Drive Genius 1.01
Review

On March 11, 2005, in Review, by David Weeks

Drive Genius 1.01
Prosoft Engineering

http://www.prosofteng.com
$99.00 single user license

Prosoft Engineering’s Drive Genius (DG for short) is the latest entry in the drive maintenance and repair field. Drive Genius joins Alsoft’s Disk Warrior, and Micromat’s TechTool 4.

Let’s see what DG has to offer, and how well it works.

The product datasheet shows that DG has a veritable laundry list of functions. Here’s a list of the more important features:

DG comes on a bootable CD. New OS versions generally require an updated CD. This is true of all drive repair products that allow booting off the CD.

Extensive volume management tools. DG says it can resize volumes on the fly. Prosoft defines “on the fly” as meaning no disk formatting is required. Obviously, reformatting means the entire disk must be erased, so a complete backup is required to avoid total data loss. DG can also move volumes from one location on the physical disk to another.

DG can clone drives, creating bootable copies that are the exact duplicate of the original.

DG can optimize disks.

DG can repair damaged disk structures, rebuild disk directories, including Volume Headers and bit maps.

Drive Genius’s ability to repartition disks on the fly is the most significant capability DG has over the competition. Both Disk Warrior and Tech Tool have directory repair abilities, and Tech Tool has a slew of other capabilities as well. But neither Disk Warrior nor Tech Tool has any partition or volume management capabilities.

So, let’s look at DG’s partition and volume management tools.

First, let’s define a few terms.

A hard disk is a physical device. It’s the spinning platters that contain your data. If it’s not been partitioned, the physical drive appears as one disk icon on the Macintosh desktop.

A hard drive can be divided into logical volumes when partitioned. Partitioning is the process of dividing the single physical disk into several logical disks. The term “logical” is used, as the new volume is not really a physical drive: it has been created with software. Each logical volume will appear to the Mac OS as a real physical disk, with its own desktop icon, but it’s not a physical disk.

So, your hard drive can be formatted a single volume, and appear on your desktop as a single icon, or it can be partitioned into multiple “logical volumes” each having its own icon, and acting just like a physical disk.

Plenty of formatting tools have the ability to create partitions, including Apple’s own Disk Utility. The hitch is that they have to erase and reformat the drive to do so. That means you need to backup everything to avoid losing data when the drive is formatted.

Drive Genius is able to create new partitions, or resize existing partitions without having to reformat. It’s important to note that DG cannot create or adjust partitions on the volume on which DG is running. Since all Macs ship with a single hard drive with a single partition, if you wish to redo your partitioning, you’ll need to boot from the Drive Genius CD. If you have more than one bootable drive, you can boot off the second drive, run DG from it, and adjust the partitioning of your regular boot drive.

My dual 2.0 GHz Power Mac has two internal drives, each with only one partition, so to test DG’s partitioning tools, I ran DG off the main drive to create and adjust partitions on the second drive.

When DG starts up, it runs a SMART diagnostic check to verify the health of your drive’s hardware. While SMART checking is not foolproof, it’s still a worthwhile check, if your drive begins failing SMART tests, it’s time to make SURE you have current backups, as its days are numbered. Start shopping for a new drive, while you’re at it.

More on S.M.A.R.T. here and here.

Once DG is running, creating a second partition on a single partition drive involves several steps.

First, click “Device” then select the desired device (physical drive) from the list of all devices. The row of icons underneath the list of drives that shows what operations are available will dynamically change to show what you can do with devices. This is a nice user interface touch!

Choose “Repartition”. A new window will open, displaying another set of icons that control various functions. Here’s where I began to dislike DG’s user interface.

I was trying to partition my 160 GB single partition drive into two partitions. When DG’s Repartition window was open, there was no “ADD” button to create another partition. The only thing close was a button for Resize. “But I don’t want to resize my existing partition” I thought, “I just want to make a new one from the old one…”

Well, since I was backed up, I clicked Resize. The worst that could happen was total data loss…

A new window appeared, with a slider allowing me to resize the (single) partition. I tried to move the slider to the halfway position (80 GB), but it wouldn’t go past 99 GB. Extra points to Prosoft, as I had 99 GB of data on the drive. It makes no sense to make the partition smaller than the amount of data it already contained. I chose 100 GB, to allow some free space on the partition, and clicked Start. After several seconds, I was back at the DG main window.

Hey! Where was my new partition? It didn’t show on the desktop, nor in the DG main window I thought I’d made a new partition, but that was not the case. The DG partitioning window showed that I now had a 100 GB partition, and LOTS of free space on the disk. Free space in this context means disk space not allocated to -any- partition.

The mental light bulb went on at this point. To create a second partition on a single partition drive, you first have to shrink the existing partition, which makes free space. You have to look carefully at the list of partitions to see that you now have something called “Apple_Free.” Only then will you be able to make a new partition from the large chunk of free space. Select Apple_Free, and a new Add button appears in the icon row, which will let you create a new partition from the free space.

You’ll be prompted to choose from a selection of very snazzy disk icons, but you can’t name the partition. It’ll be born with a name like “/dev/disk03″, which you can rename in the Finder. Why can’t we name the partition before it’s created?

If your new partition did not use all the free space, Apple_Free will hold the remaining unallocated space.

Is this process obvious? No! Does it work? Yes.

I’m not impressed at this counter-intuitive procedure. While it perhaps makes sense after thinking about for a while, that won’t help the average user who has no clue about how disks and volumes work.

DG would be much easier to use if it assumed the user wants to allocate ALL the space on the drive when creating partitions, and not leave unallocated free space in Apple_Free. In other words, simply shrink the existing partition by the amount required create the new partition. Don’t require the user to shrink the existing partition, and then create the new partition from the mysterious Apple_Free. The user should never need to know about geeky things like Apple_Free.

After cracking open the PDF manual/Help file, I found the following:

“We have made Repartition a feature that is extremely easy to use. However, we strongly recommend you read the following few sections. The Repartition feature is extremely powerful and will have a negative effect on your drive if not used correctly.”

That’s a true statement! Read it BEFORE using, or possibly endure much frustration. The partitioning instructions walk the user through the process with understandable text and good screenshots. However, I was not able to find a plain statement that you need to shrink a single partition to be able to create a new second partition. All I found were statements such as “…Partitions can be shrunk in order to make room for a new partition, or they can be expanded to take advantage of free space on the drive.”

One primary use of DG will be to repair damaged disks. Currently, Alsoft’s Disk Warrior is the 800 lb. gorilla in the disk repair arena, especially since Norton SystemWorks is no longer being actively developed. Disk Warrior is a “one-trick pony”; all it does is rebuild damaged directories. In contrast, Drive Genius has a far more comprehensive feature set.

I ran the Repair portion on my backup disk. Drive Genius can perform all the repairs that Apple Disk Utility can do, plus it can fix numerous other catalog and volume header problems that Disk Utility can’t. Drive Genius can also reconstruct data for overlapped extensions. If you try to repair the boot volume or disk, Drive Genius will spit back an error, message, saying “unable to unmount.”

Well -of course- the boot volume cannot be unmounted! Apple Disk Utility is more user friendly than Drive Genius by simply making its repair feature unselectable when the boot volume is selected. Drive Genius’ error message leads naïve users to think something is wrong with their disk, when the program should be telling it cannot repair the boot volume.

Another problem reared its ugly head when I used the Repair Permission feature on the boot volume, immediately after the failed Repair attempt. I watched the same progress messages that I saw when I was using the Repair feature ( Analyzing an HFS Plus volume…). Puzzled, I ran Repair Permissions again, and this time it ran correctly. I was able to duplicate this bug, and I let Prosoft know about it.

Most operations require unmounting the drive being worked on. While mounting and unmounting drives, DG displays a window that refers to drives by their device number; /dev/disk0, /dev/disk01. While these numbers are listed in the DG main window along with the Finder name of the drive, it would require far less concentration from the user if they did not have to remember what drive had what number. Why can’t DG always use the Finder name?

DG lets you duplicate drives via “device copy” to get an exact bit-for-bit clone. Device copy is not the file-by-file- copy that utilities such as Carbon Copy Cloner employ. DG’s method is faster, but requires both source and target to be unmounted. This means you can’t duplicate your main drive to a backup without booting off either the Drive Genius CD or a bootable third drive. This nullifies the advantages of the faster device copy.

Many operations require booting off the Drive Genius CD. To prevent piracy, booting from the CD requires entering the DG registration number each time. The registration number is on the CD case, so make sure to write it down or email it to yourself if you don’t keep the CD case handy. Without the registration, you can’t boot off the CD to work on boot drives/volumes. It’s irksome that you can’t copy and paste the registration number into the registration window. The registration number is just short of 1.29 million characters, and it’s easy to make a mistake entering it manually. OK, it’s not really 1.29 million characters long, but it is one of the longest serial numbers I’ve seen.

Drive Genius incorporates basic drive benchmarking tools. DG can compare disk reads and writes of varying sizes to show how your Mac’s disk performance compares to various other Macintosh models. Data is displayed using your choice of a bar graph, line graph, or the raw read/write data. Unfortunately, the graph has no legend indicating which dataset belongs to your Mac or the comparison model. I had to compare my 2 GHz Power Mac to a much slower model to be sure which dataset was mine.

If you ever plan to sell your Mac, or any hard drive, it’s a good idea to erase the data from the drive. Formatting alone is not enough, as numerous data recovery applications can restore a formatted drive. The Department of Defense has specific requirements for wiping drives, and Prosoft has incorporated them into the DG “Shred” feature. Drive Genius’s Shredder function conforms to the U.S. Department of Defense standard for drive sanitization (DoD5220.22 M). Once DG has shredded your drive, the data is gone, and gone for good. Rumor has it that the National Security Agency geeks can recover data from DOD-spec shredded drives, but I doubt that the NSA is interested in my credit card numbers; they can get those with a phone call, and not have to do their black magic on my shredded drive.

Conclusion

Drive Genius is a collection of disk tools that allows you to do most anything you need to keep Macintosh hard drives healthy and well managed. But it’s not quite ready for prime time, in my opinion. DG’s user interface for partitioning and resizing drives and volumes is too complex for the average user, even after reading the manual. Repairing permissions does not always work properly, as DG sometimes runs the Verify utility instead. The user interface allows you to select operations on the boot drive or volume that produces error messages, when in reality the operation can’t be done on the boot drive/volume. Rebuild features do work as advertised. The Benchmarking tool is nice to have, but the results can be bit confusing to interpret.

If Prosoft can simplify the process of partitioning and resizing, and clean up the glitches in other areas, then Drive Genius will be worth a second look. Until then, I’d recommend sticking with a combination of Disk Warrior, Apple Disk Utility, and a maintenance utility such as Cocktail, Macaroni, or Onyx.

MyMac rating 2.5 out of 5

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