Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Great Defrag Shootout Testing Methods

My efforts at testing all those defrag utilities got mentioned in the Code Project forums. One question I found quite interesting:
John Cardinal wrote: I am completely mystified as to how he can compare performance of defrag utilities equally. I was surprised to see that aspect listed and as far as I can see he doesn't give any methodology of testing.
So I responded in order to explain. The full response is copied here:

John raises a question that every programmer should ask, and it is most valid. I don't have full testing facilities and so no attempt was made to test whether program A did a defrag that resulted in faster hard drive performance than program B, but my testing method ended up being quite thorough anyway. Allow me to explain.
I'm a database programmer, using Access 97 and Microsoft SQL Server 2000. In a typical week I copy a complete SQL backup file (6GB "SAClinic.dbk") from the production server to my laptop, and save it in a compressed folder on drive D:. I then attempt to defragment it so that I can do a SQL Database Restore from the data file.
The SQL Database is stored as c:\sql\mssql\data\SAClinic_Data.mdf and a corresponding log file. Again, because these files are large, they get stored on my laptop drive as compressed files.
Compressed files of this size fragment easily and in a gazillion fragments, and most of the defrag programs choked on the number of fragments and/or the remaining disk space. I mentioned such problems in each review in "The Great Defrag Shootout". I also used contig.exe to analyse files or folders and report the number of fragments in the files.
The SQL Database Restore operation doesn't work properly if the files are too fragmented, so I was at the mercy of this software (and the defrag program being tested) whenever I needed to perform this operation.
In addition, I download and edit audio books and podcasts, so my "Audio Books" folder would get fragmented over the course of a few days. Again, it was up to the defrag program being tested to fix up this mess.
Finally, I keep all the source code for my main programming project in a 4GB encrypted volume maintained by TrueCrypt, and so was able to determine if the defrag program being tested could recognise and defrag this volume as well.
I was quite shocked at how many commercial defrag utilities were unable to cope with the fragmented files on my hard drive. Diskeeper, the most expensive utility tested, failed miserably, and took over 20 minutes just to analyse the drive. Incidentally, it was another aspect of DK (its inability to deal with drives that get too full) that led me to look for a better defrag program in the first place.
So I wasn't comparing "performance" of defrag utilities in the conventional sense, but it was more a question of "usability" (was it easy to set up and use) and "capability" (was it able to do the job). I only gave a "thumbs up" to defrag utilities that managed to keep my laptop drive defragmented during the course of my normal working week.
During the course of the testing some utilities were uninstalled and remained so; others were installed and retained because they remained useful. My laptop now has 5 programs installed: the built-in Windows Disk Defragment program, SysInternals contig (I still use it on those big SQL data files from time to time), SysInternals PageDefrag (boot time defrag of system files), JkDefrag and PerfectDisk 8.
PerfectDisk is my "program of last resort" and I call on it to sort out fragmented metadata and other tricky data. It has never let me down. I use the JkDefrag screen saver to keep my drive neat and tidy. That's how these two ended up being the "winners". I kept them installed because they are the most useful of the lot.
I hope this clarifies the method I used. I don't claim to be a professional tester, just a user with some very demanding defrag requirements.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fat Cats Gobble Up R 1.28 BILLION

South African taxpayers paid for restaurant meals and travel extravaganzas by government departments to the tune of R 1.28 billion in the last tax year. Now you know why things are in the state they are in: the fat cats in government are spending all their energy getting fatter. Take this article in The Times just recently. I understand that members of government departments need to visit regional offices and see things for themselves, but how do they justify so much money spent at restaurants?
They can't, and they won't. They know full well that they are too busy driving their fancy cars and eating at fancy restaurants to worry about the people who elected them. People are starving, dying of AIDS, suffering from the health effects of poor service delivery, and being killed off by crime; while our ruling class frets about Woolworths food and booze in their private hospital wards. It's criminal, and they don't care.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Great Defrag Shootout: The Winners

Ultimately, it is the reader who is the winner, and I hope that all my reviews (15 commercial, 16 freeware products reviewed) will help others. There are the two winners, in no particular order:

Best Commercial Defrag Program:
Raxco PerfectDisk 8

The category is hotly contested, with stiff competition from O&O Software and Golden Bow but the Raxco product won for the following reasons:
  • PerfectDisk is easy to install and use, both for the novice and the power user;
  • The features are well integrated, and relevant;
  • The default method of organising files is well thought out and extremely effective;
  • The boot time defrag solves problems that many other defrag programs ignore; and
  • The overall performance improvement is well worth the cost of the software.
Any commercial environment not using this product is wasting money. I use it whenever my hard drive gets really messy.

Speaking of money, the folks at Raxco sent me a discount coupon to publish on this blog. If you buy any PerfectDisk product from their download store, use the following coupon code:
BLOG-SHOOTOUT
It's good for a 20% discount before 31 October 2007 on combo packs, power packs or individual copies of PerfectDisk 8. If you're planning on buying the server product, visit the PerfectDisk Blog first, because there is an incredible promo offer available there. Read the blog entries and you'll save yourself a fortune and make yourself popular with your accounts department.
Update 8 Feb 2008: I have tested and reviewed PerfectDisk 2008, and feel that it is a worthy successor and retains the "winner" status for the best commercial defrag program.


Best Freeware Defrag Program:
JkDefrag 3.25

I'm glad I found this utility. I thought that Contig was the best freeware defrag program, and I still use it heavily, but JkDefrag is a masterpiece, and for a cash-strapped small business I have no problem installing it on all the workstations.
  • It is simplicity itself to use;
  • It is fast and effective;
  • The file placement alogorithm is excellent; and
  • The screen saver option is logical and helpful.
The latest stable version can be found on my Defragmentation Utilities Page, in a simple setup program. Version 3.16 is stable, and version 3.26 works fine on my current system, although there are some remaining bugs in this release. My guess is that these will be ironed out shortly. My original review was version 3.8, and I have used it regularly since then, especially the screen saver component, which is awesome.
Download JkDefrag 3.26 + NTREGOPT + PageDefrag + JkDefrag GUI + Contig, all in a simple setup program.


The Great Defrag Shootout: Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV | XVI | XVII | XVIII | XIX | XX | XXI | XXII | XXIII | XXIV | XXV | XXVI | XXVII | XXVIII | XXIX| winner | all | why

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Great Defrag Shootout XXIX: fragdown 2.4

Fragdown 2.4 is a front-end for the built-in Windows defrag.exe program. It's a highly economical 50kb download, and provides a simple facility whereby you can tell defrag.exe to defrag the hard drive and then shut down. The default is to start the defrag immediately and then shut down the PC. You can modify the shortcut to use option 2, in which case fragdown will show as a system tray icon. When you double-click on the icon the defrag starts.
This may be a useful utility in certain circumstances, but its scope is limited and it relies on WDD too much. It was written in 2004 and the documentation is not particularly clear for a novice user.

The Great Defrag Shootout: Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV | XVI | XVII | XVIII | XIX | XX | XXI | XXII | XXIII | XXIV | XXV | XXVI | XXVII | XXVIII | XXIX| winner | all | why

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Great Defrag Shootout XXVIII: Winternals Defrag Manager 4.0

Winternals Defrag Manager 4.0 is no longer sold, as Winternals was bought by Microsoft because they needed the founders to work on Vista, or something. I took my laptop round to a friend's office, where they are still using the program, in order to try it out. It was written by the guys who wrote Contig, so I was expecting some pretty nifty software.
This program is clearly designed to address the problem of keeping all the PCs and servers on a network defragmented and organised. It has a minimalist approach to the task, so if you're looking for a program that shows you what it is doing while you watch, you're out of luck.
You set up a defrag schedule and identify all of the computers on the network that should run the schedule. The results can be seen in the "history" section. See image above. There is an option to consolidate disk space, run chkdsk, and perform a standard defrag. Fortunately it uses the same kind of library as Contig uses, rather than WDD, so it won't fall over when disk space gets limited. There is also a boot-time defrag option.
There is also an "advanced mode" option, where you can create a Windows boot CD (similar to Paragon Total Defrag) and then run a defrag in "offline" mode. I found that this option got stuck at 49% on my C: drive, and then did nothing, as shown in the photograph of the screen shown here.
I guess I'm a bit disappointed that the defragmentation strategy isn't as advanced as PerfectDisk or O&O Defrag, considering this was a commercial package from a well-respected source. I have not had enough time to put this program through all the usual tests, but it is a bit disappointing. Perhaps Microsoft could get these programmers to rewrite it for another version of Vista, and get rid of the Diskeeper derivative they are using at present, which isn't great.

The Great Defrag Shootout: Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV | XVI | XVII | XVIII | XIX | XX | XXI | XXII | XXIII | XXIV | XXV | XXVI | XXVII | XXVIII | XXIX| winner | all | why

Credit Bureaus are Weird

Credit Bureaus like to keep tabs on everyone's spending habits, but because they operated in secrecy until recently their data can be extremely dodgy. Take TransUnion ITC for example. I bought a copy of my credit report today, only to discover that
  • My middle had changed;
  • I have lived in Swaziland (really?);
  • Alternatively, I have lived in an office block in Parkmore;
  • They had no idea that I've had an MTN cell phone number for the last few years.
Weird. But then as a database programmer I know that data is only as good as the morons who type it in, and the accounts departments of various department stores aren't exactly MBA material. Sigh.
Fortunately there is a method of correcting this nightmare, but I wonder why they don't just lock down certain fields so they don't end up confusing me with someone else. Now I just have to figure out what all those "=" and "0" symbols mean next to the accounts that they monitor.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Great Defrag Shootout XXVII: Windows PowerTools 1.3

This is the worst waste of time I have ever had the misfortune of reviewing: "Windows PowerTools 1.3" is a batch file 3kb long, packaged in a 100kb self-extracting EXE. There is no uninstall: you just delete the folder containing the batch file and the desktop shortcut.
The batch file is reasonably easy to read, as batch files go, and some of the options are too buggy to work. There is NO documentation, other than the one-line explanations shown in the graphic above. When you select option 6 above the batch file calls the built-in Windows Disk Defrag utility. This "utility" gets a big thumbs down for sheer waste of time. Thanks for nothing.

The Great Defrag Shootout: Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV | XVI | XVII | XVIII | XIX | XX | XXI | XXII | XXIII | XXIV | XXV | XXVI | XXVII | XXVIII | XXIX| winner | all | why

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Great Defrag Shootout XXVI: Multiple Applicator 6.8

Multiple Applicator 6.8 from Vasilios Freeware is a GUI interface for several command-line utilities, including Contig, the extremely useful defrag utility from SysInternals. Another utility that does this is Power Defragmenter GUI, reviewed in Part XII.
Multiple Applicator contains some curious utilities, but I will focus purely on the Defrag part. You have to select a directory to be defragmented by clicking on the "Select a Folder" button. If you select a directory/folder that contains subdirectories, such as "C:\", then all the subdirectories will be processed as well. Once the processing is completed a sound effect tells you it is done.
There is no record or previous folders selected, and you can't type in a folder either. This is a shortcoming of the program. You can't pass the application any parameters, so you can't use it for scheduled defrags either. Another shortcoming is that it relies completely on the capabilities of Contig itself, which cannot defrag the MFT or other system files.
This utility may be of use if the other functions are of interest, but the 2.8MB download is a bit much just to operate a 55KB utiltity. It may be simpler to follow the instructions in "Make Contig Easier to Use" instead. I plan to uninstall this utility because I prefer using Contig as described in the other article, but you may wish to try it anyway.

The Great Defrag Shootout: Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV | XVI | XVII | XVIII | XIX | XX | XXI | XXII | XXIII | XXIV | XXV | XXVI | XXVII | XXVIII | XXIX| winner | all | why

Friday, September 07, 2007

"Mr Hard Drive" uses PerfectDisk

Steve Gibson, the man who wrote Spinrite and regarded by many as "Mr Hard Drive" recently disclosed in the Security Now podcast #108 that he has purchased PerfectDisk and is quite impressed with it.
I mention this because it was Steve's comments about Vopt that got me started on the Great Defrag Shootout.
... it wasn’t a free one I mentioned, it was a good one that I mentioned. And actually I now have two favorites. I think I referred to Vopt. Vopt is very nice. It’s at Version 8 now. However, I’ve started using one called PerfectDisk. And I bought it because I was very impressed with it. It will do something that Vopt won’t, which is it will defrag the so-called metadata. What I was talking about just a minute ago when I was talking about the bitmaps and the directories and things, nothing is able to move those because those are locked by the system while the volume is in use. PerfectDisk is able to do a preboot defrag of those and, for example, to defrag your swap file, which is another area that cannot be moved around while you’re running the swap file, running on the drive with the swap file. So I like PerfectDisk, and I like Vopt.
Update: You can find the Winners of "The Great Defrag Shootout" here, and all the programs reviewed here.
Clarification: In Security Now! Podcast no 109, Steve claimed that I use both PerfectDisk and Vopt. This isn't correct any more: I use PerfectDisk when my laptop is in desperate need of a complete reorganisation, and I use JkDefrag, mostly in screen saver mode, for keeping things neat and tidy. The only time I do a major defrag is when I have to update the data on SQL Server, which is a messy business at the best of times. Then I use Contig as well, to save time.
Update: If you buy any PerfectDisk product from their download store, use the following coupon code:
BLOG-SHOOTOUT
It's good for a 20% discount before 31 October 2007 on combo packs, power packs or individual copies of PerfectDisk 8. (The kind folks at Raxco sent this to me, and I get no financial benefit.) If you're planning on buying the server product, visit the PerfectDisk Blog first, because there is an incredible promo offer available there. Just read the blog entries and you'll save yourself a fortune.

The Great Defrag Shootout: Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV | XVI | XVII | XVIII | XIX | XX | XXI | XXII | XXIII | XXIV | XXV | XXVI | XXVII | XXVIII | XXIX| winner | all | why

BarclayCard and P:Cubed - more ducking and diving

A sure sign of trouble is when everyone blames everyone else, but no-one is prepared to take responsibility. I don't think its deliberate deception necessarily; see Napoleon's quote above.
I wrote to Raoul Miller at P:Cubed and asked:
I am led to believe that your company supplied my name and address and/or sent out a letter on their behalf to me in July 2007, promoting BarclayCard. Is this the case?
I also mentioned the ECT Act.
Raoul Miller replied as follows:
Dear Donn,
Many thanks for your note below.
To ensure absolute clarity: P:Cubed is a Direct Marketing Services Business. We do not own consumer identification data but instead enrich consumer behavioural and contact data, available to our clients under various access licenses and perform an analytical, data processing, modelling and advisory services function; better described at www.p-cubed.co.za
We are not in a position to comment or provide opinion on the ECT Act but would suggest the following website for details as to the objectives and application of such act.
To specifically answer your questions below and to provide transparency of the process:
  • Your identity details would have been sourced by ABSA (who operate the Barclaycard brand) from a registered marketing list provider who would be a member of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA)
  • Your address details would have been then obtained and enriched from one of the two national credit bureaus
  • Regarding the ‘Do not Contact’ list, commonly referred to as Opt-out list in the Direct Marketing Industry:
Opt-out services are in place to provide consumer protection from the receipt of unsolicited direct marketing offers – the next draft of the Consumer Data Protection Bill (DTI) will in fact provide for a national Optout register which will in all likelihood be branded by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA).
Given that the Consumer Data Protection Bill has not yet been promulgated into law (it is still in the process of being drafted); there is no one central database against which a consumer can register their identification details to ensure that they do not form part of a direct marketing campaign.
Once legislation is in place and the central Opt-out infrastructure has been built, this additional level of consumer protection will be in place.
There are a number of Opt-out databases being maintained nationally with no one primary database at this point in time.
To try and ensure the most comprehensive service and coverage, P:Cubed host our own service as well as acquire copies of the relevant databases on a regular basis to add to its growing pool of Opt-out data. Please feel free to visit www.optout.co.za to register.
The currency of these databases is though limited to the regularity of update (as opposed to registration by consumers on such list) and the access to which any one organisation (including P:Cubed) is given to such databases – there is no current legislation in this regard and timing of consumer registration and data acquisition by any party impacts the ability to completely cover all registrations effectively.
I do hope this assists; please drop me a line if you require further information.
So much for clarity. I added the bold bits because they are particularly unclear and sound like Pentagon-speak. I tried contacting him on 082-379-9994 but just got voice mail.
I have had to read this several times to figure out what he actually said. Does this mean that my name is not on his opt-out list which is why I should register? Does it mean that because they are not compelled by law to use the DMA's list that therefore they do not? Is he trying to say that the bank, being a member of the DMA, should have screened their data before passing it on to them to "enrich" it from the Experian database?
BarclayCard has on different occasions said that they got my details from both ETL Solutions and/or Effective Intelligence. Both have assured me that this is not the case and they are fully aware of my "do not contact" status, and have been for some time.
Now we come to the "two national credit bureaus". I assume he means Experian and TransUnion ITC. I have contacted both of them some time ago (2004), when I was writing my Privacy blog, and asked them to make a note that I do not wish their data to be used for marketing purposes. They both refused or ignored my request.
According to Brian Mdluli of the DMA, the ECT Act doesn't apply to snail mail because it isn't electronic communication, which is a nice loophole. When I phoned him on 083-401-5900 (They changed premises last month and are still waiting for land lines) he said the DMA had taken up the matter with ABSA and that remedial action would be taken. I suggested that BarclayCard should be forced to send a letter of apology to all the people it sent the original letter to, but he said I was being unreasonable. Maybe they could reduce it to the people on the DNC list who were sent the letter and who should not have been. BarclayCard promised to send me a letter of apology in early August. I guess snail mail is to blame, but it hasn't arrived after 4 weeks.


Warning: The NSA and 4 million other sick weirdos with "security clearance" have intercepted this page and know that you are reading it.