Make Your Hard Drive Work for You

As hard drives grow to sizes that can best be described as gargantuan, you may find it useful to segment your single hard drive into two or more drive partitions with the help of partitioning software. One good reason: It's now easy to create a complete and convenient backup of your data by pairing partitioning software, which creates or resizes drive partitions, with imaging software, which puts a compressed copy of your entire drive or partition into a single giant file. V Communications has both these tools and more in one program, DriveWorks.

Another company, PowerQuest, sells separate partitioning and imaging applications -- PartitionMagic and Drive Image, respectively. DriveWorks is easier to use than the PowerQuest offerings, and it's a bit more powerful and a whole lot cheaper. DriveWorks costs $149, a similar price to either PartitionMagic or Drive Image.

DriveWorks is easier to use because it puts partitioning and imaging tools into a single, consolidated program. True, it's a single, consolidated DOS program, but that's by necessity -- the nature of hard drive utility software requires that no files be open when you're using it, and that's not possible with Windows.

After installing DriveWorks (within Windows), a shortcut will appear on your screen, which allows you to launch the application from Windows. When you click the shortcut, it exits Windows, reboots to DOS, and loads DriveWorks. This procedure even works in Windows Me -- which isn't supposed to let you use DOS -- but you cannot enter DriveWorks from Windows 2000. If you want to use DriveWorks with Windows 2000 or Linux, you can boot it directly from a floppy disk, which is included.

Faux Windows

DriveWorks may not run in Windows, but with its attractive interface, it does a reasonable job of faking it. The program even comes with a task bar and a Start button, and it includes wizards that walk you through various tasks, such as resizing a partition or copying a drive. All in all, Windows users should find it easy to use and intuitive.

Once inside, you can divvy up your hard drive with Partition Commander. Partition Commander is well built and easy to use, letting you create, resize, move, and delete partitions, and convert them between disk formats such as FAT32 and NTFS. You can back up whole drives or individual partitions with Image Commander, a new module that doesn't exist outside DriveWorks. Following simple steps, you can instruct Image Commander to store an image of the drive or partition -- including every file on it -- into a single compressed (but still quite large) file. Restoring a partition or drive from the image is a quick and painless procedure -- simply boot up the software again and follow another couple of steps.

Though Image Commander does its job well, it lacks many of Drive Image's nicer features. For instance, its CD-Rewriteable support is limited almost to the point of non-existence. The only way to get an image onto a CD-Recordable or CD-RW disc is to create the file on your hard drive, re-enter Windows, then copy the file to a CD. (Image Commander does provide an option to create an image as multiple files no larger than a set size; if you're going to copy to CDs, set this size to 650MB.) And restoring an image from a CD isn't particularly easy, either. At one point in the process, you'll find yourself looking at a DOS prompt and wondering what to do next. Image Commander also lacks the ability to restore single files from an image, and it doesn't display how long the overall save or restore process will take.

Copying, destroying, and backing up as you go

DriveWorks also includes the tool Copy Commander, which copies your entire drive--with all its partitions, settings, and preferences intact -- to another hard drive. You probably won't use this feature very often. And unless you work with highly sensitive documents, you'll use SecurErase, which erases a drive or partition so that it cannot be restored, even less.

V Communications adds another program, AutoSave. Like Partition Commander, AutoSave is also available as a stand-alone program, costing $US29.95 to download or $US49.95 for the shrink-wrapped version. However, unlike Partition Commander or DriveWorks, it's a Windows program. AutoSave runs in the background, backing up files as you create and change them. This sort of effortless, daily backup is a logical complement to Image Commander.

Most partitioning software is great if you need to switch back and forth between different operating systems. Although DriveWorks can handle Windows 2000 and Linux partitions, it lacks a simple, quick way to safely switch between OSes. V Communications' System Commander, which comes with the stand-alone version of Partition Commander, handles this job with ease, but the company inexplicably left it out of this minisuite.

Despite the limitations, DriveWorks is powerful enough for most people, and it's hard to argue with the price.

DriveWorks should be available locally at most leading PC retailers by the end of this week.

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