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Software Review

PowerQuest's Drive Image

Backup! Backup! Backup! How often have we heard those warning words?

Does anyone remember the 20k hard drive (HD) of the IBM XT computer? Backing up that HD was a picnic, even to a series of 5.25" floppies. Then came the `huge' drives of several hundred thousand bytes and the high density 3.5" floppies some still use today. But backing up a modern 1 to 8 gigabyte-sized hard drive calls for more options than simply copying files to either floppy disks or even a tape drive, as slow as this is. Ergo, enter the various removable media systems able to copy up to 2.6 GB on cartridges or CD-R disks.

Now, PowerQuest Corporation of Orem, UT, in version 2 of Drive Image, has produced software that allows a complete compressed image of one or more partitions of a hard drive to be copied and stored on a medium of choice. This software provides backups of large hard disks containing several partitions in a simple process. If one is using, for example, JAZ, Zip, or SyQuest removable media devices as the storage destination, even the largest HD can be protected. Drivers for these devices are recognized and loaded automatically.

On the other hand, one might even use 3.5" floppies for the backup medium, but here a limit is reached at 50 disks, each of which must contain at least 100Kilobytes, making this solution impractical at best. Image files cannot currently be created directly on CD-R or tape drives, but this can be overcome by saving the image files onto a second hard drive or Zip drive and subsequently copying them to a CD-R or tape drive, although this solution certainly seems to be the long way around. The recordable CD would seem to be a next-step move in the Drive Image support progression.

Unlike most backup programs which copy all clusters and sectors in the drive's original layout, Drive Image, if so directed by the user, can skip empty clusters and copy only those clusters and sectors containing data, thus speeding the processing time by a factor of five to ten as opposed to file-by-file or sector-by-sector methods, the company claims. However, this SmartSector technology also can be disabled in those instances in which the full partition structure must be retained.

Drive Image (DI) is DOS-based and easily can be identified as a PowerQuest product, as the family thread pops up immediately. Anyone familiar with Partition Magic will recognize that he or she can manually perform certain tasks (in both programs) relating to the HD partitions which DI will take care of automatically in the process of imaging the disk. For example, a partition can be resized, it can be hidden or unhidden, a primary partition can be made the active or bootable partition, it can be deleted or an extended partition created when a primary partition is to be restored as a logical partition. All of these procedures are common to Partition Magic but are manually effected .

All of this tech-talk concerning partitions may not be useful to everyone. Those computerists who may only be involved with a computer on a part-time or a peripheral basis may say partitioning is not for them. However, anyone with a modern computer, having a HD of significant size (such as a 2-5 Gig HD), must give consideration to partitioning that HD, simply for the economical use of that much space. If that dictum (or opinion?) can be conceded, then the products of PowerQuest, including Drive Image, should be investigated as an efficient tool for handling the brute.

Fortunately, for those of us who find operating systems other than Microsoft's Win95 more to our liking, PowerQuest has made Drive Image compatible with DOS, Win3.x, Win98, Windows NT, and OS/2. There also is complete support for the current family of file systems; i.e., FAT, FAT32, HPFS and NTFS. Further, DI allows sector-by-sector copying using Linux, UNIX and NetWare, plus copying of hidden files and those with long file names. Restoration of individual files from within an image can also be accomplished. All in all, PowerQuest's advertising has it right, describing DI as "The Complete Solution for Imaging Hard Drives". The street price for this software falls somewhere between $59.95 and $64.95, depending on the source, and this purchase certainly would be an intelligent choice for the person wishing to protect a valuable asset, her or his HD files.

Alternatively, there is Drive Copy, a PowerQuest program designed to allow those computer owners who have just upgraded their HDs and wish to move the contents of the old, maybe smaller hard disk to the new one without the usual hassles. Ordinarily, one must first back up all data on the old drive; then format and partition the new drive; also, one must reinstall the chosen operating system(s) and all relevant applications; and finally reinstall the data from the backup tape or disks. Since Drive Copy is designed as a power fail-safe program, should there be a hardware or power failure midway in the copy operation, the company states that no data will be lost, which eliminates the necessity for a protective backup step in the disk copying process.

The program requires a system containing at least a 386 SX processor with 8MB RAM (16MB required if FAT32 or NTFS are involved), and since Drive Copy must be booted from a DOS floppy with DC loaded on it, a 3.5" drive is essential. The price is said to be about $25, a bargain if the program is needed for a fast and easy HD replacement task. Drive Copy handles FAT, FAT32, NTFS, and HPFS partitions in all versions of Windows 95, Win98, Win NT, Win 3x, DOS, and OS/2. No one is left out. (However, NetWare, Linux, and UNIX partitions are transferred to the destination drive using a sector-by-sector copy only and are not expandable.) Should it be desirable, individual partitions as well as the entire contents of the old HD can be copied in an exact duplicate of the existing operating system and all applications. Every preference or program setting, every byte of data including hidden files, long file names and the master boot record, are all transposed to the new disk using Drive Copy.

Drive Copy has many of the same attributes of its big brother. For example, one may speed up the copying process by using the "SmartSector" technology described earlier. While DC has the look and feel of a Windows interface, it is a DOS program which runs from a diskette ensuring that no system files are in use on either the old or new hard drive. Drive Copy itself is not directly installed.