Paragon Hard Disk Manager 8.5 PE review

Price when reviewed

Paragon’s newly Vista-compatible Hard Disk Manager 8.5 Personal Edition is a full suite of hard disk utilities encompassing partitioning, backup, disk copying, imaging and recovery – and, rather amazingly, all this and more will set you back just £34. And it isn’t just a collection of separate apps thrown together – they’ve been integrated to be accessible from one single front end.

Paragon Hard Disk Manager 8.5 PE review

It’s first and foremost a hard disk-partitioning utility, though, so those options take pride of place at the top. The usual abilities to create, merge, resize and delete partitions are all present, but of particular interest is the new feature that allows enlargement of NTFS partitions on-the-fly in Windows, without the need for a reboot. The keyword there is “enlarge”, as it works only when extending a partition into unused disk space – it’s more powerful than Vista’s disk-management console, though.

You can also change the cluster sizes, defragment a partition and convert between FAT16/32 and NTFS formats. Newly created or formatted partitions can use the Linux Ext2 and Ext3 file systems, as well as ReiserFS and Linux Swap2 for thorough coverage. Basic partition management also extends to checking, undeleting, hiding and moving, all of which is simple to achieve.

The company has gone to great efforts to counter past criticism of its user interfaces, introducing simple wizards for almost every major task in the software. Physical disks are viewed graphically (as in Windows Disk Manager) and step-by-step options let you tweak the main settings. It still isn’t up there with the ease of Norton Ghost, but then disk partitioning has more potential pitfalls than backup.

Backup is also present in the form of the integrated Drive Backup 8.5 and, while it isn’t as comprehensive as Ghost, or other dedicated backup utilities such as Acronis True Image 10, it makes a reasonable attempt to cover the basics. It’s best viewed as more of a bonus than a full backup utility, though, especially as it’s limited to the imaging of a full partition or disk.

Choose a partition to back up, though, and there’s a good array of options: password protection for archives; fast, medium or slow compression; and the ability to skip OS auxiliary files. Paragon’s Hot Processing feature allows it to save locked files, or you can switch to use Microsoft’s Volume Shadow Copy Service if you’d prefer.

Your data can be saved to local or network drives, physical partitions or to DVD, and the usual scheduling options are available to keep your system safe on a regular basis. Once you have a starting backup set, you can instead choose to run a differential backup to save space, but there’s no option for true incremental backups.

If there’s enough space on your internal disks you can create a Backup Capsule, setting aside a few gigabytes for a permanent recovery partition. Pressing F1 during startup then allows you to boot without the need for recovery media, and you can perform any restore functions without a functioning OS.

And on the subject of restorations, it’s now possible to restore a backed up partition to one of a smaller size, as Hard Disk Manager can see exactly how much data is stored and to extract only that. This is a real bonus, and is far simpler than going into the archive and extracting only the files you need from a mostly unused partition. It also comes with a new database for tracking and analysing your archives, and you can mount them to explore the files within, restoring individually if necessary.

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