Partitioning reviews

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Partitioning reviews

All Microsoft's operating systems, from DOS onwards, have used the idea of single letters to identify disk drives. 'A:' and 'B:' are reserved for two floppy disk drives, and the first hard-disk drive is 'C:'. Extra hard drives are identified as 'D:', 'E:', 'F:', and so on.
However, these hard drives are not quite the same as the drive units that are screwed into the computer. The space on each physical drive is divided into one or more chunks, called partitions, and the drive letters actually correspond to partitions, not physical units.
Most new PCs are shipped with one hard drive, configured with a single partition occupying all the available space, so the possibility of multiple partitions isn't immediately apparent. It's tempting to describe such a drive as ënot partitioned', but that's not really true. A drive letter always corresponds to a partition, even if there is only one partition on the drive. A drive that really has no partitions - such as a brand-new one - is not even visible on a PC, except using the operating system's partitioning tools. This collection of reviews sample some of what's on offer in the way of tools for creating and managing partitions on hard drives.

Terabyte Unlimited's BootIt Next Generation (Bing for short) is shareware, and gives users the peace-of-mind of being able to try before they buy. It can be used in a virtually fully functional state for up to 30 days, after which it must be registered and paid for (US$29.95). The program comes as a downloadable zip file that's astonishingly small ñ just 468KByte ñ yet even includes a 35-page manual in PDF format! The company's web site ñ ñ also hosts on-line tutorials and has links to an active discussion group where the authors and experienced users are extremely helpful in answering queries.

PartitionMagic has long been the definitive partition manipulation tool. The latest incarnation, V7.0, is powerful and sophisticated, and the first version to be compatible with Windows XP. Previous versions of PartitionMagic can't install correctly under XP and, even if run in DOS mode, do not recognise XP's flavour of NTFS partitions. With V7, though, installation on our Windows XP test machine was straightforward and NTFS appeared not to be a problem. During installation from the auto-start CD, the user is given the option to create a pair of Rescue Diskettes, one a boot disk, the other a program disk. Together, these floppies are used to run PartitionMagic in DOS mode without having to rely on the program being installed on the hard-disk.
A Read-me file is installed at the same time and is accessible via the Programs menu. The contents are quite extensive and offer various tips, plus details of known problems. A well-written and comprehensive 150-page printed manual is also included in-pack.

Drive Image is a companion program to PowerQuest's PartitionMagic, and creates compressed image files of partitions, as well as copying entire partitions. Installation from the CD was simple and conventional. Choosing ëcustom' setup you have the option to install the PDF files of the manual on disk, as well as a choice of additional drivers to support Iomega Zip drives, SCSI CD-ROMs, and Fujitsu MO drives.
As with PartitionMagic, you can also create a pair of ëRescue Diskettes' that allow you to boot and run Drive Image independently of the hard drive. The 120-page printed manual is again clear and comprehensive.

Ghost 2002 has a lot to live up to, coming as it does from the same family of well-respected utilities as Norton Antivirus and Norton Utilities. The CD autoruns on insert and, as well as giving options to install Ghost and Acrobat reader, offers some interactive tutorials. These walk through five common types of imaging and copying task, and are quite useful ñ despite the inclusion of a computer-generated American female commentary.
There are no significant installation options, and the folder in the Programs menu contains only two items ñ Ghost Boot Wizard and Ghost Explorer. The printed manual spans about 120 pages and contains plenty of detail, but is written in a rather technical style. Ghost makes no pretence of running under Windows ñ the purpose of the Boot Wizard program is to create a DOS boot floppy disk that can be used to boot the computer and run Ghost.

No one of these disk utilities will suit all users but pairing PowerQuest's PartitionMagic (£41.12) with its sister program, Drive Image (£45.82) provides the most comprehensive tool kit for backing-up and manipulating partitions. Partition Magic is the only program here that carries out most of its work under Windows, making it easy to use and meaning that it's the only one that can work with FireWire drives.
But, PowerQuest users appear to have no comeback if problems result in lost or corrupt data on drives larger than 80GByte, whereas the other programs ñ BootIt NG from Terabyte Unlimited, and Symantec's Norton Ghost ñ are said to work with any drive that the PC's Bios can handle. Hopefully future versions of Partition Magic will support bigger drives but there's no certainty they will. Even if they do, upgrades are unlikely to offer much of a saving over the full prices.
For copying and imaging partitions, Symantec's Norton Ghost offers a good alternative to Drive Image. Although it has a quirky user interface and little Windows integration, it performs well and can be extremely powerful in the hands of users able to master complex command lines in batch files. At £37.59 (or £33 as a download), Ghost is a good bit cheaper than Drive Image.
Despite being shareware and the cheapest product on test (US$29.99/ £21.14), BootIt NG offers all of the important functions required for manipulating and imaging partitions, and is also a powerful boot manager. It needs some work to master, but life can be made easier using free downloadable companion programs that offer a degree of Windows integration. The program is available for a 30-day free trial, and enhanced versions, which arrive regularly, are free to registered users. It is remarkable value and we'd strongly recommend trying it before deciding on any of the other programs.

Richard Jones

For the full review, see the April 2002 issue of Computer Video.

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