Drive Genius 3.1 Diagnostic Maintenance And Repair Suite Review – The ‘Book Mystique

Back in the early–mid-’90s, when I was a newbie Mac user and the Classic Mac OS was king, the undisputed Mac disk diagnostic and repair application of reference was Norton Utilities. There were a few challengers, such as AlSoft’s excellent drive optimization, directory diagnosis and rebuild app. DiskWarrior, and Micromat’s Tech Tool Pro, but none ever gained nearly the traction with Mac users that “Norton” and its SystemWorks suite of companion disk and system tool applications once enjoyed, and anyone serious about maintaining and troubleshooting their Mac needed to have it in their suite of software tools.

Norton Utilities actually made the transition to OS X in the early ‘oughts, but developer Symantec was by then losing interest in the Mac, with the program finally discontinued in 2004 (the Windows version continued, and is still available), leaving a market void open.

Fast–forward to 2011. Today the Mac OS do-all disk diagnostic and repair application of reference is Prosoft Engineering’s Drive Genius, which first arrived on the scene at Macworld Expo 2005. Like Norton Utilities for the Mac, Drive Genius is actually a suite of application tools for performing a variety of diagnostic, maintenance, and repair tasks, plus other cool features that were never available with Norton, such as disk cloning, disk defragmentation, nondestructive repartitioning, and more. Mac OS X is a lot more robust than the Classic Mac OS ever was, so a substantial refocusing of tasks this sort of software is capable of performing was necessary in order to keep it relevant, and Prosoft has done been successful at that. Drive Genius is not quite the “must have” tool that Norton Utilities was back in the day, but if you try it out, I’m guessing you will want to keep it around.

Having been in development now for more than half a decade, Drive Genius can be considered mature and highly refined software, and having used pretty much every version over the years, I can affirm that the recently released version 3.1 is the best Drive Genius yet.

Drive Genius 3 is built on the same architecture as the original Drive Genius, so it’s evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but the developers have done a fine job of keeping it current with the evolution of the Mac OS itself. One of the major upgrades version 3 was that it now runs as a 64–bit application when used with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or later on Macs with compatible 64-bit processors. Drive Genius 3 also now offers RAID support.

The latest incremental release is Drive Genius 3.1, with the big news with this update being that the system boot volume can now be defragmented without the need of a DVD or alternate startup volume, ergo:”live” defrag. Prosoft says that the Defrag disk module is the most popular Drive Genius feature cited by users, and the live defrag enhancement makes it much more convenient to use, (and likely to be used). More on that in a moment. Version 3.1 will also boot previously unsupported systems including the iMac Intel i3, i5, i7 Processor, iMac Intel Core 2 Duo Processor (October 2009 and later) MacBook Pro Intel i5, i7 Processor MacBook Pro Intel Core 2 Duo (October 2009 and later) MacBook (June 2010 and later) Mac mini (June 2010 and later) Mac Pro Intel Xeon Nehalem or Westmere microarchitecture, and MacBook Air (Oct 2010 and later).

Another new feature that was introduced with the Drive Genius 3 release, DrivePulse, which the program automatically installs in the Finder menu bar, has also been enhanced in version 3.1.

DrivePulse helps you monitor the overall health of your hard drive, and potentially alert you to nascent issues before they become severe, possibly causing data loss. DrivePulse monitors your hardware (via SMART and bit block testing), volume consistency (by verifying volume structures), and volume fragmentation (also by examining volume structures), and automates the entire process so that you never have to remember to run this test manually. DrivePulse now verifies the preference files of the logged-in user and the global preferences located on the startup volume, displays visual error and warning status hints in its menu, and provides for up to a month of DrivePulse event history to be browsed.

The Repartition module has also been tweaked and enhanced in version 3.1, adding the option to add HFSX volumes. UFS volume support has been removed, as Apple is moving away from supporting UFS.

The relatively new DriveSlim module facilitates and automates the process of weeding obsolete, unnecessary, and duplicate files that are almost certainly hogging space on your drive. Through DriveSlim’s various slimming routines, Drive Genius 3 will detect and recommend files that can be deleted from your system to help free space on your hard drive. DriveSlim can help you determine what files can be deleted when your hard drive gets near its full capacity. DriveSlim incorporates built-in backup, allowing you to back up any and all files that you have marked for deletion in DriveSlim and save them to a CD, DVD or external hard drive, in case you ever want them back. For expert users only, DriveSlim can also find and delete files that the system determines are not associated with an application (proceed with extreme caution).

The Shred tool was enhanced with the version 3.0 release and now shreds individual files or complete folder hierarchies as well as volumes and disks, plus there’s a new single-pass zero option. The Repair tool finds corrupted preference files and performs additional volume repair and rebuild actions.

Other returning Drive Genius features include Directory Repair (able to repair corrupt file system content, and its “Rebuild” function will recreate the drive directory’s Catalog B-Tree – the file containing information on where files are stored), device Duplicate (or volume cloning – my favorite backup medium), integrity testing, performance benchmarking, secure data erase, data shred, drive initialization, Sector Edit, drive information, and email notifications.

The Drive Genius’s Duplicate module copies all the information from the source drive to the destination drive. A copy of the source drive is made to the destination, so if you back up your startup drive, a bootable copy of it is created, with all information such as file permissions preserved. Unlike some backup programs that copy file-by-file, Drive Genius utilizes a method called device copy. Using device copy enables you to retain every detail of the original drive, from bootablity to the icon locations. Device copy is also a lot faster than the traditional file-by-file backup.

Drive Genius 3 also supports duplication of drives and volumes. For drive copy, Drive Genius will duplicate an identical copy of the drive. For volume copy, an identical volume is first duplicated, and then Drive Genius will apply a proprietary resizing technology to expand the volume size to the maximum, so no space is wasted. Duplication can be to another drive or to a disk image file.

Note that Drive Genius can only duplicate HFS+ volumes, and can perform only block-level cloning rather then file-level cloning, which means that it is incapable of doing incremental synchronizations of an existing clone (which is as I noted above my preferred file backup method). Instead it must start from creating a new one each time the routine is run, which is OK for one-off cloning, but a pain for doing routine clone backups. It’s better than having no cloning tool, but I prefer the donationware Carbon Copy Cloner or commercial software SuperDuper for this task — a feature that Prosoft could well focus on for improvement and enhancement in future Drive Genius versions.

As I noted above, Drive Genius should be perceived as a suite of application tools rather than a single program. Most of its modules can be run from the active boot volume, while a few require you to boot from the application DVD, which can serve as an emergency boot volume if you’re encountering serious problems. I detest booting from optical discs, but the occasional need to do so is one reason why I’m unenthusiastic about Apple’s evident determination to phase out internal optical drives from its portable systems, and probably even from desktop models further into the future.

Installing Drive Genius 3.1 is simplicity itself. Just mount the DVD and drag the application file to your Applications Folder. Enter the serial number (found on a yellow card in the box with the disk -– Prosoft implores you to keep the latter in a safe place where it won’t be lost). There is no hard copy manual or even a quick start guide, but Drive Genius ships with a thorough, nicely illustrated 100 page PDF user’s manual, which includes many illustrations and graphs explaining the program’s various functions.

I was eager to try out the enhanced Defrag feature, and its newfound capability to run from the active boot disk is a huge improvement. In the interest of research, I did try booting from the Drive Genius 3.1DVD, which took just shy of 15 minutes on my 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook. My preference is to install Drive Genius on a bootable remote volume like an external hard drive, and perform maintenance on the internal boot drive from there.

I had never defragmented either of the two partitions on the MacBook’s 160 GB drive, and as I had suspected, after just short of two years service, data on the drive was indeed substantially fragmented.

I proceeded to defragment both partitions, one being 116.25 GB, and the other 43.31 GB usable capacity. Drive Genius gives you a running readout of what is happening as the defragmentation proceeds.

It’s not a quick process. The smaller one took less than a half an hour for the defrag run, and the larger one just about exactly one hour, which is quicker than defrag runs I’ve done on other machines in the past. I suspect that 64-bit support does help speed this function a bit, although hard drive speed (in this case, 5400 RPM) would be a controlling factor. The defrag operation complete, my partitions now look like this:

Prosoft recommends that you do a file backup before using Drive Genius modules like Defrag and Repartition, which is prudent advice. I did a precautionary global backup of both partitions in anticipation of testing Defrag for peace of mind, but the two defrag runs went smoothly and without a hitch.

The only dissonant note was that my chaotic array of icons on the Desktop was transformed into an orderly grid when the program rewrote the defragmented Desktop file, leaving it looking like this.

I was obliged to spend about 20 minutes restoring it to my preferred arrangement, in which I know where everything is.

The upside is that Finder response does seem noticeably quicker after the defrag. Drive defragmentation is somewhat controversial in the OS X era, and Apple maintains that it’s not necessary. OS X itself defragments files that of less than 20MB in size, that have more than eight fragments, and
the file is not in use but does not do so files that don’t satisfy those three criteria, so while I’m not obsessive about it, I think it’s a good idea to defragment once in a while, especially after a drive begins to fill up, and Drive Genius does a fine job of it by all indication. I can’t be convinced that having the drive read head chasing around after fragmented file bits rather than just being able to read them from a contiguous block doesn’t degrade performance, and all that extra activity has to take its toll of wear on the read/write heads and their stepping motors.

However, with regard to solid state drives (SSDs) like those used in the new MacBook Airs, slow access times due to fragmentation are much reduced making defragmentation probably not worth the trouble.

I didn’t try repartitioning and drive with version 3.1, but I’ve used Drive Genius’s Repartition module in the past to perform that task, and found that it also works well, and can be a very handy facility if you need it. I don’t go as ape with partitioning as I used to back in Mac OS Classic days, but I remain a partitioning fan, and I never configure a drive on a production machine with fewer than two partitions. I did try running with an unpartitioned drive on a new Mac a few years back, and quickly reverted to partitioning, with Drive Genius Repartition allowing me to proceed without having to reinitialize the drive and restore its content from a backup.

In summary, Drive Genius 3.1’s main attraction over earlier versions is the new live defrag feature, making it well worth upgrading to if you already have Drive Genius 3.x, in which case the upgrade is free. Why not? If you have Drive Genius 2 or earlier, the many new features in Drive Genius 3 are available for half-price ($49), but make sure your hardware and OS version will support it (see below). As I noted above, these days Mac OS X is very robust ( and also comes with the quite decent Apple Disk Utility bundled, so having a disk maintenance and repair application is not the gotta-have it that it was back in Mac OS Classic days, but if you’re serious about Mac maintenance and being able to troubleshoot and fix problems, and/or preventing problems, you’ll probably find it $99 well-spent.

Opening your existing Drive Genius 3.x application will auto-check for updates and allow you to download the new version at no cost. You can also download the latest update using this link:
http://bit.ly/i5gPaH

For a charge of $5, if you’re a registered Drive Genius 3.x owner you can download and burn your own version 3.1 Boot DVD to use immediately and Prosoft will also ship you an official stamped DVD within a few days of your order, orou can download and burn your own Boot DVD at no charge. This option requires you to type in your valid Drive Genius 3 serial number, and and no physical DVD will be shipped.

If you have an earlier version of Drive Genius Drive Genius, you can upgrade to the new Drive Genius 3.1 for $49 plus shipping, Entering a serial number on the Website will be necessary, and make sure your hardware can support MAc OS X 10.5.3 Leopard or higher. Registered users of competitors’ products can switch to Drive Genius 3.1 for $75.

A free downloadable demo version is available. A Personal Use License for use on hard drives you personally own including the shrinkwrapped application DVD and a downloadable bootable DVD image is $99, and a Professional Use License for use by service shops, IT groups or mobile IT professionals that allows you to use/scan/recover both customer-owned drives and company owned drives is $249.

System requirements:
• Intel Processor-based Mac
• Mac OS 10.5.3 or newer
• 512 MB RAM Minimum
• DVD drive

Drive Genius 3 is available for purchase online at:
http://www.prosoftengineering.com

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