Drive Genius from Prosoft Engineering is a disk utility that even Apple likes to use. The next time you're at the Genius Bar at an Apple Store, peek over the shoulder of one of the geniuses and you may see him or her using Drive Genius to diagnose, repair, or optimize a customer's hard drive.
Of course, just because Apple uses Drive Genius doesn’t automatically make it a great utility, but in this case, Apple may be on to something. Drive Genius provides 13 mini applications or functions to manage your Mac's hard drive. You can use the various apps to query for information about a drive; defrag a drive; repair a drive when something goes wrong; find and deallocate bad blocks; resize partitions without losing data; duplicate a drive's data; and measure your drive's performance, among other things.
Drive Genius 3 Features
Drive Genius has 13 functions that you can use to manage and repair your Mac's drive. It can work with internal and external drives, including USB flash drives. There are some limitations, of course. Drive Genius is designed primarily for the Mac, so it's most effective with Mac formatted drives. Some functions aren't available for drives set up in other formats, such as Windows NTFS and FAT (and its variants).
Drive Genius 3 Features
Information: Provides detailed information about a selected drive or volume.
Defrag: Optimizes the selected volume by reorganizing the files on the drive to ensure that all files are stored in a continuous stream, with no breaks within a file.
Drive Slim: Finds and can archive or delete large files that haven't been used in a while, duplicate files, cache files, and temporary items. Can also remove non-Intel code from applications and eliminate system localization files you may not need.
Repair: Verifies, repairs, or rebuilds a volume; repairs file permission issues.
Scan: Analyzes your drive for bad blocks and deallocates them so they can't be used for data storage.
DrivePulse: Continually monitors your drives for reliability and performance. Alerts you when problems arise, usually long before they cause issues.
Integrity Check: Performs a long-term test on a drive to make sure it is performing correctly.
Initialize: A quick way to erase and format a new volume.
Repartition: Allows you to non-destructively change a drive's current partition makeup. You can expand or shrink a partition, as well as move it to a different location in the partition map.
Duplicate: Allows you to clone a drive using a sector copy method, or duplicate a volume using Prosoft's device copy method.
Shred: Securely erases your drive using up to four different methods, including two methods that meet or exceed DoD standards for drive sanitation.
Benchtest: Performs raw hardware speed tests on selected drives which can then be compared to saved profiles from other computer systems and drive configurations.
Sector Edit: When you really want to get down to the nitty-gritty, sector editing lets you see and change the raw data stored on a drive.
Drive Genius 3 uses a simple interface, thankfully devoid of many of the over-the-top graphics seen in some utility applications. The basic interface is composed of a window that displays icons for each function.
Once you select a function, the window changes to display a list pane of available drives, volumes, or folders (depending on the function selected), and one or more panes to the right that allow you to configure and see the results of the function you selected.
The user interface is simple and you'll probably find that you don't need much in the way of guidance. There is a help system available if you need it, in the form of a question mark in the bottom right corner. Clicking the question mark opens the Drive Genius help system, where each function is well documented.
Slaying Drive Troubles
Drive Genius has more features than most of us will ever need. The ability to manually edit sector data is, at least in my hands, more likely to cause me to lose the data on a drive than help me get it back. But for the drive pros out there, it's a nice feature to have.
One of the best features isn't readily evident if you just launch the application and take a look around. The DVD is bootable, so you can still access your Mac should a drive problem keep it from successfully starting up. If you purchase the online version of Drive Genius, you can download the DVD image and create your own bootable version.
Because of the ability to boot from the Drive Genius DVD (or a USB flash drive, if you wish to create one), and how well the various functions work, I'm adding Drive Genius to my collection of utilities for getting a Mac up and running when something goes wrong. You can never have too many weapons in your utility arsenal.
With that said, I want to point out that most Drive Genius features aren't about repairing problems, but managing the performance and reliability of your Mac's drives.
Drive Genius has two handy features for repairing drives. The first is the Scan function, which scans the selected drive and maps out bad blocks. If all you have is Apple's Disk Utility, your only recourse for fixing a bad block is to erase the drive, using the option to write all zeros to the drive. Disk Utility will map out any bad blocks, but it will also wipe out all of the data on the drive.
If Drive Genius finds a bad block, it will attempt to read the block, then force the drive to map the block as bad and write the data to a new location. If Drive Genius is successful, you can get your drive working without losing data, but you can still lose the data stored within the bad block, which can cause file loss or more. Nevertheless, at least you have a small chance of getting the drive up and running with your data intact; with Disk Utility, your only option is to erase everything. Even with Drive Genius, there's a high chance of losing data, so be sure you have a current backup before using the Scan tool.
The other handy repair tool is aptly named Repair. It can analyze and repair most of the common drive issues the average Mac user will encounter. This includes repairing software-based problems, as well as rebuilding the Catalog B-tree, which contains a map of where all the data on a volume is located.
Managing Your Drives
The remaining features of Drive Genius are all about managing your drives and ensuring proper performance. Some of my favorites include DrivePulse, Integrity Check, Repartition, and Benchtest.
DrivePulse is a background monitoring application that can keep track of your drive and volume health. It can monitor devices for physical problems by scanning your drives for bad blocks. This scan will not force a bad block repair; it will just alert you to an issue, verify volume consistency by checking the integrity of the Catalog B-tree and directory structures, and check for volume fragmentation.
DrivePulse works primarily when your Mac is inactive, which may mean you'll need to leave your Mac on, even when you're not around. DrivePulse can use the downtime to do its thing and keep you informed of drive problems, while the problems are still small.
Integrity Check checks the overall integrity of your drive by writing data to various blocks and then verifying the results. Unlike a simple test that may only perform a single write/read test, Integrity Check can perform its testing for as short as a minute or as long as a day. The ability to set the test duration allows you to use Integrity Check to burn in a new drive, to ensure all is well before you commit your data to it, or to occasionally check your drives to confirm that they're still working as expected.
Repartition allows you to expand, shrink, create, delete, and hide partitions. It can modify partitions without losing data. One the features that sets Repartition apart is that it lets you shift an existing partition from its present location to a new spot within the partition map. This can free up space, which you can then use to expand another partition. The ability to manually move partitions around gives you a bit more freedom than Apple's Disk Utility provides.
I admit it; I like benchtesting the various components of my Macs. It's a great way to see where you have performance problems, as well as see the results of any tweaks you make. Benchtest measures the performance of your Mac's drives, both internal and external.
Benchtest measures the sequential read, sequential write, random read, and random write speeds of your drive, using various data sizes. The results can be displayed in a line or bar graph, as well as in raw format. Additionally, you can compare the current test results against previously saved results.
Benchtest comes with a core group of saved results. You can save your benchtests, as well as delete them from the comparison list. However, Benchtest lacks a method for exporting the results for use in other applications, such as a spreadsheet or graphing application. The inability to save results outside of the application is a real problem for those who love to tweak their Macs.
Final Thoughts and Recommendations
Drive Genius 3 impressed me enough to add it to my core group of utilities for managing Mac performance and performing basic repairs. I like its straightforward interface, and how well the individual features work. I also like its ability to boot from the included DVD or a USB flash drive, and its ability to test for and warn me of potential problems before they become major inconveniences. The repartitioning feature is a more versatile method of volume resizing than Disk Utility offers. Although I didn't test the Defrag feature, if you need to optimize drive space for performance, an easy-to-use defrag tool is icing on the cake.
I was disappointed by the Benchtest feature's inability to export data outside of the application, but for most users, that won't be a major issue.
Drive Genius 3 is primarily about management and performance testing; it also includes basic repair capabilities. It lacks any type of data recovery features, so you'll need an additional application to round out your collection of drive utilities. Prosoft Engineering offers an app, Data Rescue 3, for recovering data from a failing hard drive.
One thing I want to mention is the time it takes to perform many of the tests. Drive Genius is a 64-bit application that can use any amount of available RAM to help increase performance, but with the size of today's drives, many of the tests can still take quite a while to perform. This isn't a failing of Drive Genius; it's just one of the slight down sides of having very large drives.