NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, June 2007
Diskeeper 2007 Pro Premier
Enhancing File System Performance - Automatically
By Verne Perry, PCC Member, Hayward, California
VerneP@aol.com (click to email author)

Obtained from APCUG with the author's permission for publication by APCUG member groups.

First off, I'm not very impressed by the recent release of Windows Vista, primarily because I vainly hoped that with this Windows version, Microsoft would finally solve its file system problems. It didn't. So on my Windows machines I'll continue to have to worry about the eventual sluggishness that results from the file fragmentation that occurs just with use of the machine. Between home and the office I maintain 8 XP machines, and one Windows 98 machine, that acts as a server, and to keep all of these machines running smoothly I spend a lot of time routinely defragging them. I found long ago that using Windows Defragger was an extremely slow process, and over the years developed a maintenance routine which involved using windows checkdisk to check the disks on boot-up along with using a freeware program called SpeeDefrag 4.1, which would then defrag the disks prior to any drivers or startup programs being loaded. But the process is not automatic, and often my procrastination in actually starting the process resulted in the machine getting so defragged that there was a noticeable performance drag. So I was happy to receive a copy of Diskeeper 2007 Pro Premiere to evaluate.

The Diskeeper promotional materials said that this version introduced a major new feature called "InvisiTasking", a proprietary feature that transparently runs in the background and that this "on the fly" defragmentation used "very close to zero" resources and was invisible. Indeed, InvisiTasking was described as being the "essence" of the product. Moreover, Diskeeper's older "I-FAAST" (Intelligent File Access Acceleration Sequencing Technology) file system performance technology which is designed to benchmark hard disk volumes for their performance characteristics and continually monitor them to determine which files are requested most often, was integrated with the operation of the "InvisiTasking" product. For safety, Diskeeper 2007 moves a file only when it is absolutely certain that no data will be lost using a "Movefile" application programing interface (API) jointly developed with Microsoft. Although manual defragmentation with Diskeeper is still possible, it is not the way the product is now intended to be used.

I decided to test Diskeeper on my home XP machine, because it's the one that has the highest rate of defragmentation, due to my frequent installation and uninstallation of various test programs. That machine also has a Linux partition which I wanted to use as a "curve ball" thrown into my testing. Other than the "curve ball" Linux partition, the machine's other hard disk partitions were formatted in NTFS, for which "InvisiTasking" and "I-FAAST" technologies were optimally designed.

The first thing that Diskeeper did when I installed it was to analyze all of the Windows hard disk volumes. I was pleased that it skipped the "curve ball" Linux volume, since I wouldn't want Diskeeper dealing with that volume anyway. It also reported that my C:\ drive was heavily fragmented, which I expected. However, I was surprised that the analysis included a report generated by the FRAGSHIELD feature of the program, advising that the drive's Master File Table (MFT) was using 86% of the total MFT size and was likely to become fragmented. Despite having previously tested a fair number of defragmentation programs (both commercial and freeware) I had never before seen such a test or option to optimize the MFT. Windows XP initially establishes the size of the MFT, but as more files are placed on the disk the MFT may fill up, and when XP increases the size of the MFT to accommodate the needed additional indexing, the increase usually results in a fragmented MFT. Because the MFT is an index of all the files on the disks (working in much the same way that phone book stores phone numbers), a fragmented MFT will cause a disproportionate amount of file performance degradation. So I decided to follow Diskeeper's recommendation to increase size of the MFT to correct this problem, as well as to do a boot-time defrag of the increased MFT and the windows pagefile. I also decided to thoroughly test the "on the fly" "essence" of the new version by setting all my drive volumes for automatic defragmentation.

Despite my initial skepticism about an "on the fly" defragger, my experience with Diskeeper was very positive. Immediately after completing the initial set up I decided to put the "on the fly" features to an immediate test. In my experience, playing a fast paced first person shooter game is an excellent way to test the drag imposed by a program running in the background, so after the initial setup I immediately fired up Unreal Tournament 2004 for a two hour test session. I noticed a drag for nearly the whole session, but in the three weeks since that initial test, I have played the same game and also done other things, trying to detect a drag from Diskeeper's "on the fly" defragmentation. Since that initial session, I have detected no drag whatsoever. On the other hand, I have noticed that my machine is running much smoother, faster, and otherwise free from any symptoms of fragmentation. Finally, I ran the Analyze feature on all my hard disk partitions, and found that in the three week period there was essentially no new fragmentation.

I also tested Diskeeper on an external USB drive formatted with NTFS. Diskeeper was able to analyze and defrag the drive. Although the analysis indicated that the external drive's MFT needed to be increased, I knew that would be impossible because there is no practical way to perform a boot time defrag on such an external drive.

I'd say that as long as Windows continues to use the NTFS file system, which requires periodic de-fragmentation, I would highly recommend Diskeeper 2007 Pro Premiere, which is priced at $99.99. You can do your own test by downloading a free 30-day full trial version from the Diskeeper.com web site. Installation requires an XP or 2000 operating system and at least 11 MB of disk space. There is also a Pro version for $49.99 (which does not have the integrated I-FAAST feature, but does have the FRAGSHIELD) and the Home version which does not have either the I-FAAST or the FRAGSHIELD feature). As for Vista, existing Diskeeper 2007 customers can go to the web site to receive a free link to download a Vista-only version, and new customers can purchase the Vista-only version.

Of course another solution is for the business world to go to an Operating System that doesn't have these archaic file system problems. How about something called Linux?

This article has been provided to APCUG by the author solely for publication by APCUG member groups. All other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

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