Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Great Defrag Shootout XII: Power Defragmenter GUI 2.0.125

Power Defragmenter GUI is a freeware utility that works with SysInternals Contig, a freeware utility, and defrag.exe, the command line part of Windows Disk Defragmenter. If you don't like or don't use batch files, this utility is for you.
It works like a wizard, giving you choices of what to defrag and how you'd like it done.
File selection is a bit clunky, but not unfriendly. Unfortunately it doesn't remember what you selected last time. Finally, when you click "Defragment", the program opens a command window and executes your requests.
It's ironic that there is no setup utility for this program, since it is actually a setup utility itself. It was written using Setup Factory 6.0. To install it you download the ZIP file and extract it to a folder. Then you add the Contig software, or click "Yes" to download it. Make a shortcut to the .exe file, and you're in business.
I have used Contig extensively, since it is simply the fastest way of defragmenting a single file or directory. This utility provides a GUI front-end to the program, which is nice. The other feature I liked is the "PowerMode Disk Defragmentation" which first uses contig to defragment all the files, and then defrag.exe to tidy up the drive. It's a nice idea, but not as powerful as JkDefrag.

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

How hot is your hard drive?

The biggest problem on laptops is cooling, because everything is cramped into such a tiny space. What many people don't realise is that if your hard drive overheats it will fail. Catastrophic failure from overheating will lose more data than if you drop your laptop. You could lose everything. It happened to me.
I wish I had found this utility earlier. It's called HDTune, and its most useful feature (for me at least) is that it can tell you the temperature of your hard drive, and warn you if it's getting too hot.
Had I seen this warning message when I first bought my IBM ThinkPad laptop, the drive may never have crashed, and I wouldn't have lost weeks worth of time waiting for it to be fixed and reinstalling everything.
You can also scan your hard drive for errors and see the speed of the drive. I'm not a hardware junkie so this doesn't mean too much to me, and I use Spinrite from time to time to test the drive properly, so all the other data is lost on me. It isn't always able to get the drive temperature from the hard drive hardware. This depends on the hardware itself.
The program is only 392kb in size, and only uses 868kb of RAM when it's running, so it isn't bloatware. For the most part all you see is a small icon in the system tray (next to the time) with a temperature reading. The program can be set to load when you start Windows, and it just works. Brilliant!

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Great Defrag Shootout XI: Windows Disk Defragmenter

My recent Windows XP reinstall provided a unique opportunity to test out some of the features of the built-in Windows Disk Defragmenter (WDD) program, as well as a nifty free utility called SpeeDefrag that works with it. WDD is based on software developed by Executive Software, now known as Diskeeper Corporation, which Microsoft licensed.
SpeeDefrag 5.0.2 is a front-end utility that allows you to run defrag.exe (The command line part of WDD) during a special boot-up session. Once the defrag is completed the PC either shuts down or reboots, depending on the choices you select.
It's a clever idea, and well implemented. The only problem is that you are encouraged to install some kind of toolbar in your browser. I chose not to, and would warn anyone running the installer to do the same.
The reason I wanted to try using WDD in this way was to get rid of the fragmentation I was experiencing in the master File Table (MFT) on both hard drives. WDD reports the fragmentation, but doesn't fix it. Neither does any of the free software reviewed so far, nor does PerfectDisk 7 or 8. Only Diskeeper fixed it. Since one usually only needs to defrag the MFT once after a major install, you can download the trail version, fix the MFT fragmentation by doing a boot-time defrag, and then uninstalling the software. I know this sounds really mercenary, but I have other reasons why I don't use Diskeeper.
The reason I don't use WDD much is shown in the graphic at the top of the page. The "before" stripe (above) is a perfectly defragmented disk, with the exception of the red part which is the MFT. The "after" stripe (below) is the file map as rearranged by WDD. I have no idea why it would want to break up the free space into additional segments, but this is what it does. Its more expensive cousin, Diskeeper, does much the same. WDD complains bitterly when the free disk space goes below 15%, and starts going wrong around the 20% mark.
WDD can be scheduled using the standard Windows Task Scheduler, and it has no ability to tell you which block on the display belongs to a particular file. It's a basic utility that can sort out some of the more common fragmentation issues, and if used regularly can make a difference to the performance of a PC. It doesn't get a thumbs up or thumbs down, because it's part of Windows anyway.
The next product to be tested is the Power Defragmenter GUI.
Update 13 Nov 2007: WDD scored very well in some tests I have been running. The first results are quite encouraging: 32% faster than a fresh WinXP installation.

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

The Cost of Reinstalling Windows: Conclusion

It's Monday afternoon and my laptop is finally up and running. Total bandwidth used: 898.21MB downloaded, 32.57MB uploaded. Allowing 100MB for mistaken downloads, and we are looking at 800MB. At R99 per GB, that's around R80. Thank goodness I wasn't using a 56kbps modem. It would have been a lot more if I hadn't kept copies of most of the programs I have downloaded.
Then there is the time cost: nearly an entire week of productivity lost. That's around $1100 or R8000, about the cost of a new laptop. Fortunately I had backups, and the opportunity to make copies of all my data files before doing the reinstall. Other people haven't been that lucky.
I haven't been entirely unscathed: I didn't know that the faxes sent were not stored in my own user profile, so I lost those. I also didn't know that I should convert from FAT to NTFS only once all the files had been installed. This would have saved a lot of time trying to defrag the Master File Table (MFT) which got defragmented during the installation process. It took Diskeeper to fix it, much to my surprise.
I also lost all my IE and Firefox bookmarks. This is probably a good thing since they were hopelessly jumbled anyway. From now on I'll blog (in draft) anything that looks useful. I had also held out on upgrading from Firefox 1.5 to 2, but this catastrophe has proved quite useful, and I like the new Firefox a lot. It's amazing that I rely on NOD32 to protect me from myself so much. I'm glad it's up to the job.

Microsoft takes on the free world

Microsoft claims that free software like Linux, which runs a big chunk of corporate America, violates 235 of its patents. It wants royalties from distributors and users. Users like you, maybe. Fortune's Roger Parloff reports.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Cost of Reinstalling Windows: Part III

The reinstall of my laptop continues. Most of the Microsoft stuff is done, except for SQL Server, since I downloaded the wrong file. It was midnight when I started the download.
8:05am: Begin copying files from Penny's laptop and the DVD backup disks.
9:00am: Download and install iTunes. In typical Apple fashion it crashed the first time, and I had to install it again. This time I disabled the automatic download software, which is brain dead.
9:43am: Discovered that the SQL Server 2000 patch file (44MB) was the wrong one. Begin downloading the 66.9MB correct one (SQL2000-KB884525-SP4-x86-ENU.EXE) instead.
10:30am: Autopage phones with more unsolicited marketing. Will they ever learn?
11:00am: Begin copying c:\dev directory from Penny's machine. This will take the rest of the day. Leave for appointment at Drive Report.
8.00pm: Arrive home after a meeting and site visit and find most of the files copied, but defrag needed to tidy up the mess.
Total downloads: 797.81MB, upload 24.91MB.
9:00pm: Milo and SQL Server 2000 SP4 installation.
10:00pm: Reboot. Used TweakUI to log in automatically and disable AutoRun on all drives.
10:42pm: Download SafeXP and PsShutdown.
11:00pm: More Milo, plus finally get to download my emails into Outlook. Set up Gmail and Spamcop accounts. More defrag work needed.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Cost of Reinstalling Windows: Part II

Another day, another reinstall. DBAN on 61%, so I stopped it and rebooted, in order to use the Acer System Recovery disks.
8:05am: coffee and Acer disks. Stepped through entire process. Quite cool
9:15am: First Windows boot.
9:30am: While checking on bundled applications, noticed entire drive was partitioned as single drive (C:). Damn! Reboot, run Fdisk to create C: and D:
9:45am: Begin with system recovery disk 1. Made a note on the CD to run FDISK first.
10:30am: Bingo! First Windows boot. Go through Windows setup finalization.
10:50am: Uninstall Symantec bloatware.
11:00am: Convert drive to NTFS using convert c: /fs:ntfs command.
11:11am: Run Windows Update, select Microsoft Update.
11:45am: Reboot without downloading, in order to install Acrobat 7.08 update, NOD32.
12:10pm: NOD32 installed, Acrobat update installed.
12:11pm: Installed CCleaner, removed Symantec Shared files, Movie Maker, and Windows Messenger files. Cleaned up and ran Rootkit Revealer (without network cable plugged in). Nothing unusual to report.
12:57pm: return to Microsoft Update, selected just Internet Explorer 7 download. Hopefully this will save on some updates.
1:13pm: Windows Validation successful. Ignored other critical updates.
1:33pm: Begin downloading 75 critical Windows updates. I guess IE7 doesn't reduce the critical updates that much after all.
2:12pm: Windows Genuine Advantage notification installed.
2:45pm: Reboot after installing all 75 critical updates. So far total downloads come to 185.44MB. Began downloading NTI CD patches, Google Pack: Skype, Real Player, Google screensaver, Google Desktop.
4:01pm: Begin Sun Java 6.1 Runtime install, and FireFox 2 with Google Toolbar download.
5:20pm: Begin defrag using JkDefrag. Total downloads so far are 326MB.
5:44pm: Start installing Microsoft OfficeXP.
6:30pm: OfficeXP installed, and first round of service packs. Install media CD while additional service packs are downloading.
8:25pm: OfficeXP SP3 installed, now begin downloading another 20 critical updates. Download total now 577.5MB
9:15pm: Install SQL Server 2000 from OfficeXP Developer CDs.
10:05pm: Install Visual Basic 6 Professional and Service Pack 6
11:00pm: Start Office97 and ODE Tools Install
midnight: Total downloads: 592.75MB, 17.5MB upload.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Cost of Reinstalling Windows: Part I

On Monday night I downloaded and installed a Trojan, believing it to be a legitimate file. If I had been using NOD32, the trojan would have been caught. I wasn't, but that's another story. Now I have to erase my hard drive and reinstall everything. No, I won't be installing Windows Vista, thank you. Been there, done that.
I spent most of Tuesday recovering from shock and trying to explain to eEye why I think that Blink Personal Security didn't provide me with any security at all. And I'm sorry, but 90% isn't good enough. Condoms are more secure.
Last time I installed WinXP on Penny's broken laptop I measured the total download volume required to get Windows XP SP2 up to date. It was around 90MB. This time I'm going to be a bit more realistic, and include all the downloads and all the patches required, not only for Windows, but OfficeXP and 65 other programs that I have to install.
I also plan to document how long this all takes, so this blog entry is going to be an ongoing one for the next few days. It's now 2pm and I have backed up all the data files I need, either on DVD, CD or another hard drive. Time to reboot and insert the WinXP SP2 boot disk.
2:10pm: Boot up off Windows XP SR2 CD, delete C: partition.
2:15pm: Slow format of C: partition begins.
2:42pm: Windows installer reboots from C: drive for the first time.
2:50pm: Type in Product Key, other machine name details.
3:22pm: First desktop. Install NOD32 from flash drive, begin definitions update.
3:48pm: NOD32 scan stops on D: drive files. Damn! Infection still around somewhere, or a corrupted file perhaps. Take no chances: wipe the entire drive.
Insert DBAN CD and begin wiping entire hard drive. This will take a while (i.e. all night). So far the PC has downloaded 8.11MB, uploaded 392kb. What a way to spend a birthday.

Microsoft oPhone

Are these guys having a go at the iPhone by any chance?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

One Blink and you're infected

I listened to a recent Security Now interview with one of the founders of eEye Security. Mark Maiffret mentioned the Blink Personal Security product, and that it was an all-in-one security solution for individual users. I decided to try it. What a fool I was.
I first tried to download the free "Blink Neighbourhood Watch" version, which requires you to run it without any other antivirus product installed, even though it doesn't have its own antivirus engine. I guess that's why it's free: anyone nutty enough to run Windows without an antivirus program is unlikely to be interested in protection against other unknown vulnerabilities. Blink won't install if you have NOD32 istalled.
I should have stopped there; I didn't. Instead, I paid real money for the Blink Personal Edition because I don't live in North America, where the product is free for the time being. But I was nervous about no antivirus protection on my machine.
I won't bore you with the hassles I had replacing the free serial number with the paid one, other than to say that it required a reinstall, and was a warning of further hassles to come.
I noticed that when using Blink my machine's performance was sluggish, but I foolishly decided that the "extra protection" I was getting was worth it. It isn't. I noticed that the ePower_DMC service was running at a consistent 15%-20% CPU utilisation, unless I turned off the "Application Protection" service. I also found that if I disabled checking on some large data file types, such as *.mdb, *.mdf and *.ldf (SQL data files) then my Access programming work was not too badly affected.
Then, last night I was infected with a Trojan. I admit I was a fool to download it in the first place, but I was used to NOD32 being able to warn me about dodgy web sites and dodgy files. I should have double-checked by using NOD32 on Penny's laptop, but she was asleep already.
Obviously the Norman antivirus engine is brain-dead compared to NOD32, and it let this one through. The image at the top of this article shows the results of a "Full Malware Scan": two false positives, one for BearShare, that has never been installed, and one for riched32.dll, which is a Microsoft file that I wasted considerable time checking.
Also, the support forum is a joke. Anyone can post anything without even registering, so today there was a spam posting about Cialis, FFS! There is no way you can track replies to the posts, or even do a search on previous posts. This is not a good way to treat a paying customer.
The software is klunky: you can look at the names of the Malware enties in quarantine, but you can't get any details about them, such as the file name, file size, version number, etc. You have to look through the logs. And you can't search the logs unless you export them to a text file and use notepad.
There is no right-click option to scan a directory or file for malware or viruses, you only have the option of a scan of the entire machine. You can't find out the date of your virus definitions, unless you find the relevant log entry. I found an entry telling me the virus definition date was 05/07/2007. Either that's two weeks old or it thinks the definitions are dated for July.
There is an "Application Firewall" that monitors activity of installed apps (unless its a trojan like mine) and pops up and asks all kinds of dumb questions. For the first few days this is quite disruptive, especially if you give the wrong answer and disable the clock, Hamachi, SQL Server or whatever. I guess this limits the appeal of the product to techies, but I doubt whether techies will put up with the rubbish I had to. I'm also fed up because when I reported the problem on their forum, the post got deleted.
Blink has been downloaded 13000 times since the Security Now podcast. I wonder whether the average experience has been good or bad. I hope for eEye's sake it is better than mine. Their slogan "Vulnerability is Over™" should read "Vulnerability is Over Here". They claim to be able to detect 90% of all malware. Condoms have a better success rate than that!
I have been spoilt by NOD32, which is lightning fast and super-accurate. In the last few years I have used it I have not been infected with any viruses or trojans, which has saved me a lot of hassle and time. Now NOD32 won't install because it picks up the infection, and the Symantec Security check thinks everything is fine, except for Remote Administrator, which it thinks is malware. The Trend Micro Housecall scan detected part of it, but picked up some false positives as well. I suspect it won't be able to remove it, which means I have to reinstall everything.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Great Defrag Shootout X: Diskeeper 2007 Professional and Pro Premier

This has been the most difficult review to write, because I feel like I'm swimming against the tide of public opinion, and I've had bad experiences with Diskeeper in the past. It's also the most expensive product reviewed. As time went on the review became easier as using the product became more loathsome.
It's also the first product I have ever encountered that is both paranoid and self-defeating. When you install it, it removes the built-in Windows Disk Defragmenter (WDD), and even replaces the icon in the "Start->Programs->Accessories->System Tools" menu with its own. I assume this is to ensure that it is used for disk maintenance, rather than WDD. But the sceptic in me tells me Diskeeper doesn't want you to see that it isn't much of an improvement from WDD; hence "paranoid". It's self-defeating because the help file basically admits it can't work properly when free disk space gets low. Consider this extract:

Getting More Free Space

If your volume is extremely full, there may not be sufficient free space to effectively defragment the files. In this case, here are several suggestions:
You can temporarily move some of the files off the volume, particularly large files. This temporary measure often allows Diskeeper the "working room" it needs to complete the defragmentation process. Also, this allows Diskeeper to defragment the free space on the volume, increasing the possibility that the temporarily-moved files can be moved back to the volume in a contiguous (or at least less fragmented) condition.
There are often a number of temporary files stored on your computer, and deleting these files can help you gain more free space. [snip]
You can empty the Windows Recycle Bin on the volume in question. By default, when you delete files on most Windows systems the files are not really deleted—they are instead moved into the Recycle Bin, so they still take up disk space. Emptying the Recycle Bin does delete the files, thus creating more room for Diskeeper to do its work.
While I agree that a simple program like CCleaner will reduce the clutter on your PC, the reason why I needed a program other than WDD was to sort out the tangled mess my large files were getting themselves into that WDD wasn't able to sort out. I fail to see why I should keep 15-20% of my drive unused simply because my defrag program can't deal with my large files. That's what Diskeeper expects.

Why doesn't Diskeeper completely consolidate the free space on my volume?
There are several factors that can prevent the free space on a disk volume from being defragmented:
  • A fragmented paging file.
  • A large number of directories on the volume.
  • On NTFS volumes, a portion of the free space on a volume is reserved by the operating system for the Master File Table (MFT).
It is important to know that having all of the free space in a single, contiguous piece provides very little (if any) performance benefit. Free space fragmented into hundreds of pieces will impact disk performance, but free space that’s in a few pieces should not have any effect on the performance of your disk.
So on the one hand Diskeeper doesn't make any major effort to sort out the free disk space, and on the other hand it states that if there isn't enough free disk space it can't (or won't) defrag large files. This is a self-defeating approach, and when it hits you you'll wish you never paid good money for this program. Just uninstall it and buy a decent program to begin with.
It's slow. Very slow. Not all the time, mind you, but in the case of my C: drive it took anything up to 20 minutes, and always longer than 10 minutes, just to analyse the drive; other programs reviewed took less time to defrag the drive. Removing certain crucial large compressed files fixed this, but I need those files! The image above shows the analyse screen after 11 minutes, timed using DS Clock. Not even WDD takes that long!
There seems to be a flaw in Diskeeper that prevents it from dealing correctly with large, compressed files, fragmented or not. Apart from slowing the analyse process down, once the analysis is complete it shows the wrong answer. This may explain the problems I encountered in actually getting the drive defragmented. In the picture above it is getting the size of the file wrong because it only occupies 1441MB, not 3488MB as shown, so its "Excess Allocation" error message is misleading. On another occasion it clearly showed some red fragmented files on the screen, but the list of fragmented files was completely empty.
I enabled the automatic background defragmentation process, and noticed the hard drive activity increased, especially when I wasn't busy. The user interface has a time line which shows how many fragments have been removed on a daily basis, and also the maximum and minimum number of fragments present on each drive. Presumably this is done to show how well Diskeeper is doing. Conversely it also shows how much Diskeeper isn't doing. The total of over 6000 fragments were generated through normal PC use in spite of their "revolutionary InvisiTasking™ technology" which is supposed to defragment the machine on the fly.
The program is fairly easy to use, and it has some nice interface and information features, but no way of being able to associate a given red area on the drive map to a particular file.
Diskeeper has a concept of "just enough" fragmentation of large files, where it will not use excess time and resources to further defragment a "large" file if there is no performance improvement. Even with this disabled, Diskeeper is not good at defragmenting large files. Here are 3 successive attempts at getting my hard drive tidy using the "Professional" version:
In each case Diskeeper has ignored some files, and not made any attempt at consolidating the free disk space. This is the same problem I experienced with Diskeeper version 7 and 8.
In desperation I uninstalled the $49.95 Professional version and tried the even more expensive Pro Premier ($99.95) version. It is the most expensive product in this category, and also the most underwhelming. I wanted to see if the "Intelligent File Access Acceleration Sequencing Technology" or I-FAAST™ feature would make a difference. It did (see below), but certainly not $50 worth!
The default setting in Diskeeper is to detect removable storage devices, so when I inserted my iPod Shuffle, DKSevice.exe crashed. After rebooting the PC and disabling removable drive detection, no further problems were encountered.
The "revolutionary InvisiTasking™ technology" doesn't work as well without the I-FAAST™ feature, and when it does work, it doesn't notice when you start using your machine again. I happened to double-click on an MP3 file it was busy with, and got a nasty error from WinAmp. A few minutes later the file played fine.
The picture above was taken on Sunday at 4pm, after I had removed the 2 large SQL data files, defragmented the drive without them, and then put them back. You can see how the compression process fragments the files.
Five hours later, with a bit of prodding by getting Contig to defrag all the other files on the drive, this is the result. I was unable to get this with Diskeeper 2007 Pro, only with Diskeeper 2007 Pro Premier, and only after specifically identifying the two files as being priority files for the I-FAAST system.
I guess that in terms of the Diskeeper hype-powered marketing pitch, that makes me a gullible "power user" who will happily part with $100 just to keep his disk tidy. I was suckered once, I'm not going to be suckered a second time. For $100 I could buy both Vopt 8 and PerfectDisk 8, with change to spare. Either one of them could do a better job, and faster too.
I also find the Diskeeper install process somewhat insulting. They create a "Diskeeper Corporation" program group in "Start->Programs", and then put a single icon in there. Why? No uninstall, no link to their web site, no help file, nothing. If there is only one icon, just do me a favour and put it in "Start->Programs" and save me some time, FFS!
I have left the best feature till last: the uninstall. Unlike version 8 which left residue that made WDD unworkable until I hacked it, this one does restore WDD when you uninstall Diskeeper. I recommend uninstalling it. I did. Twice. Even so, Diskeeper 2007 it left a desktop shortcut behind and a reference in the registry to AUTONTFS. Have these people no shame?

I have not decided what to review next: DiskMD didn't make it out of the starting block, since you have to buy it before you find out whther it's any good. In the meantime, I suggest you try my combination of freeware defrag utilities. Download it here. It's certainly better than Diskeeper.

Update: Monday 28th May 2007: It seems that Diskeeper is one of the only programs actually able to defrag the Master File Table (MFT). Because I converted my FAT32 partition to NTFS before I had reinstalled everything, the MFT doubled in size while I installed all the Office files and other applications. After trying PerfectDisk 8, JkDefrag, and Windows Disk Defragmenter, Diskeeper did the trick. When I uninstalled it I didn't get the errors reported above. I have contacted Raxco to find out why PD wasn't able to defrag the MFT, when it claims to be able to so. I did not receive a reply.
Update: Friday 8th June 2007: It would appear that Paragon Total Defrag 2007 can not only defragment the MFT, but also reduce its size, something no other defrag program can do.
Update: Wednesday 24th October 2008: DK 2008 has been released, and I'll be testing it for the next few weeks to see if it really lives up to its claims. I'm not optimistic but I hope to be proved wrong. See First Impressions.

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 | digg story | Benchmarks: DK2008 and DK2007