume and balance are also adjustable from the Audio tool. This tool is used to verify that your audio output is working properly.

The Video Lab tool is used to generate color screens and patterns to calibrate and check a monitor for defects.

Safety
The fifth toolbar icon on the TechTool window is the Safety category. The Safety options are Protection Setup, Diagnostics Setup, SMART Setup, and Alerts Setup. These options can be setup to run in the background at login or at certain intervals. I did not notice any appreciable performance hits from having these running but I usually prefer not to have many background tasks running so I will probably disable these options.


TechTool Pro 4 - Safety

The Protection Setup allows you periodically save important directory structure information automatically. You can setup when this is executed and on which volumes. This used in conjunction with the Data Recovery tool will enhance the odds for successfully recovering data from a damaged volume.

The Diagnostics Setup will automatically run quick checks on the volume structures. The setup also includes when this is executed and on which volumes.

The SMART (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) Setup will allow you to check the supported drives SMART registry automatically and alert you of any developing problems. You can setup when this is run and on which supported drive.

The Alerts Setup can be configured to send you an email message when Diagnostic or SMART problems occur. I did not try this feature.

Interface Issues
One strange thing happened with I used Fast User Switching. When I logged into another account (standard) on my Mac then logged out and back into my account (admin), I could no longer configure the Safety options. Restarting corrected the problem.

One problem that seemed to happen quite often since I updated TechTool Pro to version 4.0.4 was it unexpectedly quit upon launch, especially when other applications are running. Quitting all other applications usually solves the problem.

Overall, I found that the user interface was consistent, intuitive, and easy to use. Running the Intermediate Tests Suite regularly provides a good set of maintenance routine and health tests for your Mac. Hopefully you will never have to use it, but it is good to have the Data Recovery tool available just it case.

Support
The TechTool Pro 4 User's Guide and Reference Manual PDF file is included on the CD and covers the detailed operations of the application. I suggest that you review this document before using the utility especially if you are new to using disk utility programs.

Online help is available from the Help menu and uses Apple's Help Center. This is one of the best online help resources I have seen, very complete and very well organized.

Software updates can be obtained from the Micromat website at
http://www.micromat.com/downloads/downloads.html.

Summary
TechTool Pro 4 proved to be a more than worthy successor to Norton Utilities. The full suites of test utilities include hardware tests for critical components, as well as hard drive tests that include tests of the drive hardware, the volume structure, file structures, and Finder info. Maintenance and Optimization tasks keep your hard drives running at peak performance. The eDrive and Data Recovery tools will help you repair your drive when problems occur. The Safety options will allow you to setup automatic background monitoring of your hard drive health. I highly recommend TechTool Pro 4 for every Mac user.

Pros

  • Full featured utility for hard drive testing and repair
  • Includes test diagnostics for critical hardware items
  • Can create a bootable eDrive partition containing TechTool
  • Relatively easy to use with an intuitive user interface
  • The User's Guide and online help are very well done

Cons

  • Bug with the Safety options not active when switching between accounts using Fast User Switching
  • Version 4.0.4 quite often unexpectedly quit upon launch under Mac OS 10.3.9


Overall Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice