Thursday, April 05, 2007
If you are like me, you have family members that occasionally (or sometimes very often) ask you to "take a look" at their computer to see why the machine is acting up. In most cases, this boils down to a couple problems:
- Installing crapware on the machine (accidentally or by another family member). I can't tell you how many times I have had to remove spyware and other packages from family machines when the nieces and nephews decide to play the free web browser based games.
- Disk fragmentation. Usually, by the time I get to see the machine the disks are thrashing endlessly and the built-in defrag utility reports something > 50% in terms of fragmentation.
While I can fix the first one (usually), the second one is always hard for me. The built-in defragmenter leaves a lot to be desired as it constantly is restarting itself anytime a program touches the hard drive. A full defragmentation on a smallish drive (80GB) or so can take hours!
I noticed that Diskeeper was one of the first to offer a defragger for Windows Vista. Intrigued, I gave it a whirl.
Since Diskeeper's website does not show a comparison between all the different versions of the product, it might be a bit confusing if you go out to and try to figure out which version you want (or why you would want to spend more money). But digging through the fact sheets, I came up with the following major features:
- Real-time Defragmenting (part of Invisitasking)
Pro Premier Adds
I have put an asterisk (*) next the to the features that are probably the big ones for most users. So, unless you are a 64-bit user, there is probably not too much point in getting the Pro version over the Home version really. I am sure there are other minor differences, but nothing real big stood out to me in checking.
Probably the biggest and best feature available on all versions is what Diskeeper terms "Invisitasking". Simply put, this allows defragmentation to occur in the background constantly in a kind of "set it and forget it" mode. In my testing, this works very well. I have yet to notice any performance degradation because of defragmenting. I prefer this method of use over having to schedule a defragmentation weekly or monthly.
I have found that the biggest problem with scheduled tasks is that they take too much of the computing resources away from the user when they run. Since my family never turns on their computer unless they intend to use it right then, this culminates in one of two problems: a.) the defrag never runs because the computer is always off when it is scheduled to run, or b.) it starts running immediately and the family member turns it off because it sucks too much resources.
This feature solves both those problems for me and it probably the biggest and best of the bunch. I know a lot of people hate having extra stuff loaded in memory, but this one is worth it in my opinion.
This feature is meant to speed up commonly used applications based on your usage pattern. According to the documentation, it takes a week or so to build an accurate profile and then it will start to speed up access to the applications. This sounds like an older feature that has been around for some time in both Diskeeper and other competing products where the data on the drive is logically laid out to speed access. However, there is one important difference: I-FAAST takes into account the physical characteristics of your hard drive (which obviously will vary). The result is a tuning for both logical layout on disk as well as to the characteristics of your individual drive.
This is a harder feature to test than others because I never benchmarked my drive before and after using it. Subjectively, I have noticed that common programs like Firefox, VS.NET 2005, and Outlook tend to load faster. This is hard to quantify, but some programs seem to load faster. Is it a breathtakingly faster thing? No, but for the common apps you run it seems to be a nice boost. So, I would say it is a pretty worthwhile feature.
Diskeeper sports a pretty slick looking GUI. It is very easy to navigate around and find what you want to do. The funny thing is that you will most likely never need to use the GUI - it is a pretty much "install it and forget it" type of application.
Once the program was installed, I actually did not have to configure a thing as the defaults were exactly what I wanted (i.e. Automatic Defrag with Invisitasking and I-FAAST enabled). Diskeeper also does a good job of having the help files linked easily within the app for more information about each setting in case you want to know more about what each thing means.
The only minor nitpick I have about the program has to do with its Vista integration. Specifically, if you run as a limited user (and you should), when you try to launch Diskeeper, it pops up the following message:
I would much rather have it prompt me for Admin credentials using the built in elevation mechanism, but it is a minor point. While you can allow Diskeeper to launch for limited users by setting an option, this doesn't seem to be a good solution either. I don't want limited users to launch the program and I don't like having to right-click and choose 'Run as administrator' either. As I said, this is a minor nitpick since I rarely launch the UI anyway!
Diskeeper is the best defragmenter I have used. The Invisitasking for me is the best feature right now. The fact that you can literally install this program and forget it is the best compliment for this type of app. Who wants to mess around and monitor this stuff? I love that I don't notice it and that I never need to schedule a thing. There is no performance degradation that I have noticed and my drives are constantly kept up.
Also, I should mention that this is installed on a laptop. Diskeeper is nice enough to suspend the Invisitasking while on battery power - a very nice touch.