Diskeeper 8.0 Home Edition Review

If we’ve told you once, we’ve told you many times. Your PC’s hard disk needs regular defragmentation to reunite pieces of files and directories that get scattered or stored in 10 or 20 or 200 places across the drive, slowing access and adding wear and tear, and Executive Software’s Diskeeper utility is a nifty, painless way to automate this vital maintenance chore.

Now that Diskeeper has received a major upgrade to version 8.0, we were eager to check it out. Since our previous reviews, however, focused on the network-compatible Workstation (now called Professional) Edition, we decided to try Diskeeper Home Edition — a lower-priced version designed for a single home office PC — this time.

That turned out to be a somewhat disappointing choice: Though its price has crept up from $25 to $30 for the download version — a boxed CD is $35, and the freeware subset Diskeeper Lite has disappeared — the Home Edition of Diskeeper 8.0 is a second-class citizen compared to the Professional Edition.

Besides working only on local instead of network drives, Home Edition defragments only one drive at a time while Professional simultaneously handles up to four logical drives of up to 512GB each. It doesn’t offer its sibling’s adjustable priority setting for background operation, or special boot-time mode for occasional, peak-performance defragging of Windows’ paging (swap) file and master file table. And perhaps worst, it supports only Windows 95, 98, Me, and XP Home Edition — users of Windows XP Professional, 2000, Tablet PC, and even the home-oriented Win XP Media Center Edition are referred to Diskeeper 8.0 Professional.

On the bright side, the “real” version’s price isn’t much higher — $46 for the download, $50 on CD — so we’re still on record as recommending Diskeeper for your PC toolkit, right after your antivirus and firewall programs. And the 8.0 release makes this easy-to-use utility even easier, more helpful, and better-looking.

A Friendly Facelift

Diskeeper 8.0 (in both Home and Professional guise) benefits from a visual makeover that at last reduces its resemblance to the slower, bare-bones defragger supplied with Windows, adding analyze, defragment, pause, resume, and stop icons; a functions menu at the left; and tabs offering information about your drives’ fragmentation status. After installing the program and running its initial analysis, you can see an estimate of how much time will be saved by returning to optimized, contiguous storage; examine detailed lists of fragmented files; or see an all-clear or alert regarding system reliability (a highly fragmented drive brings warnings of increased risk of Windows crashes).

Unless you’ve installed Diskeeper on a nearly new PC, you’ll probably want to launch a manual or foreground defragmentation run. Like previous versions, 8.0 Home Edition proved noticeably quicker than Windows’ default defragger, rearranging and tidying our 80GB desktop drive in 22 minutes with no annoying restarts when another program or background process wrote to the disk.

After that, you can schedule future runs in a variety of ways — such as only on weekends or during the wee hours, or whenever your screen saver’s active. More likely, you’ll just rely on Diskeeper’s “set it and forget it” or “smart scheduling” mode, which periodically launches the program as a background task, then repeats more or less frequently depending on how many fragmented files it finds.

The background service steals only a few CPU cycles a day, and Diskeeper’s on-the-fly defragging won’t interrupt your work with other applications — you’ll notice an occasional increase in disk activity and flickering icon in the system tray, but no real slowdown or loss of responsiveness. Most of the time, in fact, it’ll be quite the opposite, as files stay unified and programs and documents load quickly and efficiently. Even though Diskeeper is built to resist data loss if you interrupt or restart a run, we were pleased to notice one new refinement in 8.0 — a checkbox that postpones defragmentation if you’re using a notebook on battery power.

We’ve praised Diskeeper in the past, and we’ll praise version 8.0 even louder — though again, we would only award three stars to the Home Edition. Executive Software would need either to lower the price or add some of the Professional Edition’s features to merit a four-star rating. As a small office operator, you’re savvy enough to know that the freedom to forget about fragmentation forever is worth $46, but we’d like to see more casual consumers or those working in a home office get the message.

Adapted from WinPlanet.com.

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