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Is your Mac feeling bloated and suffering performance anxiety? Try Drive Genius 3 to get back that feeling of freshness. Drive Genius 3 is an all-in-one suite of hard drive utilities, including a defragmenter, drive slimming, and smart status notifier. It’s a comprehensive power tool for pros – used by Apple Geniuses – and yet simple enough for even the most novice of users. But is it really worth it? After all – Macs don’t even need defragmenting, do they?
Drive Genius from ProSoft Engineering, now in version 3, costs $99. The feature list is extensive compared to the two main competitors – iDefrag 2 [No Longer Available] ($30.95) and Stellar Defrag Drive ($39) – both of which only handle defragmenting. The question then is whether Drive Genius does a good job, and are the additional features worth the premium price tag.
We’re giving away 10 copies of Drive Genius 3. Read through our review, then join the competition!
Drive Genius 3 keeps things simple; the interface is stark but welcoming – unlike most hard drive tools, this shouldn’t put a novice user off. For every tool, a helpful info panel at the bottom explains everything. My only complaint would be that it’s not entirely obvious at first glance what each icon is supposed to represent, so you need to hover over each one to get the name of the tool and info appear.
Macs don’t need defragmenting. Except when they do.
Fragmentation occurs when files are physically split up on the hard drive – a single file may be divided into 1,000 different places – so accessing those files becomes incredibly slow, as the magnetic head of the drive is forced to skip around reading bits from here and there. Fragmentation is a seriously blow to performance on most Windows systems, and occurs more often as drive usage increases and if you deal with large files, or frequently append information to smaller files.
Anyone who uses Windows is familiar with the process of defragging, so users who switch to a Mac often ask how they go about defragging it, and are typically met with “you don’t need to” answers. Apple’s own support site even states you don’t need to defrag a Mac; if you buy a new Mac every year or two, this is probably true. There are a few solid reasons in fact, why Macs don’t need fragmenting:
- HFS+ (the filesystem used by OS X) looks for larger areas of free space so that it can write the whole file, instead of trying to cram a file into the first free blocks it finds (which aren’t big enough, and you end up fragmentation).
- OS X uses a technique called Hot File Adaptive Clustering, an optimization which gathers frequently used files and places them onto the fastest areas of the drive, defragmenting them in the process.
- Every time you open a file, OS X checks to see how many fragments it has – if it’s more than 8, it will automatically defrag that file for you.
- SSDs don’t need defragging; if you have one, you can stop reading now. Only platter based spinning drives are affected.
However, this process of automatically optimizing files only works when they are less than 20 MB in size – pretty small in today’s terms. A single photo from my camera is 25 MB; a 1 minute video file approaching half a gigabyte.
In addition to that caveat, built-in optimizations can only occur when there’s at least 10% free space on the drive – I have frequently dipped below that (though I moved my iPhoto and iTunes library to a NAS to free up some space, it has since crept right back again). And then there’s the age of my system – it’s about 4 years old now, and has seen numerous OS upgrades, with not one complete reformat, ever. It’s a testament to how well Macs can actually optimize themselves to have gotten this far, but alas, my Mac is now seriously aging, and fragmentation is a serious issue for me.
It would be more accurate to say then, that “Macs don’t need defragmenting nearly as often as their Windows counterparts”. Despite advice to the contrary, Apple themselves have been known use Drive Genius when customer’s drives are showing issues. Yes – the Genius Bar uses Drive Genius. That alone should clue you into the fact that maybe there is some real value behind this app.
My 4 year old machine was about 19% fragmented; yes, just look at all that red. That’s probably my fault for running with on 10% free space, downloading lots of torrents and regularly moving around large DSLR video and photo files. The biggest offender was nearly 3,000 fragments. Ouch.
The process of actually defragmenting a boot drive involves restarting into a minimal text environment, and you won’t be able to use your machine while doing this. Expect it to be out of action for quite some time – my machine which has a 1 TB drive, took about 30 hours to fully complete the process.
After restarting, there was a definite bounce to the system again, with less of those long lock-ups during everyday use. It does actually speed up your Mac. This is of course entirely anecdotal evidence – no drive speed tests would work on real world data, so you’re going to have to trust me (and the millions of other users who have benefitted).
Before you go ahead and run the defrag utility though, I would suggest doing a quick spring clean of unneeded files. That’s where the next utility comes in handy.
DriveSlim is a diet plan for your Mac, identifying 5 main areas for possible deletion.
- Large files – I found quite a few old iMovie temporary files I could safely delete with this, as well as some torrent downloads which had gone into the Application Support/Vuze folder and been forgotten about.
- Duplicate files
- Localizations: in cases where an application or OS X contains additional language files you don’t need
- Universal Binaries: which contain code for running on older versions of OS X – on newer Macs, you can safely delete these
- Cache files
Unlike most of the “speed up your Mac by deleting cache files!” apps that are floating around, Drive Genius actually works. I managed to clear a few gigabytes of caches and localizations alone; and chose to deal with large files myself once they’d been identified, clearing up another 50 GB or so. Nothing is checked by default – just because a file is large doesn’t mean it should be deleted – so you do need to check off files you’re sure about deleting. As ever, if you’re unsure, just leave it.
Before performing the slimming operation, Drive Genius allows you to create a backup archive of the deleted files – if you find you’ve done something catastrophically wrong, you can restore them back again. If you’re going to remove localizations and universal binaries, I would strongly suggest you do this.
Scan and Repair
Disk scanning is built into OS X Disk Utility, so why use Drive Genius? Simple: Drive Genius can handle bad blocks better, with the chance of recovering the data stored within that block before marking it as bad for future. If you only use Disk Utility, the only recourse is to format the drive and lose all the data. That said, there’s still a chance you’ll lose data with Drive Genius when dealing with bad blocks, so do run a backup first. The Repair section fixes common software problems and rebuilds the drive index.
Scan and Repair (as well as many of the other tools) is not possible on your main boot drive from within normal OS X operation though – you’ll need to use the supplied boot DVD (mailed to you or provided a digital image to burn locally or copied onto a USB flash drive) in order to first boot into a minimal environment.
Drive Pulse sits in your system tray and monitors the health of your drive. If it notices something is up, you’ll get a notification, and can check the event for more details. It may seem annoying to have yet another system tray icon, but advance warning of a critical drive failure can make all the difference.
Integrity Check performs a low-level scan; Repartition allows all the usual resizing. Benchtest performs some raw drive speed tests, but note that this won’t be affected by fragmented files. Sector Edit lets you edit the raw data on your drives – not something most people will ever need to do. Many of these additional features cannot be performed on the boot drive, so you need to create a clone drive to boot from first.
Finally, the option to email an alert when a process has finished is much appreciated for those of us dealing with big data storages.
Summary: Is it Worth it?
$100 would be a big ask for a disk defragmenter alone. However, the complete package of drive slimming, health checks, comprehensive scanning, and disk imaging, are in my opinion, an essential set of drive utilities to have around, for both power users and those with older Macs. The truth is, Macs do need defragging – don’t let some uninformed fanboy tell you otherwise. They just don’t need defragging as often.
There are lots of things that can go wrong with a drive though, and lots of useless files can accumulate – so it’s always a good idea to perform a little drive maintenance. For this too, Drive Genius has you covered. It’s one of those software packages that you probably won’t need so often – but when you do, it’ll be an absolute lifesaver.
How do I win a copy of Drive Genius 3?
You may enter by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.
After that, you’ll also be offered various methods to earn additional entries. They range from sharing a link to this giveaway on social networks; to commenting or visiting a specific page. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning! You will receive 5 additional entries into the giveaway for every successful referral via your shared links.
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This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, August 23. The winners will be selected at random and informed via email.
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