In the life of a Windows machine, nothing is certain but malware sweeps and disk defragmentation. Both chores are deployed regularly in hopes of holding off bit rot, and each has a knack for sucking up resources and generally getting in everyone's way-despite ongoing vendor efforts to tuck these tasks into the background.
I suspect that anti-malware efforts will always be messy-at least until application whitelisting tactics like the ones that Andrew Garcia discusses here become more broadly accepted. However, there may be new hope on the disk fragmentation front, in the form of Diskeeper's Diskeeper 2010 software.
Diskeeper, the company responsible for the disk defrag tool that ships along with Windows, is out to attack disk fragmentation by preventing it from occurring in the first place. Diskeeper 2010 ships with a new feature called IntelliWrite that works by intercepting disk writes and carrying them out with a focus on keeping files contiguous.
By keeping fragmentation to a minimum-the company claims that up 85 percent of fragmentation can be avoided-Diskeeper 2010 promises to cut power consumption, disk wear and redundant I/O operations. Cutting down on unnecessary I/O can be particularly beneficial when dealing with virtual machines situated on shared storage, or with systems running on solid-state drives, with their inherent write-cycle limitations.
This all depends, of course, on how regularly IT administrators conduct disk defragmentation jobs on the Windows desktops and servers under their care. Opinions on the exact performance implications of disk fragmentation fall all over the map, and much depends on a company's particular environment. Few deny, however, that disk fragmentation catches up with all Windows machines eventually.
With that said, IT administrators who turn frequently to disk defragmentation tools should have a look at Diskeeper 2010, which is available in 30-day trial versions for each of its editions: Professional, Pro Premier, Server, EnterpriseServer and Administrator. For a breakdown of each of these versions and their prices, check out this comparison page.
For this review, I tested the Pro Premier with HyperFast edition, which sells for $99.95. The least costly edition, Professional, sells for $59.95 per seat. All editions include the IntelliWrite feature. I conducted most of my Diskeeper 2010 tests on Windows XP SP3 virtual machines with NTFS-formatted drives running under the VMware vSphere 4 setup in our lab.
Since Diskeeper 2010's IntelliWrite feature works by inserting itself between Windows and users' write operations, I was interested in figuring out how much overhead Diskeeper added in this new, more active role. I measured the overheard by running the suite of hard drive benchmarks from Futuremark's PCMark05 both with and without IntelliWrite enabled. Over multiple runs, I found that the overhead introduced by IntelliWrite hovered around an acceptable 2 percent.
I was also interested in measuring the amount of fragmentation prevention that IntelliWrite would buy me. After casting around for a repeatable means of fragmenting my test disk, I settled on extracting all the files and folders from a Windows XP ISO image onto a defragmented test drive. I then recorded the number of low-performing fragments as reported by Diskeeper, deleted the extracted files and manually defragmented the disk. Over multiple runs, with IntelliWrite enabled and disabled, I found that my disk ended up with 87 percent fewer low-performing fragments on the IntelliWrite runs.
For the fragmentation that remained following my IntelliWrite-enabled runs, a feature introduced in an earlier version of Diskeeper, InvisiTasking, was ready to sweep in and finish the job. InvisiTasking monitors the utilization of the machine on which Diskeeper is installed, and jumps in to defragment files when the system is idle. I had automatic defragmentation turned off for most of my IntelliWrite test runs, but when I ran the two in tandem I found that what fragmentation IntelliWrite left behind was dealt with by InvisiTasking within 5 minutes.
The graphical interface for Diskeeper 2010 sports a status dashboard that's packed with information about disk status, about which resources are available for use by InvisiTasking and about the rate at which IntelliWrite is avoiding disk fragmentation. In fact, I found the interface a bit too packed with information-all of the information on the dashboard is arranged on a single page, and I had to do a lot of scrolling to find the information I was after. The dashboard page contains links for jumping to different sections, but I'd rather see the whole thing exploded out into something like a navigation tree.
I found the properties dialogs for my individual disks easier to navigate, and appreciated its options for scheduling when to enable or disable InvisiTasking.