Follow Us

We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message

Ten of the best free hard drive utilities

Take control of your disk storage with these gems

Article comments

Most users are satisfied with the hard drive utilities that ship with Windows, especially the more powerful partitioning and defragging tools found in Windows Vista and 7. Since you're reading this, though, you're obviously not a "most" type of user.

Here are our ten favourite free utilities for partitioning, monitoring and optimising hard drives (as well as a few inexpensive for-pay alternatives). Despite offering some high end features, these downloadable programs won't bust your budget.

Partitioning

Microsoft's DiskPart, included for free on each Vista or Windows 7 installation disc, is a perfectly viable tool for manipulating FAT and NTFS partitions, but only if you're in a command-line kind of mood. The vast majority of the time, I want something fast and graphical that supports all file systems.

Of all the partition utilities I've reviewed, Parted Magic (now in version 6) remains my top pick, not only because it has the free Gnome partition tool (GParted), but also because it has Memtest86+. I'd say that I encounter about one memory problem for every three hard drive problems, so it's nice to have that memory diagnostic tool around.

If you don't need memory testing, or if you just want an alternative Linux partitioning boot disc, GParted Live is a slightly lighterweight boot disc that also supports booting from a USB flash drive or an external hard drive. You need to visit the command prompt twice during the boot process, but I have on occasion found that GParted Live boots when the Parted Magic disc will not, and vice versa.

Offering an extremely small footprint and very quick boots, Partition Logic seems to work fine, at least with internal IDE drives. My other favourite freebie is Easeus Partition Manager Home: It's professional in appearance and has all the features I generally need.

SMART (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology)

Today's hard drives have a self-analysis feature that keeps tabs on the drive's health. Unfortunately, although many BIOSs will relay the basic "Hey, I'm okay (or not)" information to you when you boot the PC, Windows 7 doesn't provide a way to access the details. Several capable utilities allow you to view the information.

If you love the command line, SMART Monitoring Tools might be for you. In a DOS box, entering smartctl -a sda (or sdb, sdc, or the like) will tell you everything you need to know about your hard drive's SMART status, if you can read the sometimes overlapping information.

A better tool for viewing SMART information is Passmark's DiskCheckup. It's free, and you run it only when necessary, it doesn't have any background services sucking up CPU cycles. If you don't run your PC around the clock, this is a better approach.

My absolute favourite, though, is the free version of HD Tune. It not only reports drive health (not specified as SMART, but the same information nonetheless) but also tests drive performance and scans for disk errors.

If you need constant Windows monitoring for a 24/7 PC, you'll have to pay for a program such as Ariolic Software's Active Smart 2.9 or LSoft Technologies' Active Hard Disk Monitor.

Defragging and optimising

In days past (the age of FAT16 and FAT32), regularly defragging a hard drive made a noticeable difference in the speed with which it loaded applications and data, now not as much. Even so, optimisation, placing large, often-used files such as Outlook .pst files in the quickest-to-load location on your hard drive, can speed things up.

One great choice for optimisation is an older public-domain version (1.72) of DiskTrix's excellent UltimateDefrag (though that version is now impossible to find at the vendor's site). Despite its age, it still has all the features anyone could want, including the ability to choose individual files to move for faster access.

The Smart Defrag utility has few user-configurable settings, you rely on the program's logic to automatically optimise your drive. It also shows an ad here or there, but the program works well and is smart enough to know that you can't optimise an SSD. UltraDefrag is another very capable defragging and optimising program that you can run from a command prompt if you so desire.

Disk usage

If you have no idea what's on your hard drive, or how much of it exists, you have a fascinating and visually appealing way to find out, Disk Space Fan. That isn't fan as in fanatic, but as in the device for moving air. In this case you browse and tunnel down into the data on your hard drive by clicking on a graphic that resembles a fan.

The pro features (finding duplicates, delete, move, and so on) are enabled for 15 days. After that, you'll need to pony up $20 to do anything but view. Even without those features, however, the free version is neat. Really. Download it.


Share:

More from Techworld

More relevant IT news

Comments



Send to a friend

Email this article to a friend or colleague:

PLEASE NOTE: Your name is used only to let the recipient know who sent the story, and in case of transmission error. Both your name and the recipient's name and address will not be used for any other purpose.

Techworld White Papers

Choose – and Choose Wisely – the Right MSP for Your SMB

End users need a technology partner that provides transparency, enables productivity, delivers...

Download Whitepaper

10 Effective Habits of Indispensable IT Departments

It’s no secret that responsibilities are growing while budgets continue to shrink. Download this...

Download Whitepaper

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Information Archiving

Enterprise information archiving is contributing to organisational needs for e-discovery and...

Download Whitepaper

Advancing the state of virtualised backups

Dell Software’s vRanger is a veteran of the virtualisation specific backup market. It was the...

Download Whitepaper

Techworld UK - Technology - Business

Innovation, productivity, agility and profit

Watch this on demand webinar which explores IT innovation, managed print services and business agility.

Techworld Mobile Site

Access Techworld's content on the move

Get the latest news, product reviews and downloads on your mobile device with Techworld's mobile site.

Find out more...

From Wow to How : Making mobile and cloud work for you

On demand Biztech Briefing - Learn how to effectively deliver mobile work styles and cloud services together.

Watch now...

Site Map

* *