Recommended Software

Which disk utility should I go for?

The three main disk utilities

If, for any reason, Apple's Disk First Aid cannot fix your disk problem, there are three other disk utilities available: (i) Norton Utilities (now version 6.x); (ii) MicroMat TechTool Pro (now version 3.x); and the lesser known (iii) Alsoft Disk Warrior 2.x (for Classic OS 9).


A NOTE FOR OSX USERS

For OSX Tiger 10.4.x users, Norton Utilities (and Norton SystemWorks) is no longer being updated to work with this OS as the maker Symantec stated:

"Norton SystemWorks and Norton Utilities will not be updated for compatibility with Mac OS X 10.4."

Your only options for OSX are (i) MicroMat TechTool Pro; (ii) Alsoft Disk Warrior; and the recently introduced (iii) Prosoft Engineering's Drive Genius.

Survey of November 2000

According to a MacFixIt.com Poll Survey held in November 2000, most people gave particularly high praises for Norton Utilities, Techtool Pro and Disk Warrior depending on the type of disk problem to repair. Some users even recommended buying all three utilities just to have the peace of mind of knowing that you have the best chance of recovery and repair in case the worse case scenario should ever happen to your computer.

Interesting to see from the responses how many support the view that no one single disk utility will do a perfect job for you. There is a feeling the level of success varies from one disk utility to another as well as the type of disk problem you have and what system software you are using.

For example, apart from being reasonably easy to use and has the distinct advantage of being able to repair disk problems without requiring reboot off the CD (although we recommend you should boot off from the CD for the best results), Norton Utilities has an uncanny ability of finding disk problems even after using the other two utilities to make disk repairs. Whether this is an advantage or disadvantage, nobody knows for sure. But when it comes to repairing a standard range of the most common disk problems, Norton Utilities does a fine job.

However, for a wider range of disk problems, most users prefer Disk Warrior or TechTool Pro. For the most serious directory damage on a hard disk, users can't go past Disk Warrior as it seems to be more successful in repairing the problem and in the quickest way than either Norton Utilities or TechTool Pro. It does this by rebuilding and replacing the directory structure - a method commonly employed by TechTool Pro 2.5.5 or higher because of its high probability of success in recovering most files, but somehow users have found it not quite as effective and quick as Disk Warrior.

As Doug Brown noted:

"...someone said that TechTool rebuilds the directory from scratch like DiskWarrior. It may rebuild it, but in my experience it does not rebuild it properly. Both of them have a preview feature to see what the disk will look like when it is done before you actually have to repair it. I bought TechTool Pro 3 when my computer crashed. It crashed bad, so bad that the computer wouldn't start up. Booting up from a CD did allow me access to the files, but Disk First Aid found problems it couldn't fix. I bought TechTool Pro 3 (it had version 3.0.1 on the CD). I used the preview feature to see what the volume would look like, and to my dismay it wanted to delete some of my files and move their folders around. Most of the files would be at the root level of the hard drive. I decided to see what DiskWarrior would do before I would actually proceed. I bought DiskWarrior and it did fix it, with the files and folders where they belonged. I never got to try TechTool Pro 3.0.2 obviously, but from now on I am sticking with DiskWarrior. TechTool still does have good features for testing other components, but I don't trust it for directory repair."

Yet MicroMat Inc. informed Brown that there will be circumstances where TechTool Pro will do a better job of directory structure rebuilds than Disk Warrior:

"It was prudent of you to use the preview features of both TechTool Pro and Disk Warrior to see how they would rebuild a disk directory with the particular damage your's had. You chose the right tool for that situation, based on what you saw in the preview window. Instead of abandoning TechTool Pro, you should use both previews the next time. There will be cases in which TechTool Pro will do the better job, just as Disk Warrior did in your case."

So far the users in the survey have not mentioned an example where TechTool Pro was better than Disk Warrior. Although one would imagine both disk utilities achieving equally good results when rebuilding the directory structure in some cases. But there seems to be a greater preference towards Disk Warrior for the more serious kinds of disk problem. As S. Ardisson writes for MacFixIt.com:

"Until recently, I had been running for about three years without any commercial disk repair utility on my PowerBook G3 Series (the whole switch to HFS Plus by default on the hard drive and the confusion that caught certain utility manufacturers). I've had one or two errors caught by DFA [Disk First Aid], and it fixed them. Recently I purchased DW [Disk Warrior] and took it for a spin.

'In addition to finding a lot of messed up directory entries (things that had long ago been trashed but somehow were left with references in the directory), it recovered some 200 MB of space. It worked quickly, effectively, and while a little low on the info about what it was doing, seemed more informative that the old version of Norton that still is running on my PowerCenter. (It will be interesting to see what DW finds on that drive!)

'I'm more than pleased with DW, though I don't have the perspective to comment on recent versions of the rest...."

Anyway, if you want a utility that does practically everything except make breakfast in the morning and do a reasonably good job at it too (even if it is not the best when it comes to directory structure rebuilds), most users have found the latest version of TechTool Pro to be very good.

UPDATE
MicroMat Drive 10 released!

In response to people's generally high praise of DiskWarrior for fixing disk problems in a better way, Micromat has released a new software called Drive 10. It is designed to directly compete with DiskWarrior as a disk repair utility and nothing else. It has a much simpler and neater interface and is compatible with MacOSX and all previous versions of the Macintosh operating system.

The only disadvantage with Drive 10 is that there is no Check Volume to explore before committing to the rebuilt directory just like TechTool Pro.

So does it work? Well, this is what MacFixIt.com had to say about the software in an extract appearing in its news dated 20 July 2001:

"We took a second longer look at Drive 10 from Micromat. It's hard to say how good a job it does at spotting or fixing problems, because no problems occurred during our test run. But the interface has a very clean, animated, Aqua-based look. It is mainly a test of your drive, both for hardware and some software problems. It does not have the range of tests (such as for your modem, display, RAM etc.) found in TechTool Pro, but Drive10 seems more likely to spot a problem with your hard drive than its sibling would."

In the meantime, we will have to wait and see what happens once the average consumer gets a chance to test its capabilities to the fullest and in a real-life "disk error" situation.

UPDATE
MicroMat Drive 10 requires a good update to make it as powerful as Disk Warrior

Steven Mattson wrote to MacFixIt.com on 8 August 2001 about a crash he experienced on his computer and how his copy of Disk Warrior came up trumps over Drive 10 in repairing the problem:

"After getting repeated 'crashes' in OS X, crash, I ran Drive 10. Sure enough, it reported Volume Structure damage. When I elected to repair the drive, it took over twenty minutes. During intermittent periods, the Cancel button would stop flashing, the barber pole progress bar would stop and the process appeared to be frozen. After a few minutes, the process continued. After the repair was completed, the system rebooted automatically. I ran Drive 10 again. Structures were still reported as damaged. Using DiskWarrior (while booting from Mac OS 9) finally fixed the problem. After doing this, Drive 10 no longer reported structure damage."

Other interesting responses regarding disk utilities

There are some other interesting responses made by users of Norton Utilities, TechTool Pro and Disk Warrior.

Firstly, if a Macintosh user should decide to defragment his/her hard disk with Norton Utilities first, sometimes TechTool Pro will say the disk is fragmented. Perhaps the user has chosen a defragmentation structure in the menu preferences of Norton Utilities (e.g. for multimedia or general use). Or maybe it is the way Norton Utilities has been designed to defragment the files and not the directory structure which could be confusing TechTool Pro. In fact, this is what MicroMat Inc., the makers of TechTool Pro, had to say about this observation on 13 November 2000:

"If you run Speed Disk to optimize the files on a disk and then examine the disk with the Directory Maintenance feature of TechTool Pro, the Directory Maintenance feature will say that the internal contents of the disk directory are fragmented. This is not the same as saying that the files are fragmented. The graphics in Speed Disk and the disk optimizer in TechTool Pro always agree on whether the files themselves are fragmented.

'Speed Disk and the Directory Maintenance feature of TechTool Pro use different criteria for what constitutes having directory entries "in order" in the directory. (The criteria used by TechTool Pro are also used by Disk Warrior.) This is a performance issue, not a safety issue."

Other users also found Norton Utilities to be a little bit annoying in that it requires multiple passes to fix all disk errors. This is usually not the case with the other two utilities. There is also a minority of people who found the professional level interface of TechTool Pro to be a little complicated-looking and perhaps even daunting to use because it tries so hard to cover so much ground in one package.

And for the few who had some unkind words to say about Disk Warrior, their main argument was the lack of informative insight into the problems it found on a hard disk and what exactly it did to repair them. Also, it is not designed to fix up or even let you know of hardware-related problems like a faulty motherboard, bad cables and so on which TechTool Pro can do.

Then there are other users who suggest it is better not to use any disk utility. Rather, you should do a backup of the software on your hard disk before any disk problem occurs. Then do another backup at the time you suspect a hard disk problem has materialised. If necessary use a file recovery utility like TechTool Pro 2.5.5 or higher, Data Rescue or as a last resort Norton Utilities (unless you have FileSaver turned on in which case Norton Utilities should be your first file recovery utility). But the most important thing is never use the suspect disk to write to itself in case one of the files has been corrupted in some way which could multiply the disk problem many times over and so increase the chances of losing your files. Then reinitialise the hard disk, reinstall a fresh copy of the system software, and transfer the relevant backup software to the hard disk followed by a fresh rebuild of the desktop files. This should solve all disk problems. As Warren Stevens, a US Macintosh enthusiast, said to MacFixIt.com on 13 November 2000:

"In truth I prefer not to use any disk repair utility. If the disk is flakey I prefer to back up the data and do a rebuild. By keeping a master build as a disk image and using it with Apple Software Restore I can "push" an image onto a disk in under 30 minutes. The image is of course, prepared with all setting, fully defragmented. This process also reformats a disk - the best way to fix a flakey disk.'

This sounds like pretty serious stuff especially if it is just a minor disk problem and one that can be fixed by any one of the available disk utilities!

NOTE: If you have lost some important files on your suspect hard disk and you want to recover them, always use the file recovery feature first before using the volume recovery feature. Your aim is to recover as many critical files as you can before salvaging the volume. This advice is also supported by computer giants like Apple Inc. (formerly Apple Computer, Inc.)

Which disk utility software should I go for?

We recommend that you use the correct version of Disk First Aid for your particular system software (see System OS9 Stability page for further details). It comes free with your computer and should be able to fix over 90 per cent of disk problems.

In the situation where you see the dreaded '...there are problems, but Disk First aid cannot repair them', you will need a more powerful disk-repair utility. For the maximum probability of success in repairing disk problems, try to get your hands on all three disk utilities described above. If you cannot buy all three disk utilities, we suggest that you purchase a copy of Disk Warrior 2.x or higher. And if you have a copy of Norton Utilities handy as well, use it to check for data/resource file corruptions and to defragment your hard disk using the Speed Disk part of the software.

But if you want to check for a much wider range of problems than any of the above two utilities combined can do - including many of the hardware-related problems - and repair them reasonably well, then you can't go wrong with purchasing the latest version of TechTool Pro.

If you want independent advice on this issue of choosing the right disk utility, here is what one Macintosh enthusiast, David Swift, had to say to MacFixIt about the three disk utilities on 13 November 2000:

"If newbies are scanning this topic for a magic bullet, it's Disk Warrior. It's easily the best investment for your first "high quality disk repair utility" dollar.

'We repair 20-30 cranky hard disks a month. Norton has always batted around.750 [75 per cent of disk problems] although recently it's been in a slump. In two back-to-back cases it was the last program [Norton Utilities] that ran before the disks became toast. I haven't run it since except for file recovery.

'TechTool? Got it (Applecare version) it's amusingly belled and whistled. And ponderous. Not my style, although since I get $75/hr it should be.

'So far Disk Warrior is battling about.950. It's performed thus far 6 "miracles" of rescuing disks, including an unbacked 2 gigs at a law office, when all other utilities fell faint. Norton or TT haven't come close to this sort of magic for me.

'Above all DW has never been implicated when a bad situation turned historic. I'm not saying Norton or TT *caused* final destruction who knows? but my stats indicate DW is hands-down the first utility to buy, the first utility to run."

Perhaps the main drawback with Disk Warrior is the inability to check for block errors before rebuilding and replacing the directory structure. A bad block on the hard drive could prevent Disk Warrior from achieving its goal and thus making the initial problem much worse. But so long as the hard drive is in perfect condition, Disk Warrior is the perfect accompaniment to any disk repair utility.

Also Disk Warrior can't recover individual files in the event it can't rebuild the directory structure. You will need TechTool Pro to do the job properly. However a more powerful file recovery tool is Data Rescue.

Whatever disk utility you choose, the most powerful and effective way of solving all the world's worse disk problems is to always have the latest backup copy of all your software and data on an independent and reliable disk(s). No disk utility is perfect and you cannot rely on any or all of them to get you out of every imaginable problem. You have to make it part of your monthly or weekly routine to backup everything you've got. Who knows? You may thank yourself a thousand times that you did!

A new entrant in the disk utility industry?

Now that Symantec has made it official Norton Utilities will be ditched after Apple released OSX Tiger version 10.4.x, another utility has come to replace it from another competitor.

Known as Drive Genius, this utility attempts to have the Swiss Army Knife of tools like TechTool Pro and yet retain the simplicity of Disk Warrior. It rebuilds the Catalog B-tree structure like Disk Warrior and TechTool Pro can, and defragments your hard drive in a similar way to Norton Utilities.

Strangely Drive Genius cannot deframent individual files like TechTool can, but it can do a general drive defragmentation just as good as Norton Utilities.

Drive Genius has a powerful duplicate feature for creating an exact clone of any volum, including the bootable types by working at the device level rather than making a file-by-file copy.

A useful repartition tool for shrinking or expanding the size of your drive's current partitions or create a new partition without destroying your data is available.

And the ability to edit the sectors of your hard drive like Norton Utilities use to do with its Disk Editor is a welcome addition for those who know what they are doing.

While the rest of the tools are similar to TechTool Pro in performing hardware tests with one of the tools the same as Apple's Disk Utility when it comes to initialising a volume.

Is it better than say Techtool Pro and Disk Warrior?

Unless it is priced lower than the other two, Drive Genius is entering a market already catered for and well-established by the other two disk utilities. It has to provide something significantly different to compete the the others.

One positive of Drive Genius is the easier interface design compared to TechTool Pro. The other is the ability to repartition a volume without damaging your data (a feature seen in PartitionMagic for PC).

Beyond that, Drive Genius would not provide a hughly significant advantage over the others. In particular the ability to duplicate a volume, initialise a volume, edit sectors, perform SMART checks on a hard drive, testing some hardware problems, and its thorough shredding/erasing feature can be found in freeware tools available from other software developers.

So it will come down to price and how well Drive Genius can do its job compared to its competitors.

If the price is right and does its job very well, Drive Genius may have a chance to compete well.

What's not a good sign as the following quote from a user who has tried Drive Genius on his OSX computer:

"After installing a demo version of a software app, my system quit with a kernel panic. Reboots were not successful - more kernel panics. Booted from Safe Mode and removed the offending app and Repaired Permissions. Thought I try out my newly purchased Drive Genius, so I started up from their disk and was unable to Verify, Repair or Replace - kept getting the message "This drive needs to be repaired. Prosoft Support had no answer other than to say on some systems Drive Genius "might be" too sensitive. Ran Disk Warrior and it rebuilt the directory quickly and I've had no further problems."

The makers of Drive Makers will need to provide a response to this quote to explain what could be happening here.