Hard Disk Manager 2008 Suite

August 8, 2008

Your hard drive is your computer’s most important asset. Lose the data, and you could lose everything that’s unique about your system. Windows XP and Vista have utilities that cover general hard drive protection. But what if you want to go beyond the basics?

You could opt for one of the better-known utility packages, though they tend to be geared toward a particular task—usually backup, defragmentation, or maintenance. That leaves a void for an inexpensive, wide-ranging utility bundle. Hoping to fill that void, Paragon Software has released the $49.95 Hard Disk Manager 2008 Suite, which the company bills as a "complete hard drive management solution."

While it isn’t exactly complete, Hard Disk Manager does offer a lot for the money. It can’t compete on features alone; you’ll find more backup functions in Acronis True Image 11, more defragmentation capabilities in Diskeeper 2008, and more maintenance options in Norton SystemWorks 2008. Hard Disk Manager, by contrast, has most of the backup, defragmentation, and maintenance features you’re likely to need, in one place. Plus, everything is available under a common interface.

Paragon is best known for its powerful Partition Manager utility, and indeed, Hard Disk Manager has a particularly strong partition engine. You could use Windows XP or Vista to partition your drive—if you don’t mind erasing the data in the process. Hard Disk Manager lets you create or resize an existing partition without losing the data. That’s a great advantage, especially when setting up and maintaining a multi-boot system. Hard Disk Manager includes a Boot Manager that makes it easy to configure your computer for multiple operating systems. Imagine having Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Linux available from a single drive.

Along with using Hard Disk Manager to create, resize, copy, move, and undelete partitions, you can clone, back up, and restore partitions or entire drives. You can back up and restore files or directories, though you can’t restore individual files from a partition or drive backup as you can with True Image; you have to choose one type of backup or the other. It also isn’t as fast as True Image: With Hard Disk Manager, it took 23 minutes and 46 seconds to back up 50GB of data, as opposed to 16 minutes and 35 seconds with True Image.

One of Hard Disk Manager’s most valuable aspects is that you can use it to create a bootable Linux-based Rescue CD for backing up, restoring, or repairing a faulty boot drive. The Rescue CD supports most of the application’s partition and backup functions. It can also check the system integrity of the drive and update the drive’s Master Boot Record (MBR). On our test system, the Rescue CD successfully found the C: drive, but it missed two other internal drives. Even though the boot drive is the critical one in a can’t-boot situation, you might want to access a second drive to back up or restore your data.

Hard Disk Manager’s range of defragmentation options falls between the advanced features of Diskeeper 2008 and the built-in capabilities of Windows. You can’t defrag in the background, but you can defrag a specific partition or a drive’s Master File Table (MFT). You can also compact the MFT for faster file access, as well as permanently wipe personal data from a drive.

On the downside, both the interface and documentation are a bit rough. Several brief tutorials are included within the help system, but they’re written more for experienced users than for novices. That’s the biggest failing. The low price and broad feature set make Hard Disk Manager 2008 Suite a worthy alternative to the better-known hard drive applications. Unfortunately, it isn’t as consumer-friendly as it should be to satisfy the needs of less-technical users.

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