Modern hard disks and OSs are pretty reliable. Generally speaking, they just work. But sometimes things don't go as planned (or designed), and you need to bring out the big guns. Paragon Software's Hard Disk Manager 12 Professional is a very big gun and deserves a place in your tool box. It can help you repair and manage physical and virtual Windows workstations throughout their life cycle.

Installation

Hard Disk Manager comes in a single executable, which you can install on Windows 2000 Professional (Win2K Pro) and later, including Windows 8. The requirements include Internet Explorer (IE) 5.0 or later, an Intel Pentium or compatible 300MHz or higher processor, 128MB of memory, and a hard disk with at least 250MB of free space. Licensing is handled by a product key and serial number combination. Although not installed by default, the installation executable includes the GPT Loader for hard drives that exceed 2TB and the HotCore Driver, which enables Win2K Pro machines to back up and copy locked volumes.

Installation on my Dell Inspiron laptop took only a few minutes. Afterward, I looked through each menu. It didn't take me long to realize that this product is absolutely chock full of useful features.

As Figure 1 shows, the main screen is laid out with the hard disks logically displayed. A variety of information is provided for each one, including the type of file system, volume size, partition size, used disk space, and free disk space.

 Figure 1: Hard Disk Managers Easy-to-Navigate UI
Figure 1: Hard Disk Manager's Easy-to-Navigate UI

Right-clicking one of the disks brings up a menu of more than 20 tools and options, which is another indicator of just how many features are available in this product. Just from this menu alone, you can:

  • Back up or restore a partition
  • Burn the partition to a CD-ROM, DVD, or Blu-ray Disc
  • Format or delete a partition
  • Move or resize a partition
  • Convert or "downgrade" the file system to an earlier NTFS version or FAT
  • Change the cluster size, serial number, or partition ID
  • Wipe a partition or clear the "free space" that appears empty in the GUI but might have remnant data from earlier file activity
  • Test the disk surface and check file system integrity
  • View and edit disk sectors

I spent some time testing all the product's features and was impressed with the simplicity that the wizards brought to what could be considered complex tasks.

Data Backup

In an ideal situation, you should have a separate hard disk to back up your important data. This protects you from a total hard disk failure and from "user accidents," where a file is deleted or changed. However, most computers are shipped from the factory with only one hard disk. This is where the Backup Capsule comes in. It lets you back up the primary partition to a dedicated place on your hard disk. Although this won't protect you from a total hard disk failure, it will protect you from user accidents. If the primary partition somehow becomes really corrupt, you can even boot from the Backup Capsule by pressing F1 (or another function key of your choosing). Creating a Backup Capsule on a 130GB drive with 40GB of data took about 30 minutes on my laptop and required one reboot.

To protect against total disk failure, you can choose to back up to another local disk, a network server, a CD-ROM, a DVD, or even an FTP server. These backups can be scheduled to occur during system startup, at logon, daily, weekly, or monthly. I found the scheduling to be very feature rich. For example, you can schedule a daily backup with a specific start date, set it to reoccur every X days, and have it stop on a specific date.

Hard Disk Manager also includes classic backup functionality. Called Smart Backups, this feature can protect disks, partitions, email messages (Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, or Windows Mail), media files (e.g., photos, videos) stored in users' folders, documents stored in users' folders, and more. You can choose to exclude or include specific file types. The backup wizard can run the backup immediately, schedule it for later, or create a script in the Paragon Script Language. Saving a backup routine in the form of a script makes it easier to transport the backup job from one computer to another.

Partition Management

If you've been working in the IT field for a long time, you'll no doubt remember FDISK. This handy MS DOS utility lets you create and delete partitions on a physical hard drive. One pitfall of this utility was that once the partition was created, it couldn't be resized without first deleting, then re-creating the partition -- a procedure that ultimately erased all your data. Hard Disk Manager overcomes this limitation and lets you move and resize hard drive partitions without losing any data. I successfully carved out a new partition and created a G drive using the built-in wizard.

Other Cool Tools

As I mentioned previously, Hard Disk Manager is full of useful features. Here are some of the other tools that you might find useful:

  • Migrate OS. Is your hard drive full? Simply purchase a new larger drive, install it into your computer, and use the Migrate OS feature to copy everything to the new drive. Remove the old drive, and you're set.
  • Express Resize. If one partition has no free space but an adjacent partition has space to spare, you can use the Express Resize feature to move free space from one partition to another.
  • Disk Editor. For those hard drives that are really messed up, you might need to look at the hexadecimal data or the boot sector. The Disk Editor is an advanced tool that gives you the ability to dig into these areas if needed.
  •   Virtual Disk. I love virtualization for the same reasons everyone else does. But my favorite reason is that it makes disaster recovery so much easier. Virtualization makes disaster recovery a file-restore operation instead of a server-restore operation. The Virtual Disk feature gives you the ability to tweak the virtual hard drives as part of the recovery operation. Microsoft Virtual PC, Parallels, VirtualBox, and VMware virtual drives can all be mounted and treated just like a physical drive.
  • Boot Media Builder. The Boot Media Builder helps you create Linux or Windows Preinstallation Environment (WinPE) bootable media. This is a separate product installation, but it uses the same licensing product key and serial number combination as the parent product. You must have the Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK) for Windows 7 installed. A link to it is provided, so finding the right file to download is a snap. Once installed, a wizard walks you through creating bootable media that you can use to start up and recover your PC if the OS fails to boot.

Missing Functionality

With all of the great features in Hard Disk Manager, I was surprised to find that it doesn't include a basic undelete utility. The advent of the Recycle Bin has really helped users have "one more chance" before permanently deleting a file. However, after the Recycle Bin has been emptied or you remove files by pressing Shift+Delete, the files are more difficult to recover. Although there are free applications available that can restore deleted files on your hard disk, why not include this useful feature in a product as robust as Hard Disk Manager? This is a big miss in my opinion and keeps this product from getting a perfect score of five stars. However, even with this feature missing, I would highly recommend Hard Disk Manager to technicians looking for a tool to manage and repair hard disks.

Hard Disk Manager 12 Professional
PROS: Chock full of useful features, including the ability to back up files, folders, partitions, and hard disks; virtual hard drive mounting; raw hex editing
CONS: No undelete capability
RATING: 4.5 out of 5
PRICE: $99.95
RECOMMENDATION: If you work on desktop or server hardware, this is a must have in any PC technician's toolbox. With the exception of an undelete utility, Hard Disk Manager has everything you need to maintain good hard disk health.
CONTACT: Paragon Software • 888-347-5462