NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
PartitionMagic 5.0 From PowerQuest
A Review by John Hunt, March 2000
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A Bit of History

For over a decade DOS/Windows has offered a utility called Fdisk.exe which permits the end user to create disk partitions on an empty disk, running in DOS from a boot floppy. Fdisk also can partition a disk which already contains data, but all of the data is lost in the process. Many years ago a very useful utility called PartitionMagic appeared. PartitionMagic permitted the reassignment of partition sizes and the creation or deletion of partitions, without loss of currently stored data. Needless to say, this is a very specialized utility, but when it is needed it is irreplaceable.

Below is a review of the latest version of PM, version 5.0. It contains some interesting improvements of this venerable program, including a very useful set of Wizards to automate the manipulation of the partitions.

Further Bit of History (Recent)

Before discussing the actual use of this software it is desirable that the potential user clearly understand the significance of FAT32 vs. FAT16, since the PartitionMagic user interface does some chit chat about the subject which might startle the user who is trying to avoid acquiring any surplus arcane insider knowledge.

About 18 months before the release of WIN98 MicroSoft released a modestly enhanced second edition of WIN95. This enhancement was widely installed by virtually all systems assemblers, but has never been offered for sale by MicroSoft to end users. This second version of WIN95 has been referred to as WIN95b, and contains for the first time a new method of allocation of physical disc space to file storage. This method, called FAT32, was introduced largely because of the emergence of very large hard drives, and has been included in WIN98 and WIN98 SE (Second Edition) and Windows2000, although the latter is beyond the scope of this review.

FAT 32 offers several advantages over the older FAT 16 methodology which dates back to the early days of DOS. FAT16 is still supported in WIN 95b, WIN 98, and WIN 98SE, and continues to be useful. Each partition can be assigned to use either FAT16 or FAT32 at the option of the user, but transition back and forth between the two methods for any particular partition requires a fairly complex translation process. It is intended that the individual partitions be permanently assigned one of the two methods.

The major advantage of FAT 32 is the ability to use partitions larger than two gigabytes. If one is the proud owner of a new 16 gigabyte hard drive (surprisingly inexpensive to those who don't closely follow disk developments) it is a bit annoying to be forced to partition the drive into eight individual partitions, with all the attendant disadvantages of multiple partition clutter. An additional advantage (significant only for partitions larger than 512 megabytes) is a non-trivial space economy in storing large numbers of small files, although the availability of inexpensive disk space somewhat reduces the importance of storage efficiency. There are minor access speed differences between the two storage conventions, but they are of little significance to the average user.

It is very important to understand that the two methods of file management are totally invisible to the user, who need give no thought to which is in use in any particular partition. It is actually slightly difficult to find out which is in use, although MicroSoft makes no serious effort to hide this information. It is also essential to recognize that the files themselves are not FAT16 or FAT32 files; the distinction between the two is only in the manner in which physical disk sectors are used by the operating system to store files in a given partition. Files can be copied or moved back and forth between FAT16 and FAT32 partitions with absolutely no concern for the different storage assignment internal procedures for the partitions. This same total lack of concern applies to copying individual files to removable storage or transmitting the files by modem.

There are only two areas of concern regarding the optional use of FAT 32 which need concern the normal user.

1. Bootable floppies created under the original version of WIN95 or any earlier WIN/DOS product cannot access any FAT 32 partition, as the new disk accessing information of FAT32 is totally meaningless to the system files on the floppy. The easy and obvious solution to this problem is to replace all bootable floppies with new versions which have had the system files installed during format under WIN95b, WIN98, or WIN98SE. This minor problem is only mentioned to calm the panic which might easily arise if a partition appears to be unreadable when an older boot floppy is used.

2. If one installs WIN95b, WIN98, or WIN98SE, optionally utilizes FAT 32 on any partition, then becomes disgusted with the apparent shortcomings of the new Windows version and reinstalls WIN 95a or earlier to get some productive work done under a familiar operating system, the FAT32 partitions will be unreadable by the newly installed older version of Windows, since the older software simply cannot understand a file allocation system which did not exist until the release of WIN95b. This is a problem primarily during the very early days of a new Windows version, but few of us can say that they have not had to temporarily resort to this expedient shortly after installing a Windows update, especially if under deadline pressure to produce useful output.

Win 98 provides an automated method of translating an existing FAT16 partition to FAT32, but no means is provided to translate from FAT32 back to FAT16. The 16 to 32 translation is accomplished without loss of information in the partition being altered. PartitionMagic permits translation in either direction, although the necessity for translation back to FAT16 should not be very common.

Anyone using Fdisk to partition an empty disk under WIN95b, WIN98, or WIN98SE will be asked (when the version of Fdisk included with these three newest Windows versions is executed), at the very beginning of program execution, whether one wishes to take advantage of the new FAT procedures for very large drives. If one answers yes, the advantages offered by FAT32 are invoked automatically in the subsequent partition assignment.

Using PartitionMagic 5.0

First of all, PowerQuest, the makers of PartitionMagic prudently recommend that a full backup be run immediately before using PartitionMagic. The reviewer adds be certain that you actually have a useable backup and that you are completely confident in your ability to restore to a completely empty disk; the world is overpopulated with putative backups that are obsolete, flaky, or unusable through user or hardware ineptitude.

Because of the large number of files which are open more or less continuously in WIN 95/98 when the latter is running it is almost a necessity to restrict any wholesale file restructuring to software which runs under DOS. In earlier versions of PM the program was actually run from a DOS boot floppy, which necessitated a somewhat primitive text oriented user interface. Version 5 has introduced a beautifully clean Windows interface, and permits the program to be run directly from Windows. When the desired repartitioning or other operations have been specified under Windows the program cleverly reboots to DOS to run the actual relocation software, then equally cleverly reboots to Windows. Both transitions are accomplished totally automatically without any user intervention.

Version 5 offers two different operations modes. The first, using the new Windows interface, permits manual control of the individual components of a desired process. Below are a few of the kinds of operations which can be invoked:

  • Adding Free Space to a Logical Partition
  • Adding Free Space to a Primary Partition
  • Creating Partitions
  • Managing Drive Letter Changes
  • Under manual control a very large number of changes can be invoked without loss of data. For the serious professional the flexibility and power of this method is appealing. To the average end user this sequential invoking of individual steps, as in earlier versions of PM, can be a bit frightening. For the rest of us, PM 5.0 now offers a really useful Windows interface with a very helpful Wizard system which removes virtually all of the terror in using a powerful tool which might, if provoked, destroy all of the information on the hard drive. Since most of us use PM to do very straightforward operations, I have limited my investigation of this program to these simple but terrifying operations which the Wizards beautifully facilitate. The brave professional who eschews the Wizards will find a mind boggling array of operations involving resizing and translating between FAT16, FAT32, and NTFS partitions, as well as running under OS2 and Linux.

    Using the Wizards

    Three Wizards are available:

  • Create New Partition
  • Resize Partitions
  • Redistribute Free Space
  • The power and convenience of the Wizards will be illustrated by detailing some of the successive questions asked by the "Create New Partition Wizard". Since no action is taken until an activate button on the menu is clicked, it is easy to test the three Wizards without danger of starting a process which might be regretted. If more than one physical drive is present and only one of the drives is to be altered, it is possible to mark the other drive as "Read Only", which eliminates concern regarding protecting the drives which should not be changed.

    Create New Partition Wizard

    The first request for input asks which physical drive is to be processed. Since I reviewed PM on a computer with two physical drives, this option appears. Presumably this screen is skipped if only one hard drive is present.

    The next question asks if you are planning to install an operating system in the new partition. For most of us simple users the operating system is already present on the C: drive and the answer is no.

    The next screen permits selection from a list of the various file system types of the file management system to be used for the new partition. Available options are:

  • FAT 16
  • FAT 32
  • NTFS
  • Ext 2
  • HPFS
  • The third through fifth options are available only under NT or Windows 2000: Linux, and OS/2 respectively. PM is an incredibly comprehensive program, but the Wizards makes the application to the users narrow area of concern effortless.

    The next question is are we creating a primary or logical partition. For most users a primary partition already exists and a logical partition (i.e., a new drive letter) is desired.

    Next question is where the new partition is to be placed. In my example the options are:

  • After C: drive but before D: drive
  • After D: drive.
  • The questions will of course be different if one is, for example, expanding the F: partition.

    The next question is Take Space from Which Partition. In my example the available choices are the C: partition and the D: partition.

    Next question is how much space should be assigned to the new partition. Minimum and Maximum numerical values are displayed for guidance.

    Detailed confirmation screens follow. An icon permits activation of the specified changes. Clicking this icon starts the process of rebooting to DOS described above to permit the actual restructuring of the drive.

    Because of the reviewer's long standing admiration of DriveImage (another PowerQuest program) I have a soft spot for any PowerQuest offering. Having said this, I feel that the implementation of Wizards in PM is superior to any Wizard activated software that I have seen.

    I created and removed a number of partitions with very little effort, all of this on the computer which I use daily. This involved, with no user intervention, shuffling space between FAT16 and FAT32 partitions. I finally restored the system to its original configuration. Of course some of the insouciance which I exhibited was enhanced by the knowledge that I had an immediately current image of the C: drive as well as a current backup of the D: drive under Veritas (ex-Seagate) BackupExec 4.2 .

    Several other useful programs accompany PM on the installation disk. These facilitate changing drive letters, setting up the system for dual boot (optionally booting to one of two operating systems) and moving an application from one partition to another, with the attendant registry changes and reidentification of data file locations, etc. I tested the latter, moving two existing applications from C: to D: The newly moved programs functioned perfectly in their new location.

    The manual is very attractive and is unusually clear.

    I am confident that relative neophytes, using the remarkable Wizards, can use this excellent program without getting into trouble or unduly frightening themselves. Serious professionals have always relied on PartitionMagic.

    List Price $69.95. PowrQuest advises "User group members may purchase PartitionMagic v5 at a special price of $30 by ordering from the secure web site at http://www.ugr.com/order/. Indicate the special price code of UGEVAL99 with your order."

    PartitionMagic 5.0
    PowerQuest Corporation
    P.O. Box 1911 Orem, UT 84059-1911
    Voice Phone 1-800-379-2566

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