By Michael Secord and Monte FergusonBeing the native Windows user that I am, I was highly surprised when I found out that there is no way to defragment a hard drive in Mac OS X outside of the built-in journaling. (Apple does provide a limited form of defragmenting at the file level.) That is, without buying a 3rd party application. To me, defragmentation had become a norm, the weekly or monthly task that rendered your computer useless, but if you didn't do it, would render it even more so. Windows fragments a hard drive so badly that it’s part of the usual maintenance to defragment the hard drive.
(Defragmenting refers to the idea that all documents and folders are made of smaller units of data. Those units are initially arranged in sequence. As the drive fills up the computer breaks up, or fragments, documents and folders into those smaller units so it can fit them into the available open spaces on the drive. When you try to open one of these fragmented files or folders the computer has to search the drive for all of the pieces scattered on the drive. This results in a slow down.)
How did I come across this? Well, I needed to make my Parallel's partition of Windows larger and encountered the "system too fragmented" message when trying to recreate a partition.
After speaking with some Mac friends of mine (most namely Monte Ferguson) I was pointed towards TechTool Pro 4 (TTP). I just needed an app that would defrag the hard drive, and TechTool Pro fills those shoes and more.
Upon first glance it is easy to see just how full featured TTP is. Yet the program itself doesn’t seem over complicated for the novice. In fact it presents a very simplified interface to the new user. You can literally run the program by just clicking on one button. For the more experienced user you can get right to the tests that you need. There are many different categories of tests: Suites, Tests, Performance, Tools, and Safety. They all have their own range of tests/functions that they perform.
Here we have 3 different test options, Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced. The Basic suite will check all major hardware components of the computer and is very useful in getting a good overall view of the health of the computer. It performs basic checks of all hardware components, including S.M.A.R.T. tests for potential problems with hard drives. The Intermediate suite includes everything in the Basic but also include a test for Finder Info, File Structures and Volume Structures. These tests check the integrity of the information, your files, stored on the hard drive. This test is what TTP recommends for preventative maintenance. The Advanced suite performs all the above as well as adding a Surface Scan check (Windows users would refer to this as checkdisk). A surface scan checks every single unit of storage on the hard drive for errors. If errors this lets you know a potential for data loss exists and you need to take precautionary measures, such as backing up your data and reinitializing the disk
These are all performed when you run a suite. If you want to perform a test on an individual component, here is where you do it.
This is the part I was most concerned about. Here is where you can perform Directory Maintenance and Volume Optimization. (TechTool Pro gives runs it’s defragmenting routines, aka Optimization, in two passes. The first pass works to consolidate all of the units of a file. Then it consolidates free space into one large block.)
This is where you move beyond the standard diagnostic and repair functions. This is extra functionality and advanced tools.
One of the most helpful tools is the eDrive. With it you can create a bootable hard drive partition on your internal hard drive, containing TTP. This gives you an “emergency start up disk” which includes the full diagnostic and repair tools of TechTool Pro. It also comes in handy when you have to do a repair that requires no data being written to the drive, such as optimization. It also means you don’t have to find your TTP DVD.
In a worst case situation, your drive is toast, Data Recovery can come in very handy. TechTool Pro includes routines that can search a damaged drive and attempt to recover valid files to another location. Even if a drive is damaged beyond repair, you may still be able to save important data that had not been backed up .(Though a good back up is always better than trying to do a scan over a damaged disk.)
Other features under Tools are less critical but helpful. Wipe Data, which as it states, wipes data off the drive, securely, so it cannot be recovered. Volume Journaling, which will either turn on or off the built-in journaling routines that HFS+ volumes have built in. Audio, where you can test the audio signal and monitor it’s output. Then Video Lab, which assists with monitor calibration and identification of dead/stuck pixels.
This section is provided to enable automatic preventative measures . The Safety feature can be configured to protect your drives by automatically creating backups of critical drive directory data. It can also test the computer for developing problems and alert you, both onscreen and via email, if problems are detected.
The interface is easy on the eyes and is very well categorized. It initially presents a minimalist view for novices. Yet professionals can easily pass by the first screens to the real power under the hood. There are an abundance of tests which allows for very specific testing or broad testing if needed. It includes a bootable cd and you can even setup a bootable partition on your hard drive. The program is so straightforward you can run a full diagnostic pass by clicking one button. It also gives you an option to run a battery of tests multiple times to try to track down a random problem. At the conclusion of testing a detailed report is generated. This report summarizes what was done, alerts you of any problems that were found, and instructs you how to proceed in that case.
Some of the very specific tests can be hard to find if you aren't sure exactly what you are looking for. The advanced tests are not speed demons. Some of the testing seems to take a lot longer than it should have, though it could just be my perception.
Overall, I am very pleased with the offerings of this product. If you are concerned with keeping your Mac as trouble free as possible, this is definitely an application that you should look into. As a recent Switcher, it came as a surprise not having these capabilities built-in to MacOS X. I was slightly disappointed to have to find and use a third-party app. After using this program I can honestly say I am impressed. TechTool Pro far exceeds any expectations I would’ve had for an application that is designed to do what this does.
Posted: Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009