Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Great Defrag Shootout XVII: Raxco PerfectDisk 8.0.64

When I first started using Diskeeper Lite several years a go I wanted something that would work a bit better than Microsoft's built-in Windows Disk Defragmenter (WDD) and figured that if Microsoft had licensed their technology from Diskeeper (previous versions in DOS were from Norton Speed Disk) I might get an improved version from Diskeeper themselves. It was only after my drive got to less than 20% free disk space that I discovered the first major problem with Diskeeper, and eventually tried PerfectDisk.
It worked fine right out of the box, and I bought a copy of PD7, which I later upgraded to PD8. I can honestly recommend PerfectDisk to anyone who needs a simple defrag utility that just does its job as advertised without too much fuss. That's not to say it is "perfect": it isn't. It has some niggly quirks that I really wish the guys at Raxco would fix. But where it matters most, PD8 gets the job done, and it does it well, both on servers and workstations.
It has been difficult writing this review, because I can't give it a "first look", since I've been using the product for ages. I have put off the review several times, even though it passes almost every test I can throw at it. CNet gave it full marks too.
The first good point is that it installs without fuss, and the screen display is clear and useful. I quickly switched off the extra help on the right, because it explained concepts I already knew, but unlike most help screens, this one was actually quite useful, especially for first time users.
The second good point is that when you click "Analyse" it will examine your hard drive, building up a display of the files, and then calculate the best way of improving the file layout to speed up your drive. Sometimes this may mean a boot time defrag, other times it may recommend a free space defrag, depending on the status of your files. One of the PDF documents on the Raxco web site makes a big fuss about PD's free space defragmentation, and I must say I have found it helpful, especially when I am working with large files.
The third good point is that PD has a command line option, so you can create your own batch files for special defrag needs. If you don't like this idea you can also schedule defragmentation to happen during quiet times. On one of the servers the defrag runs at 1am, when no one is using the system. I scheduled a "Free Space" defrag and a "Smart Placement" defrag on alternate days, to ensure the best drive performance for this server.
The command line option doesn't allow you to change the "CPU Priority" so you can't have it set to "Normal" or "Idle" by default, and then change to "Turbo" when you are running the command line. I wrote to Raxco's technical support about this, but got no response.* I have yet to get any kind of technical response from them about anything. Writing to the sales people did get a reply, however. In the meantime I figured out that I could create small registry files with the required settings, and make the changes to the registry from the batch file.
One of the nice things about this program is that PD will monitor the disk usage and scale itself back if the drive is being used by another process or user. You have to enable this feature and it does mean that the defrag takes longer. I found that I could run the defrag and do less disk intensive tasks, like blogging or writing program code while the defrag is in progress. I don't do this normally, because I tend to do defragging when I don't need to use the PC. The defrag doesn't interfere with downloads in progress or eMule activity.
The only time I got PD to interfere with anything was when I set up the "screen saver" defrag option, and then tried to run a normal defrag. The normal defrag kept getting cancelled by the "screen saver" option, which is a bit weird. You have to suspend the "screen saver" schedule, run the manual defrag, and then enable it again. What a mission.
On the subject of annoyances, there are a few more: the screen display doesn't update correctly in the area where the defrag has yet to be completed. The display shows the file number instead of the file name on NTFS volumes, and PD insists on placing part of a large file in front of a reserved space, and the rest of it afterwards, ensuring that the file is fragmented. See top image and then the one directly above. If you believe all the Diskeeper marketing hype, then this is perfectly OK, but I just find it a tad annoying.
These screen shots display the way PD arranges the files using "Smart Placement", where it puts the boot time files at the start of the drive, then the really old files (i.e. program files), followed by files that haven't changed in the last 60 days, and then the most recent files. It's probably not the most sophisticated file placement algorithm, but it works pretty effectively anyway.
I don't know what kind of magic PD does with directories, but I noticed an immediate improvement in the time to took to list a long directory after running PD, even though I had already used WDD and JkDefrag on the drive after reinstalling Windows from scratch. Whether it reorganises the contents of the directories or just places them in a better position on the drive, I don't know. What I can say is that the "everything faster" slogan for PerfectDisk is more than just marketing.
I have complained in other posts about PD being "slow", and by that I mean that it is pretty thorough at analysing and reorganising the drive, and my impatience runs faster than the defrag. But defragmentation is a disk-intensive task by definition, and the more thorough the defrag, the more data has to be moved. Vopt8 is pretty snappy, but it doesn't try to move lots of data around; this means that the drive is never completely reorganised either.
Here is an example of the "Analyse" results of my hard drive. Notice how there is a listing of the metadata size and fragmentation, the MFT size, and the free space size. PD wasn't able to fix the problem I had with a large, fragmented MFT, and it was only the unique freature of Paragon Total Defrag that sorted it out. I must admit that the problem was unusual, and that PD has improved the placement and fixed the fragmentation of the MFT on other drives I have tested.
I have tested PD on nearly full drives, as well as encrypted drives (TrueCrypt). It processes large, fragmented, compressed files without choking, and it can fix up my music files even when free space is low. From a technical point I can't fault either the way the defragging is done, or how the files are placed. It doesn't fall apart like DK does when free space is low, and it generally gets things sorted out in a single pass. Judging by the comments on the CNet Downloads site, my experience of PerfectDisk is pretty typical.
The only feature that is missing (apart from the annoyances mentioned) is the ability to identify which blocks belong to a particular file. You can defrag an individual file, but you have to guess which file is fragmeneted, which is weird. If PD added the file lookup features of O&O Defrag, it would be a killer app.
It's a pity the biggest competition to PD is a company that over-hypes and over-charges for its products. I got an email from a "Corporate Account Manager" at Diskeeper who claimed that it "has the 97.5% of the market in US" and they have sold 25 million licenses. He was unable to state the source of these numbers, so I assume it's just the usual marketing BS. I guess they need something to cover up their technical limitations, particularly the need for at least 20% free disk space. They certainly had me fooled for a while, and the user reviews at CNet are most revealing.
My conclusion: if you are willing to pay $39.99 for a defrag program, PerfectDisk 8 is the most complete product you can find.

*Update: someone at Raxco read this comment and was horrified. They are busy revamping their entire support system, and seem determined not to let anything "slip through the cracks" in future. I will post a separate blog article on how to turn "Turbo" mode on or off, following the advice I received.
Update 17 July 2007: Some readers have complained about PD8 being a CPU hog. I have not experienced this often, and generally the PD services use very little resources. The only time PD uses a lot of CPU time is at the closing stage of the "Analyse" process, which is to be expected. Another occasion was during a "single file defrag" of a large compressed file with many segments, during which time PD8 took over all the processing of the machine and showed no progress bar or anything else to indicate it was busy, even though it was.


barfarf said...

Thanks for the great write up. I have not seen anyone do a more complete review of defrag programs as you.

I use perfect disk 6,7 and then 8 and find it to be great app. I tried O&O (version 8 I think) and a couple version of the diskkeeper and I found them not be as easy or with a noticeable improvement as disk keeper.

Anonymous said...

perfectdisk 8.0.64 reboot my machine without a warning, when i do an "Analyse" on my NTFS drive.
i uninstalled it, and installed back perfectdisk 6.0.25, which is a more stable version for my windows xp. v6.0.25 works faster than v8.0.64 by the way.

Anonymous said...

I have purchased PD8 and when I try to defrag my C:(NTFS) drive all of the the files are black. And the defrag process only took a few seconds. The "black" files were not being processed.
Do you know of any fix for this or what caused it?
You have done a GREAT job with your reviews. Do you spend your own money buying all of this software?
Hope not. Thanks

Donn Edwards said...

I assume you are using the wonderful and buggy new Windows Vista. I suggest you read this FAQ on their web site.

Remember, if you paid for the product you are entitled to tech support. If this didn't solve your problem, then contact them. There are some very competent people there and I'm sure it will be sorted out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article. I am so happy seeing opinions so close to mine (author's and also some commenters')!

I tried Diskeeper 9 and other versions but didn't like them for exactly the same reasons as author.
Now there is no DK on my machine, not even in installs folder.

I use PerfectDisk 8.00.063 and have used it since version 5. Versions 6 and 8 are ones I used for longest periods. I tried PD9 and was very disappointed when I found that PD9 puts often modified files (including registry
into the end of disk. I found that using Sysinternals DiskView after unusually long PD9 run on Windows Server 2003. I hope they will fix that. I also hate PD9's UI change to use ribbon but I could live with that.

I have tried DiskTrix Ultimate Defrag and quite liked it. These guys have great ideas but UD needs to evolve a little more (the version I tried crashed after several zoomins-zoomouts - how can I trust it will leave my data intact?)

IMO PD8 is the best in class for this moment.

Anonymous said...

I was interested in this app til I learned that it is a 42mb download. This is too bloated. I will try JkDefrag and Ultimate Defrag.