Like the leaves filling your yard, file fragments clutter up a server's hard disk. Unlike dead leaves, the fragments cause poor performance, slow booting, lost data and shutdowns.

Symantec Corp.'s Norton Speed Disk 5.0 gives an assist to Microsoft Windows NT, which handles disk fragmentation much better than the Windows 95 and 98 operating systems, although NT File System volumes still do get fragmented.

Many NT defragmentation tools simply rearrange the files in contiguous chunks on the drive. In contrast, Speed Disk defragments not just the files but also the directories, memory page files, open files and free space.

That alone is impressive. In addition, Speed Disk optimizes files for quick access to the most-used files, placing the least-used ones at the end of the disk. Finally, Speed Disk defragments the master file table of all files on a server, because a badly fragmented master file table can keep NT from booting.

Speed Disk's defragmentation and optimization greatly improve the system boot and shutdown times for NT servers, and they happen while the system is running. No need to wait and reboot.

Because disk access is such an important part of server performance, this tool is most useful for network administrators. Performance and storage reliability are not as big a concern for NT Workstation users, although they see benefits, too.

One of Speed Disk's best points is its ability to defragment the rarer drives such as RAID, fault-tolerant and mirrored types.

It's surprising how little free disk space it needs to do its work. Speed Disk requires only 3 percent to 5 percent of the volume to be unused. Some similar products require 10 percent or more free space.

We tested the package on several servers running NT Server 4.0. All had Service Pack 5 loaded, although Speed Disk requires only Service Pack 3. We ran the tool on primary domain controllers and NT application servers, never having to shut down applications or services while doing so. There was no serious decrease in system performance, either. If a server is approaching capacity, you might notice some performance degradation, but the system would have to be very overloaded to show a big effect.

We also loaded Speed Disk on several PCs running Windows NT Workstation with Service Pack 5. On workstations, you have two options: You can install the software to load with a graphical interface, or without one for remote control by an administrator.

The remote-control function would be helpful in large organizations. The administrator could set multiple PC local drives to defragment from a central administration tool, such as Norton System Center. Future versions will also support control under IBM/Tivoli TME 10 Enterprise software and Windows 2000.

Our test drives had various degrees of fragmentation, ranging from 15 percent to 66 percent. Even on large drives, Speed Disk made quick work of defragmenting and optimizing. We could control the system resources allocated to the process to minimize impact on services running under NT.

After it finished, there was no need to reboot, as with some other products, which is extremely important for continuously running servers.

Speed Disk can be scheduled to work at convenient times without further bother.

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NORTON SPEED DISK 5.0 FOR WINDOWS NT

Defragmenter and optimizer for NT drives

Symantec Corp.

Cupertino, Calif.

Grade: A+

Telephone number: 1-800-441-7234

Web address: www.symantec.com

Price: $249 per server site license for 10 servers, $33 per workstation for 100 licenses

PROS:

+ Defragments files and optimizes file order

+ Remote administration for enterprises

Real-life requirements: Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 3 or higher version, Pentium server or workstation, 64MB of RAM, 41MB of free storage for software, additional 3 percent to 5 percent of unused drive space.