Defragment your disk—even the Master File Table

A common point of performance degradation in Windows NT Server is hard disk subsystems. Fragmentation occurs naturally over time and can scrub speed from your servers at an alarming rate. Defragmentation tools have been available since the days of MS-DOS, but several vendors have recently introduced disk defragmenters that specifically optimize NT file systems.

Raxco Software's PerfectDisk 2000, which supports Windows 2000 and NT 4.0, lets you optimize the NT file system. The software also supports Windows 9x's FAT32 file systems—a feature sure to please mixed Microsoft shops. You can use PerfectDisk to optimize NT 4.0's directory structure, pagefile.sys, and Master File Table (MFT).

I tested PerfectDisk on a 9.1GB Ultra SCSI disk that I installed on a small server. The disk had a 4GB C:\ partition and a 5GB D:\ partition. The PerfectDisk installation program, similar to Symantec's Norton Speed Disk 5.0, gives you the option to install a "GUI-less" version of the software's engine. Raxco provides this feature for administrators who want to roll out PerfectDisk to corporate desktops without giving end users the ability to initiate defragmentation runs. PerfectDisk installs its optimization engine as an NT service.

PerfectDisk's interface, which Figure 1 shows, is both intuitive and feature-rich. You can choose from two analysis tools: Quick Scan provides a snapshot of your hard disk, and the more comprehensive disk analyzer provides detailed data (e.g., MFT examination, number of fragments per file). Unfortunately, you can't jump between different disk and partition analyses. For example, if you analyze your C:\ partition, then your D:\ partition, you can't return to your C analysis without reanalyzing the C:\ partition.

The software lets you create profiles for various types of workstations or servers. A profile is a template that you use to tailor your defragmentation schedule and to direct which parts of the hard disk you want the software to defragment. PerfectDisk's handy Network Scheduler lets you perform easy network scheduling of workstations and servers running the PerfectDisk service. You can use the Network Scheduler's modifiable All Partitions profile to schedule defragmentation runs on remote machines running PerfectDisk.

PerfectDisk offers three defragmentation methods: a normal defragmentation run; Turbo Defragment, which uses more system resources but finishes the optimization more quickly than the other methods; and Offline Defragment, which attempts to defragment a mounted partition's pagefile.sys file, MFT, and NT directory structure. You can't lock or unmount your bootable partition for an offline defragmentation. If PerfectDisk can't unmount the partition, the software asks for permission to schedule an offline defragmentation at the next system restart. If you schedule an automatic offline defragmentation run using a profile, PerfectDisk warns the user of the impending shutdown.

I created a fairly fragmented (i.e., 37 percent) C:\ partition with 7182 fragmented files that used 2GB of a 4GB partition. The normal defragmentation run finished in 40 minutes, which is quick for a first-time defragmentation run. Subsequent runs took only a few minutes. CPU and memory usage during the runs were very reasonable at 10 to 20 percent utilization and 10MB, respectively. Next, I installed PerfectDisk on a server running Win2K and attempted to defragment a highly fragmented volume that had less than 10 percent available disk space. In its normal defragmentation mode, PerfectDisk defragmented the volume in 2 hours, which is fast considering the low disk space.

PerfectDisk's use of profiles in network scheduling is particularly impressive. Although the product's directory and pagefile optimization routine isn't up to Speed Disk standards, Raxco has created a worthy defragmentation tool for administrators of both homogeneous and heterogeneous Windows environments. The product's pricing is comparable to that of Speed Disk and Executive Software's Diskeeper.

PerfectDisk 2000
Contact: Raxco Software * 301-527-0803 or 800-546-9728
Web: http://www.raxco.com
Price: $44 per workstation; $219 per server (quantity discounts available)
Decision Summary:
Pros: Easy-to-use, feature-rich interface; easy network scheduling; multiple OS support
Cons: Reboot for directory and pagefile optimization required; switching between analysis views is inconvenient