by Steve Becker

You may ask, "Why should I buy and use a disk-maintenance utility when my Mac is working fine?" The answer is simple: to keep it working that way! Many users tend to ignore the need to use a disk utility until they have experienced a problem with their Macs. Unfortunately, this is akin to fastening a seatbelt after the accident has occurred.

Frequently, Mac users -- especially new users -- don't understand the need for using a good disk utility on a regular basis. All too often a computer that appears to be working fine can have very serious problems that don't become evident until data has become corrupted and/or lost.



Some of the space on your hard disk is used by something called the Directory -- think of this as the master address book and organizer of your computer. In order for your computer to be able to work with the information on your hard drive, it must be able to know what information is on your drive and exactly where on the hard drive the information is located.

Essentially, all the information on your hard drive has a unique "address," and the Directory keeps track of these addresses. The Directory prevents new information from being written to an address that already contains data (this prevents existing data from being overwritten/corrupted) and assigns addresses to new files.

When you delete a file from your computer, the info in the Directory is used to locate the file(s) you are deleting. In reality, this file and the data it contains aren't deleted, but the computer's Directory is instructed to treat this address as unoccupied/free to be assigned other data (this is why data can sometimes be recovered after you have "deleted" a file). However, since the Directory is now free to assign new data to this address, the more you use your computer after deleting a file, the more likely this address will be assigned new data, and this usually renders the old data at this address unrecoverable.

While this is a somewhat simplified explanation of some of the many critical tasks the Directory performs, you can see how fundamentally important the Directory is to maintaining the integrity of the data/files on your computer!

Since the Directory itself can become corrupted from myriad causes, including software bugs, a system freeze/crash, an improper computer shutdown, and random disk errors, it's essential that the integrity of the Directory be verified on a regular basis. This is especially important because minor -- even major -- Directory damage is often not readily apparent, and when left undiagnosed and unfixed, this damage will likely become worse and result in loss of at least some of the information on your Mac.

Understanding why using a disk-maintenance utility on a regular basis is essential to maintaining the integrity of the data on your Mac is fine, but this still leaves the issue of determining which is the best utility for the job.

Of the three most widely-used utilities that are capable of detecting and repairing Directory damage (the others are Micromat's TechTool Pro and Symantec's Norton Utilities), DiskWarrior has earned the reputation of being both the most powerful and the most consistently successful at rebuilding badly damaged Directories.



One of the strengths of DiskWarrior is its ease of use! To repair the Directory on your Mac, you need to start your Mac from something other than your startup drive, and DiskWarrior includes a CD that can be used to boot virtually any Mac.

Next, you launch DiskWarrior and it scans your Directory and then constructs a new Directory that eliminates virtually any damage that may have existed in your original Directory. In the process, DiskWarrior will attempt to recover files that have been lost or damaged. If your old Directory was severely damaged, DiskWarrior "scavenges" it in an attempt to recover every possible bit of information.

Before DiskWarrior replaces your old Directory with the new Directory, it presents you with a report of any damage it found and the repairs it performed when creating the new Directory. Also, DiskWarrior presents you with an image of the repaired drive on your Desktop so you can examine it before allowing DiskWarrior to actually replace your old Directory.

If DiskWarrior comes across a problem it can't fix, it will provide you with a dialog box that describes the problem. Otherwise, you can just tell DiskWarrior to proceed with replacing your old Directory; then you quit DiskWarrior and restart your Mac.



Over time, your Directory can become fragmented, and this can noticeably slow down the performance of your Mac. DiskWarrior includes an option to display a graphical representation of your Directory's fragmentation.

When DiskWarrior rebuilds your Directory, it also optimizes it, and this eliminates any fragmentation that may have existed (Alsoft, the publisher of DiskWarrior, says this can speed up your Mac by over 20%). I have noticed a perceptible improvement in some activities after optimizing my Directory with DiskWarrior, though I don't think in my case it approaches a 20% improvement. Still, any improvement is always welcome!



While it's comforting to have a program that is so good at repairing damage, DiskWarrior also includes a feature that is designed to prevent Directory damage from occurring in the first place! DiskShield is an extension that is designed to reduce the chances of an errant application improperly writing information to your Directory in a way that can corrupt the Directory.

The efficacy of this feature is impossible to measure, since you don't know what Directory damage would have taken place if DiskShield wasn't running. However, Alsoft has demonstrated its innovative and effective technology in the other components of DiskWarrior, and I don't have any reason to doubt the usefulness of DiskShield; I always leave DiskShield on, and it's a nice feeling to have this extra "DiskShield" working to protect my Mac.



When using DiskWarrior to check your startup disc, you must either boot your computer from the DiskWarrior CD or from another volume/partition. This is because DiskWarrior can't either check or repair the volume it is being launched from.

Since I recommend checking the status of your system's Directory both after any crash that doesn't allow you to perform a normal restart of your computer and after finishing working with your computer for the day, using DiskWarrior to do this can prove to be quite an inconvenience.

To avoid this inconvenience, I suggest you also install either TechTool Pro or Norton Utilities. Either of these programs can also repair and optimize the Directory on your Mac; in fact, both of these programs also perform many other useful functions. The main reason I suggest getting one of them in addition to DskWarrior is that both programs can check the volume they are being launched from, and this makes it easy and fast to regularly check the status of your system's Directory.



You may be thinking, "why not just get either Norton Utilities or TechTool Pro?"

The answer is simple: think of DiskWarrior as a specialist. Just as you wouldn't go to a general practitioner for treatment of a serious heart problem, when repairing your Directory you should use the most robust and effective program available that specializes in treating a sick Directory on your Mac.

Since DiskWarrior tests for certain types of Diretory damage that other programs can't detect, you should on occasion also use DiskWarrior to verify that there are no problems with your Directory. DiskWarrior lives up to its name when it's used to maintain or restore the health of your hard disk's Directory!

DiskWarrior 2.1 requires a 68020 or later processor and OS 7.1 or later (DiskShield requires OS 8.1 or later). For info on OS X compatibility, you should go to the Alsoft web site:

© 2001 by Steve Becker. All rights reserved.

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