NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
PowerQuest's Partition Magic 7.0
A Review by John Hunt, December 2001
(click to email author)

Windows XP embodies a truly major change in internal architecture, bearing a much greater genetic relationship to the NT/Windows 2000 family than to the Windows 95/98/98SE/Millennium family. MicroSoft did this to provide the vastly superior system stability and freedom from operational blockages that is offered by the Windows NT/2000 concept, and has been accomplished without any objectionable user interface changes or new learning requirements. Most applications run properly in XP without any updates. There are, however, two areas in which XP requires serious user awareness and participation in facilitating the transition to the new operating system.

The first of these areas is XP hardware drivers. Because of major differences in the specific programming procedure (totally invisible to the end user) most hardware requires entirely new driver software. A very similar problem arose with the introduction of Windows 2000; in fact, most drivers which were designed for Win 2000 are completely usable with XP. On the most popular hardware MicroSoft has worked very closely with the hardware manufacturers, providing internal driver support with no user intervention. Obviously the enormous number of different hardware units which are used with PCs make it impossible for MicroSoft to incorporate appropriate drivers for all available hardware. Most manufacturers have been conscientious about providing new drivers in a timely manner, but many are late or even delinquent in making any effort (Remember, to the VP marketing at the hardware manufacturer, authorizing the cost of driver development for a scanner that you bought one year ago is hardly thrilling).

The second area involves system utilities. Typical examples are Partition Magic, DriveImage, and backup programs. These utilities must penetrate deeply into the internal workings of the operating system. Completely preventing such interference with the heart of the system is the very reason that Win 2000 and XP can promise major improvements in system stability. The latter two operating systems cleverly isolate the memory and other system resources, including the all important isolation of the key operating system coding.

The arrival of XP has resulted in serious activity by utility manufacturers to offer XP qualified updated versions of their software. Unless you like to live very dangerously, it is highly recommended that the new XP owner discard his old system utilities and replace them with XP qualified versions. This is particularly important because of the system wide consequences of faulty operation of the system utilities and the large scale effort required to correct any malfunction which might arise from their use under the wrong operating system. These problems can be even more vicious if the errors remain hidden, to arise at a later date.

PartitionMagic 7.0 is an excellent example of the newly updated XP qualified system utilities. Because all of the recent versions of PM, including 7.0, are capable of such a wide variety of tasks it is almost impossible to try any significant percentage of said tasks, particularly since isolated flaws created in the file space of a large disk by a program such as PM are by no means self-revealing on a quick test of the repartitioned drive. I therefore have limited my efforts to the more straightforward but all important tasks which probably are of maximum interest to the typical members of our user group. I have also spent considerable time researching the complaints (real and imagined) about PM 7 which are currently to be found in the various newsgroups archived by Deja News.

I am running XP Home edition on a 1000Mhz Pentium III with a single 30 Gig hard drive. It has three partitions containing about 10,000 files, all of them FAT32. WIN XP permits the optional use of a newer file management system called NTFS, which provides marvelously prissy protection against a variety of file disasters which are of concern primarily to those with truly critical files and software, where computer failure, even if an extremely remote possibility, simply cannot be tolerated. To the typical member of our group it is the classic "Solution Looking for a Problem". I am also not using dual boot (a procedure which, while slightly diabolical from the complexity standpoint, permits the option of booting up in either of two different operating systems). I am not using RAID, a procedure which uses multiple disk drives to achieve a major improvement in disk read/write speed.

To those few people who are not familiar with PM, its most endearing trait is the ability to change existing partition sizes without loosing any of the files stored in the existing partitions. The DOS program FDISK, which dates back to 1981, permits total freedom in resizing partitions, but looses ALL of the stored data in the process. When the first version of PM came out (about 1988 as I recall) it was at first received with ample skepticism, since it appeared to be doing an impossible job under the perceived wisdom regarding established protocols of the DOS file management system. PM soon became an irreplaceable tool to virtually everyone.

PM can be run from floppy boot under any recent version of DOS, as it (in the absence of the NTFS file system) is dealing with files which are recognizable to the simple DOS operating system provided by the boot floppy. DOS operation sacrifices the use of the magnificent user interface of the Windows version, however. Beginning with WIN Millennium, and very definitely continuing into XP. MicroSoft has been trying very hard to stamp out boot floppies, and now appears with considerable justification to be trying to eliminate floppies entirely.

On the more recent versions of PM the program is installed as a Windows program, and can be run directly from Windows, although if the C: drive is being altered in size the program automatically switches to DOS before actually doing any file or partition size manipulations. This switch to DOS is presumably because of problems arising from moving the many operating system files which are open at all times in Windows (and, accordingly, open in the C: drive).

The most recent versions of PM have a Windows user interface which uses a truly remarkable and friendly Wizard. Modification of the partitions of a drive containing useful data is rather frightening. Recognizing this user concern, the PM Wizard is extremely considerate in requesting very clear and unambiguous specification of the various elements of the resizing task, and clearly identifying exactly what is being asked for before committing permanent change. Nevertheless, the makers of PM have always strongly recommended a full backup before launching PM. I tried a variety of partition size changes, all involving all of the partitions in order to create the maximum disk rewriting traffic. I encountered no difficulties. Needless to say, these tests were run under XP.

A considerable amount of internet traffic regarding PM 7 and its use with XP has occurred in recent months in a variety of use groups; this has been reported in the irreplaceable Deja News on the internet. Below is a brief summary of some of the concerns which have been expressed. NONE of the complaints arose from the relatively simple but highly useful type of resizing described above. Virtually all of the serious complaints involved the use of the NTFS file system, or dual boot, or both. There was a bit of concern regarding the maximum disk size, which PM specifies as 80 Gigs, although some said this was possibly an overly cautious limit. The installation process for the XP operating system offers optional formatting to facilitate clean install; I believe but do not know for a fact that the formatting, if invoked, will automatically install NTFS for partitions larger than about 40 Gigs in a misguided attempt to achieve storage efficiency. This arbitrary NTFS installation can be balked by formatting the very large partitions with a DOS boot floppy containing the DOS format program.

The PM7 package includes the program BootMagic which permits dual booting. Dual boot can also be activated by the XP installation process if desired. Dual boot permits the alternate use of two different operating systems; an obvious and tempting example is retaining WIN98SE or Millennium while making XP operation also available as a boot choice. Some applications may have to be installed twice to accommodate both operating systems, however.

PM7 offers a facility to convert files in either direction between various file formats such as FAT16, FAT32 and NTFS. XP permits conversion of FAT files into NTFS, but not NTFS into FAT. The translation is without data loss, although some arcane details of NTFS may be lost in the NTFS to FAT translation. This NTFS to FAT facility could be of very great importance if one elects to use the new NTFS file system on installation of XP and then later regrets it, a not unheard of circumstance. (Remember, NTFS to FAT is not available in XP).

Some internet users have reported trouble with the emergency floppies which are made during the installation: the ones I made certainly work. One user said that during a resizing of a very big disk which was nearly full that the screen display created the persuasive illusion that the process had stopped when in fact it was still properly underway.

For those born gamblers, the question of using earlier versions of PM, run from floppies under DOS but on an XP system, seemed to be uncertain; certainly the earlier versions of PM cannot be installed and run under WIN XP. Floppy operation of pre version 7 certainly will not work with NTFS, as the simple operating system on the boot floppy knows nothing about a mysterious new file system (Remember the same problem arose in the early days of FAT32 when older boot floppies could not understand the new file system).

The manual for PM 7 is, like all PowerQuest manuals, excellent.

PowerQuest has always been very good about providing update patches for their programs. These are readily available at the PowerQuest web site. No updates are available (at the time of writing) for PM7. Patches are the price for a manufacturer being conscientious about bringing out software in a timely manner.

User group members may purchase PartitionMagic v7 at a special price of $35 by ordering from the secure web site at http://www.ugr.com/order/. Indicate the special price code of UGEVAL01 with your order. This is a very good price, as the lowest street price is $55.

Reviews like this sometimes suggest, by detailing a number of facts regarding the program under review, a lack of enthusiasm for the program reviewed. In this instance it is certainly not my intent. I am highly enthusiastic about both WIN XP and PartitionMagic 7.0. Simply restoring everyone's old favorite PartitionMagic to life under XP is highly creditable.

Remember, backup first! Be certain that the backup software really works 100% under XP. Trust but Verify!

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