Effortless systems switching

Juggling OSs is a challenging task. You might run Windows 2000 or Windows NT as your primary OS but perform daily tasks that require Windows 9x, OS/2, or even Linux. Choosing file systems for your partitions is also a tricky decision, and your OS can’t modify a partition without wiping out data. PowerQuest's PartitionMagic Pro 6.0 is up to these challenges.

PartitionMagic Pro manages and modifies disk partitions more effectively than DOS's Fdisk utility or Win2K’s Disk Management tool. The product dynamically creates, copies, moves, and resizes partitions without affecting your data. PartitionMagic Pro can convert partitions from virtually any file system to any other—including FAT32 to FAT and NTFS to FAT conversions that your OS can’t handle without the product. The product also lets you cleanly manage, boot, and switch between multiple OSs—Win2K, NT, Windows Me, Win9x, OS/2, and Linux—on one PC.

PartitionMagic runs under Win2K, NT with Service Pack 4 (SP4) and later, Windows Me, Win9x, and DOS. Your Win2K system needs 64MB of memory and your NT system needs 32MB of memory to run the product. This product version is incompatible with Win2K Server and NT Server. (However, PowerQuest’s ServerMagic offers PartitionMagic Pro’s functionality for these OSs.)

To test the product, I set up a Pentium III workstation with two EIDE hard disks: a 4GB master drive and a 2GB slave drive. I installed Win2K Professional on the master drive and left the slave drive unpartitioned. I performed a simple, straightforward installation under Win2K. Installation creates a set of rescue disks that you can use to boot your PC and run PartitionMagic Pro if your boot partition is ever inaccessible. PartitionMagic 5.01 worked with Win2K only through these rescue disks. However, PartitionMagic 6.0 and PartitionMagic Pro 6.0 support Win2K natively.

Loading PartitionMagic Pro on Win2K resulted in a display of the program’s GUI, which Figure 1 shows. The left pane shows a treeview of your hard disk and partitions. The right panes display partition disk maps as visual representations of disk size and type. The bottom pane presents icons for PartitionMagic Pro’s wizards. The wizards guide you through five key functions: creating a new partition, resizing an existing partition, redistributing disk space, merging partitions, and copying a partition. You access all other commands from drop-down and pop-up menus.

I ran the Create New Partition Wizard to partition and format my slave drive. PartitionMagic Pro asked whether I wanted to use the partition to store an OS or data files. Choosing to store an OS results in the partition being formatted as a primary volume. However, I chose the second option: using the partition for data. PartitionMagic Pro then asked which file system to use for the partition: FAT, FAT32, NTFS, Linux ext2, or HPFS. I chose FAT. I chose to format the partition as primary rather than logical (i.e., for storing data within an extended partition). Finally, the wizard wanted to know how much space to allocate the partition, and I told it to use all available disk space.

PartitionMagic Pro displayed my selections and a before-and-after view of my partition. The product batches and previews the commands, then lets you cancel the process, add commands, or run the commands. The commands run in one process. PartitionMagic Pro set up my new disk in less than 5 minutes. As a test, I copied several files and directories to the new partition. The files and directories copied successfully.

New in PartitionMagic Pro 6.0 is an Undelete feature that can restore a deleted partition. To test this feature, I deleted the partition on my slave disk, then used Win2K’s Disk Management tool to verify the deletion. Next, I selected Undelete from PartitionMagic Pro’s Operations drop-down menu. The product scanned my disk and presented a list of recoverable partitions, including the partition I had deleted. I selected that partition and clicked OK. The undelete process took a few minutes. I opened Windows Explorer to verify that the partition was restored and that its files and directories were readable.

PartitionMagic Pro can convert between almost any two file systems. To test this process, I right-clicked my 2GB FAT-formatted slave drive in the treeview pane and selected Convert from the resulting menu. I could convert the partition to FAT32, NTFS, or HPFS, and I could either keep the partition as a primary volume or convert it to a logical volume. I selected FAT32 and left the partition as a primary volume. After I applied the changes, I confirmed that the partition’s files and directories were intact. I right-clicked the partition again, chose Convert, and this time, converted to NTFS. (PartitionMagic Pro uses Win2K’s or NT’s Convert command to convert partitions to NTFS.) After this conversion, I right-clicked the partition again and converted from NTFS to FAT32, then back to FAT. After each conversion, I checked the partition’s files for readability.

To let you adeptly manage multiple OSs on one PC, the product keeps each OS secure in an individual partition. I wanted to set up my system for a Win2K and NT dual-boot, so I created a new partition to run NT on my master drive. I decided to create this partition manually rather than use the Create New Partition Wizard. To do so, I first needed to resize my Win2K partition to create enough space for the NT partition. I right-clicked the Win2K partition and selected Resize/Move. I then dragged markers on a bar graph to resize the partition to 1800MB; you can also type the size you want in a text box. I then chose whether to create the free space before or after the existing partition. I left about 2GB of space before the Win2K partition. After I applied the changes, the product rebooted the PC and ran a batch command outside of Win2K to resize the partition.

After the reboot, I opened PartitionMagic Pro, right-clicked the new free space, and clicked Format to format the space as an NTFS partition. I then right-clicked the partition and chose Set Active from the resulting pop-up menu to activate the partition so that I could boot into the partition with an NT setup CD-ROM. After the process had completed, I rebooted the PC and installed NT on the new partition. I then installed PartitionMagic Pro under NT.

When you run multiple OSs on one PC, PartitionMagic Pro offers several methods for switching between them. You can change which partition is active, or more conveniently, you can use the PQBoot command. From the Windows Start menu, I selected Programs, PartitionMagic, PQBoot to execute the command. A command-prompt window opened and presented a menu that showed the two disk partitions, numbered 1 and 2. I typed 2 to boot into the Win2K partition. After PartitionMagic Pro rebooted my PC and after Win2K loaded, I ran PQBoot from the Win2K partition and this time chose partition 1, which rebooted me back into NT.

You can also use a feature called BootMagic to create a menu that lets you choose your OS at startup. BootMagic runs only on FAT and FAT32 partitions, so I first used the Create New Partition Wizard to make a 40MB FAT partition. I then installed BootMagic from the PartitionMagic Pro CD-ROM. A BootMagic configuration menu displayed the two bootable partitions. At this menu, I specified how long the boot menu would display during setup—I chose 30 seconds—and which partition would be the default—I chose the Win2K partition. I rebooted the PC and the BootMagic menu appeared with the two choices: Win2K and NT. I chose NT. After NT loaded, I rebooted and chose Win2K at the BootMagic menu; Win2K started. I rebooted a third time, waited 30 seconds, and Win2K loaded as the default OS.

PartitionMagic Pro offers three features that the standard version doesn’t offer. I reviewed only PartitionMagic Pro; administrators will find its extra features useful. The first feature, Delete and Shred, is an alternative to the Delete command. The shredding capability is crucial to organizations that need to ensure that files aren’t readable on the hard disks of the old PCs they throw out. PartitionMagic Pro’s shredding function deletes a partition so that it's virtually unrecoverable. To do so, the program overwrites the partition’s clusters with ones and zeros. I right-clicked my slave drive partition, clicked Delete, and selected Delete and Shred. When I used the product’s Undelete command to try to salvage the partition, PartitionMagic couldn’t detect the partition.

In a process similar to recording a macro, the product’s ScriptBuilder feature generates a script file from the commands you give during a PartitionMagic Pro session. I selected Scripting, then Record from the Tools menu. I then resized, labeled, converted, deleted, and created partitions. After I turned off the recording feature (and told PartitionMagic Pro to cancel the commands), a ScriptBuilder window appeared and displayed a script that contained each command I had given. I saved the script and ran the script file. The script worked smoothly to automatically resize, label, convert, delete, and create partitions just as I had instructed. The scripting feature is useful to administrators who need to perform the same procedure on multiple PCs. For example, if you need to convert all PCs in your organization from FAT to NTFS volumes, ScriptBuilder can save you considerable time and effort.

You can also use PartitionMagic Pro to modify partitions on remote PCs. The Network Access feature, which consists of the Remote Agent and the Network Boot Disk Builder, lets you connect to networked PCs through TCP/IP. To test this function, I set up two networked NT 4.0 Workstation computers side-by-side. I used one as a master PC and the other as a remote PC.

I installed PartitionMagic on the master PC and ran the Network Boot Disk Builder to create a network boot disk for the remote PC. The program presented me with a list of NIC drivers from which I selected the remote PC’s driver. I chose to let the DHCP server assign an IP address to the remote PC; however, you can enter a static address instead. I then used the network boot disk to boot the remote PC. On the remote computer, a PowerQuest Remote Agent screen appeared with a message that the PC was waiting for a connection. The screen also displayed the IP address. On my master PC, I ran the Connect Remote Agent command from PartitionMagic. I entered the remote computer’s IP address, then clicked Connect. The remote PC displayed a message that it was transferring data, and its status changed to show that the remote PC had connected to the master PC.

PartitionMagic Pro added a selection, Remote Disk 1, to in my master PC’s directory tree. I right-clicked this selection to see a menu with a few available commands. I ran each command, changing the partition’s label and hiding, formatting, deleting, and recreating remote PC partitions. You can sever the connection either from the remote PC or from the master PC. I selected the master PC’s Disconnect Remote Agent command.

I found the Remote Agent feature handy but clumsy. The feature also disappointed me because it lacks several basic commands, such as Move, Resize, and Copy. The vendor explained to me that the product doesn’t include these commands in the Remote Agent feature because the commands take too long to run over a network connection.

A 150-page user manual and several PDFs explain the software and offer a primer on hard disks and partitioning. You can email and call PowerQuest for free technical support (although the support number is a toll call). Support technicians clearly and concisely answered several questions I emailed to them.

Despite my minor disappointment with the Remote Agent feature, PartitionMagic Pro performed without a hitch. The product is also relatively easy to use whether you use the wizards or run commands manually. PartitionMagic Pro’s shredding, scripting, and network-access capabilities are valuable features. The program proved highly reliable and well worth its price.

PartitionMagic Pro 6.0
Contact: PowerQuest • 801-437-8900 or 800-379-2566
Web: http://www.powerquest.com
Price: $69.95
Decision Summary:
Pros: Powerful, reliable, and easy to use; includes useful extra features
Cons: Remote Agent feature lacks key functions; incompatible with Windows 2000 Server and Windows NT Server