Repartitioning your hard drive can help organise your data, reduce defragmentation, improve performance and give you a better chance of recovering key files if your system crashes. Making this happen with Windows own partitioning tools may take a while, though – they’re basic in the extreme. So if you’re serious about drive management then you’ll save a great deal of time and hassle by opting for a third-party alternative, like the new Acronis Disk Director 11 Home.
Just as you’d expect from any product that’s reached version 11, Disk Director comes packed with functionality. It’s able to create, format, label, resize, move, copy, split and merge partitions, without destroying any data. There are tools to clone disks, manage multiple operating systems on one PC, and recover lost or deleted partitions. And a host of compatibility updates means it works with more drive types than ever before.
If you’re a newcomer to partitioning and drive management then you shouldn’t be put off, though – a well-designed interface along the lines of Windows own Disk Management applet means the program is reasonably easy to use. All your drives and partitions are displayed, you just click the one you need, choose an appropriate action, and a wizard appears to walk you through the process.
Our only minor interface concern was the left-hand action pane, which always lists every single task you can perform on the selected drive. While it’s great that you’re not forced deep into the menu system to locate some lesser option, it also means that you’re permanently presented with anything up to 17 actions at any one time, which can be intimidating. If you’re distracted then the action pane can be hidden at a click, though, leaving you to access functions via the menus instead.
It’s vital that a disk management tool should be able to work on all the drive types that you might encounter, and Disk Director 11 has improved a great deal in this area.
This version adds Dynamic Disk support, for instance, and the option to convert basic disks to dynamic, and back again.
Similarly, there’s now GPT disk support, as well as a module to convert MBR disks to GPT, and vice versa.
Full Windows 7 support includes the ability to add a mirror to a volume (and optionally remove it again, later). In a few clicks you could set up your main hard drive to be mirrored on a second drive, for instance, so it would act as a hassle-free backup: any change on your main drive would immediately be duplicated on the mirror. (Keep in mind this is only supported on Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate, though.)
And file systems supported include FAT16, FAT32, NTFS, Ext2, Ext3, ReiserFS3 and Linux SWAP. FAT12 and Ext4 are notable by their absence, but if you’re a regular Windows user then you probably won’t mind – Disk Director 11 is likely to work on any drive where you need to use it.
Disk Director 11 supports all partitioning functionality you’ll need. The core options allow you to delete, resize, move, copy, merge and split volumes; and you’re also able to format disks, change volume labels and drive letters, change the partition type, and more.
Some of these individual functions proved more capable than we might have expected, too. Try to move a partition in Paragon Partion Manager, say, and you’ll see the usual options to choose the appropriate amount of free space before and after your volume.
But a “move” operation in Disk Director 11 actually involves creating a brand new volume, transferring your data then deleting the first, so you actually get to decide what type of new volume this should be (basic, simple/ spanned or striped).
And a resize operation in Disk Director again involves much more than entering new figures for the unallocated “before” and “after” figures. You can again choose to convert the partition to basic, simple or spanned, or optionally append any unallocated disk space you might have to the specified partition. There’s even an option to grab free space from other volumes, subject to maintaining a minimum free space level that you can define.
There’s plenty of power on offer, then, but combining multiple functions into one dialog can make it a little difficult to follow what’s going on, and partitioning novices may be a little confused, at least initially. Still, there is a detailed help file on offer, so if you’re ever unsure about something then the answer is usually only ever a click away.
Partition tables are fragile structures, a single misplaced byte can prevent your PC from booting at all, and so it’s good to see that Disk Director 11 provides a couple of tools to help you recover from disaster.
The Recovery Expert will scan your PC, looking for and recovering any lost or deleted partitions that it finds. It’s a simple utility, not exactly packed with options: you can choose whether you search the first sector of each cylinder for partitions, or every sector on the hard drive – and that’s about all. And the Recovery Expert only works on basic MBR disks. It’s fast, though, and capable enough, and will help you quickly restore most accidentally deleted partitions.
Disk Director 11 also allows you to build a bootable recovery disc. If you make the effort to download and install the full Windows Automated Installation Kit (free but anything up to a 1.7GB download) then the program will use this to build a Windows PE-based disc automatically; opt for a Linux-based version instead and it’ll burn one right away.
Whichever option you choose, you’ll end up with a bootable CD, DVD or ISO file with its own version of Disk Director 11. If you PC won’t start, boot from this instead and you’ll have access to all the disk and partitioning tools we’ve discussed, along with the Recovery Expert for restoring lost partitions.
As recovery discs go, this isn’t the best we’ve seen. Paragon’s equivalent disc delivers more functionality, including the ability to fix boot problems that aren’t purely partition-related. It’s capable enough, though, simple to build and easy to use. And the ability to create a Windows PE version means you could build something even better than Paragon’s disc, by adding your own troubleshooting utilities – although this would require a fair amount of Windows expertise.
Acronis OS Selector
Disk Director 11 doesn’t include quite as many bonus features as you’ll find in some competing packages. There’s no backup program, for instance (Acronis are hoping you’ll buy a separate package for that); no direct disk editor; no secure file deletion; no support for virtual disks. And while you’ll see a Defragment option in the Actions bar, that’s only a front end for Windows own defrag tool: there’s no Paragon-like “Defragment MFT” option here.
Still, if you’d like more flexibility in your boot options then you will appreciate one extra, the Acronis OS Selector, a boot manager that makes it much easier to install multiple operating systems on the same PC.
OS Selector removes the requirement for a bootable hard drive to have its bootable files on the first drive on your PC, for instance. There’s no need to worry about all the usual disk order nonsense: OS Selector manages it all automatically.
And if you install multiple versions of Windows on separate drives, then having their boot files on those drives makes your system much more reliable. If your first drive crashes, for instance, you’ll still be able to boot from the others. And if you restore a hard drive from backup then it’ll be bootable right away, without interfering with any of the others.
You only have one hard drive? No problem: OS Selector is just as good at installing operating systems on multiple partitions. And it can even install multiple versions of Windows on the same partition, by protecting system files and folders from each other. It’s a clever and powerful tool, and if you need to install and manage several operating systems then it could be worth the price of Disk Director 11 all on its own.