As a general rule, the Mac operating system suffers from less of the day-to-day problems of Windows.
Disk fragmentation, Registry foul-ups, clearing up after programs that didn’t uninstall correctly, secure deletion of files, viruses, slow booting, these are just some of the tasks for which Windows needs particular help. But that’s not to say that a Macintosh never needs any maintenance, whether of the pre-emptive or post-oh-blimey type.
Drive Genius 3 is a suite of tools that focus on perhaps the most volatile of PC components, the storage drive. Whether an internal boot drive or external array of disks, it is this component that seems to need to most attention.
Drive Genius 3 simply aims to monitor those drives and provide help in the case of some problems. Some of its functions are exclusive to the app, while others offer the same functionality as tools built into Mac OS X, but offered in a more accessible, attractive fashion. It’s a full 64-bit app, attractively laid out and full of animated embellishments.
Six main tools are offered in the primary interface of Drive Genius 3, with another seven accessible by clicking on a ‘More’ arrow. In that first rank are Information (to retrieve a slew of background data about internal and connected drives), Defrag, Drive Slim, Repair, Scan and DrivePulse.
Defragmentation is available in Drive Genius 3.1
Defrag is a defragmentation tool to reorganise fragmented pieces of file into contiguous blocks, a lthough by Prosoft’s admission, Mac OS X automatically reduces the potential for fragmentation.
Nevertheless, for larger media files, for example, this may be a useful feature on hard disk-based systems. Options within Defrag include a graphical view of Volume Fragmentation and a listing of File Fragmentation.
And now since the version 3.1 update of Drive Genius 3, Prosoft promises that you can also defrag a live boot volume.
In reality, the Mac must reboot into a minimal environment, and you cannot work at the computer at the same time, as you can in Windows, for example.
But not-quite-live defragging...
DriveSlim is a utility that can explore an entire volume and dig out unwanted files. These could simply be big files, larger than a certain size and not accessed in a certain time (10MB and 30 days are the defaults).
Or you can search for Duplicate Files, Unused Localisations (language packs), Universal Binaries (apps containing Motorola/IBM PowerPC as well as Intel x86/64 code) or Cache/Temporary Items. Any or all of these options can be ticked before Drive Genius starts this trawl, and after it’s listed candidates for deletion, you can choose which to remove.
Repair gives the same function as Apple’s own Disk Utility app, namely to Verify or Repair a volume that may have suffered some corruption of its low-level structure, with an added option for Rebuild. We tried this with an external 2TB disk that was reporting errors (‘invalid node structure’), although in our case the fault could not be fixed, so we were forced to just reformat the disk.
Scan will examine an entire disk for bad blocks, while an extended version can verify the read and write ability of every block. Prosoft suggests this utility can also be used to burn-in new hard disks.
DrivePulse features a big off/on slide button like Time Machine and like that app works in the background to monitor drives for their reliability and performance. You can adjust what you’d like to be watched, such as just consistency problems, or fragmentation. The DrivePulse feature also has a clickable icon that resides in the OS X menu bar, giving quick access to data it has already collated on drives’ health.
All these separate utilities are presented in a beautifully animated graphical splay, reminiscent of Cover Flow, so you can easily home in on the app you need.
Behind the More arrow are some less needed utilities. These include Integrity Check, which writes and reads data of various block sizes to check on performance; and Initialize, to format a volume, just the same as Apple’s Disk Utility with reduced options but a friendlier interface.
Mac OS X now supports non-destructive repartioning of volumes since 10.5 Leopard, although Drive Genius’ Repartition tool is perhaps again friendlier. The function here also requires a non-live volume, in other words, you must boot from some other media to run this tool.
Similarly, the Duplicate function, which can clone an entire volume, requires you to boot from another drive. That’s a shame, when there are some very good disk-dupe tools that work on live volumes, such as Carbon Copy cloner.
Shred is a secure-delete utility that adds a little more to the Secure Empty Trash function available in the Mac OS graphical interface. Using the same srm UNIX tool as Apple, you can opt for the default 3 Pass (Random), or choose quicker or more intensive wiping: 1 Pass (Zeros), 1 Pass (Random), 7 Pass (DoD) – the same as Apple’s default security wipe – up to 35 Pass (Gutmann).
Benchtest is a useful feature to test a drive for speed, using sustained read and write as well as random read and write tests. The dataset used is files from 2 kByte to 16 Mbyte.
Results are available numerically, and plotted graphically as a line or bar graph. A reference is also provided of 37 production Apple Macs, going back as far as a 400MHz G3 Blue & White Power Mac.
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a way to switch of this reference overlay, which is somewhat meaningless when testing new kit. And while you can save your results internally to Drive Genius 3, you can’t export results.
Drive Genius 3 can be installed on the computer to run most of its utilities; but for those functions that require working on a non-booted volume you can use the supplied installation disc to start up a Mac. Upon booting, you get an environment that resembles Apple’s OS install screen, and in fact the disc is licensed from Apple as part of its Disk Development Kit.
For use with a MacBook Air, for instance, you could copy an image of this disc to a USB flash drive and boot from that. And for Mac technicians, such a small boot repair drive will be an invaluable accessory on the keyring.
Drive Genius is a comprehensive set of disk tools for OS X, its components sometimes echoing those built into the operating system; other times adding features unavailable elsewhere. In our tests, all worked well as described. While the cost and features are not necessarily applicable for all domestic Mac users, we’d recommend this app for any technical Mac user as well as sysadmins looking for some GUI aid for that occasional maintainence and service of a fleet of Macintoshs.