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
- A Macintosh capable
of running Mac OS X 10.2
- CD-ROM or DVD drive
- 256 MB of RAM
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
- 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
- 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
1/2 out of 5 Mice