Rearranging your hard drive into multiple partitions can deliver all kinds of benefits. You could improve performance, for instance; minimise file fragmentation; get your files organised, run multiple operating systems on the same PC, and more.
Windows provides disk management tools that will help you do most of this, but they’re a little basic, and have significant gaps in functionality. If you prefer an easy life, and want to minimise the chance of errors that could trash your PC, then you may be better off with a specialist partitioning tool. And Paragon Partition Manager 11 Professional is one of the best.
The program provides excellent compatibility, for instance. It installs on all consumer (non-server) editions of Windows from 2000 upwards, and works with all hard drive types (IDE, SATA, SCSI, iSCSI, RAID, external). Partition Manager 11 supports all the main partitioning schemes (MBR, GPT, dynamic, basic, APM), too, and their associated file systems: NTFS, FAT16, FAT32, Ext2FS, Ext3FS, Ext4FS, ReiserFS, LinuxSwap, HPFS and Apple HFS.
And the program follows this up with a very lengthy feature list. There’s every partition-related function you could ever need; a backup tool; optimisation features, including a custom defrag tool; hard drive copying and migration features; and even the ability to connect to and work with virtual hard drives, in all the most popular formats.
There’s plenty on offer here, then. And the closer you look, the more features you discover.
Partition Manager 11 Professional lives up to its name with an impressive selection of partitioning options. So you can create, format, move, resize, merge, hide, unhide, delete and undelete partitions, for instance, amongst other abilities.
These aren’t complex processes, either. Straightforward wizards walk you through your chosen task with the minimum of hassle. Even potentially involved tasks like, say, redistributing space from one partition to another can usually be completed in a few clicks.
The wizards don’t just speed up operations, though. They also have built-in knowledge of common partitioning pitfalls, and so will actively prevent you from choosing dangerous options. You still need to be careful – partitioning is an inherently risky business – but the program does a good job of protecting you from a wide range of hard drive mistakes.
If you’re a hard drive expert, though, you can bypass all this hand-holding and do just about anything you like. And that includes a range of useful low-level tweaks. You’re able to change a partition’s cluster size, ID, serial number or SID, convert its file system, downgrade the NTFS version, even manually edit your partition at the sector level (just be very sure you know exactly what you’re doing).
If you’re looking to transfer your system from one drive to another then Partition Manager 11 Professional offers plenty of possibilities.
There’s the straightforward partition or hard drive copy, for instance. If you’re copying from a small hard drive to something larger, then Partition Manager can resize your partitions accordingly. And it’s all powered by the usual easy-to-use wizards, so your work will be done in a few seconds (of course the actual drive copy may take rather longer).
A File Transfer Wizard aims to help out when you need to migrate files, rather than images. It works much like a simple backup program: select a few files or folders, then copy them to local, network or external drives, or burn them to CD or DVD.
Most interesting, and new to Partition Manager 11 Professional, is support for virtual machines (Virtual PC, Sun VirtualBox, VMware Workstation and Fusion formats).
You’re able to copy your current hard drive to a virtual drive, say. Save this to an external drive and you can carry your system around with you, then access your apps and files, wherever you might be.
The program can also connect to a virtual hard drive, though, and will then see it like any other. So you could view its contents, tweak its settings, manipulate individual partitions, even copy a virtual hard drive to a physical drive. If you use virtualisation tools then this opens up many interesting possibilities, and it’s a welcome addition to the package.
Backup and restore
Partition Manager 11’s backup features are a little more basic.
A simple Backup Wizard makes it easy to choose the drive or partition you’d like to back up. If you’re short on space then you can choose just the first hard drive track, or the master boot record: you’ll only require something like a tiny 4MB archive, but it’ll still be handy if the MBR is corrupted later on.
Your backups can then be saved to local or network drives, CD, DVD, Blu-ray, or even a physical partition that isn’t currently mounted.
If you lose data but your PC is still bootable, then Partition Manager’s Restore Wizard will help you restore the latest backup. (Selective Restore means you can choose just the files and folders you require, no need to restore the entire image.) And if the damage is serious enough that Windows won’t load, then a bootable recovery disc (more on that, later) will allow you to restore your backup in a few clicks.
There are a few tweaks for the backup process. You’re able to choose the compression level for archives; enable raw processing (sector by sector copying); or, most interestingly, enable incremental copying, where only sectors that have changed since the last backup are written to a new file. That could save you valuable time and drive space.
However, the inability to create backup jobs that define what you’d like to save, or schedule unattended backups, means Partition Manager 11 Professional isn’t a substitute for a full-strength backup tool.
If your hard drive isn’t performing as you’d like, then Partition Manager may be able to help. It includes optimisation tools that work in three different areas.
An integrated defrag tool offers some controls over how it will rearrange your files. You can choose where your directories are placed on the drive, for instance, and sort files by size, or modification time. These might help improve performance, but they might not, and it’ll take quite some time and dedication to find out which are the best settings for you.
There are more straightforward options to defragment and compact the MFT (the Master File Table, the place where NTFS stores data on every file and folder on your drive). This can improve performance a little, and generally doesn’t take long, although you’ll need to reboot to make it happen (the MFT will almost certainly be locked when Windows is running).
And a new inclusion in this version of Partition Manager is the Paragon Alignment Tool (PAT). If the logical and physical sectors within a partition aren’t properly aligned – which might happen if you’ve cloned a hard drive to an SSD, say – then your system performance will fall. The PAT will look for partitions with this problem, and fix any it finds, which can take an extremely long time but is worth the effort. You may see a very noticeable speed improvement.
The Windows boot process is a fragile thing. One corrupt byte in the master boot record or the partition table and your PC may refuse to start. So it’s fortunate that Partition Manager 11 Professional includes comprehensive disaster recovery tools to help you get back to normal.
Two recovery media builders will quickly create bootable CDs, DVDs or USB flash drives, with either a Linux or Windows PE-based recovery tool.
Opt for the Linux version and you’ll find an array of troubleshooting options. The Boot Corrector can fix many boot issues, including Registry errors. If you’ve backed up your system drive, then the Simple Restore Wizard will restore the last backup, which should get your system working again. A stand-alone version of Paragon Drive Copy may help with more complex partition problems, and if all else fails, the File Transfer Wizard will recover your most important documents for migration to a new drive or PC.
The Windows PE boot disc is a little different, as it includes only Partition Manager 11 Professional. It’s just the same as the version you’ve been using, though, so gives you instant access to familiar features that just might help: drive surface tests, a file system integrity check, the ability to undelete partitions, and more.
While there are no guarantees of success, there’s enough firepower here to give you a good chance of fixing many startup problems, and these tools are a real asset to the Partition Manager 11 Professional package.