DiskWarrior 5: a faster better safe than sorry toolkit

Once every four to five years Alsoft releases a press announcement for a new version of their flagship product, DiskWarrior. A couple of weeks ago, it was DiskWarrior 5 that was released. DiskWarrior 5 is now compatible with all the new Macs, comes on a USB flash drive, includes a Recovery Maker app to update the product yourself when a new OS and/or new Mac is released, is faster and looks better.

DiskWarrior 5 comes in a nice, specially adapted Blu-Ray disc case with the USB stick and protection cap held in place with incorporated “grabbers”. An instruction sheet completes the packaging. DiskWarrior’s reputation is firmly established in decades of error-free and dependable disk safeguarding and optimisation. It has been an indispensable tool for many users to help keep their volumes in pristine condition, even long before Mac OS X came along. Admittedly, OS X is less prone to volume directory corruption — the sort of problem that makes your system lose the ability to find the files residing on your disk — than older versions of the Mac operating system, but it still happens.

DiskWarrior 5 in its enclosure

Unless you have your system running off clean power and never run any software that isn’t perfect, there will come a day the system starts slowing down as a result of corruption the OS cannot repair by itself. If you are unlucky enough your Mac may become unable to find files you know are there. I’m speaking from personal experience.

Even with Yosemite installed on my iMac, I still run into this sort of problem at least once every three months. The Mac slows down for no obvious reason and when that happens I know it’s time to run DiskWarrior and most often than not a whole list of errors is reported that went unnoticed by Disk Utility. I of course run a lot of software that isn’t fully ready for release, or software that leaves behind a lot of dubious files. But even if you don’t, DiskWarrior is like a life insurance: it’s always there when you need it and you can run it to prevent trouble from happening (luckily unlike an insurance, it doesn’t charge you repeatedly even when everything was fine).

The new version

I noticed with the latest version before DiskWarrior 5 was released that the application started taking a lot of time to finish its tasks, especially with my external SSD startup volume. That seemed counterintuitive and so I was starting to worry about DiskWarrior — was it perhaps failing itself?

I won’t need to find out. Alsoft released its new version just in time to be fully operational again with all the new technologies we now take for granted, such as Time Machine volumes, SSDs, 64-bit support for large hard disks, a flash drive maker based on your OS Recovery Volume, etc.

Much of the new “features” of DiskWarrior are pretty much under the hood. For example, DiskWarrior 5 can now repair partition table damage besides the directory damage it already repaired. DiskWarrior 5 repairs standard Mac GUID partition tables when started from the DiskWarrior Recovery flash drive.

DiskWarrior 5 is a 64-bit application, which allows it to support even the largest disks. Large disks have large directories. A 64-bit app addresses huge amounts of memory, which is needed to handle these. A new feature you’ll definitely notice is the DiskWarrior Recovery Maker, an application that enables you to create your own DiskWarrior startup flash drive. It allows you to update DiskWarrior without problems and make backup copies of the flash drive that you receive when you buy DiskWarrior 5.

Another noticeable feat is DiskWarrior 5’s speed: it’s a lot faster than its predecessor when checking and repairing hard drives. The interface is also new, with a modern unified look and the “Directory Optimization Index” graph, that was pretty much hidden with previous versions, now plainly in sight. The graph itself has been updated, simplified, and shows you the state of the volume’s directory at a glance.

Experiences

I started by first running the new DiskWarrior with a 1TB Time Machine hard disk drive. It found errors and repaired them in about one third of the time the previous version would need to check and repair my system’s 1TB startup disk.

For the first tests, I copied the DiskWarrior app to a 2”5 500GB disk inserted in a RocketStor Thunderbolt disk dock. The performance was the first thing that I was extremely pleased with. Performance kept up when starting from the flash drive as well.

My next tests involved creating my own DiskWarrior 5 flash drive and run the app from this drive. Creating the drive was simple and fast. It took less than 10 minutes to copy the necessary files and have a working DiskWarrior stick. I used a 16GB flash drive that I had lying around, but you can do with a 2GB one.

The Recovery Maker app does all the work and the end-result is a system with a copy of DiskWarrior and some OS X utilities presented to you in a list dialogue as you start the Mac from the flash drive. I’m sure you can add other utilities to the list if you manage to find the right property lists to edit, but if you use the flash drive as intended by Alsoft your system will start up fast and with a minimum of overhead.

DiskWarrior 5 interfaceNeedless to say DiskWarrior performed fine when running off the flash drive. It must be running off a flash drive or a physically different drive than the one you’re trying to repair if partition table problems are at play. Theoretically, you could run DiskWarrior from a different volume when only directory problems are to be repaired.

As this was a new version of DiskWarrior, I also decided to try out the Preview window. The Preview window was already included with earlier versions, but I normally never open it — I trust DiskWarrior with my data’s life. It shows you the differences between the non-optimised directory and the directory the way it will be after optimisation.

You could and can use DiskWarrior for file checking and physical hard drive checking as well as directory optimisation and repair. Checking files is useful if you suspect that files are causing problems with apps that rely on them. For example, when I ran DiskWarrior 5’s file check, I found several property lists with damaged content. I removed them and had no problems with the associated applications from then on.

The physical hard drive check may be something that will become increasingly useless as we switch from rotating platter disks to SSDs. You can still perform a SMART check on some SSDs, but that’s more of a gimmick than a real feature as SSDs have no moving parts.

Conclusion

DiskWarrior 5 remains the best protection you can buy for a Mac. It’s probably your best investment to start 2015 with. DiskWarrior 5 is as useful today as it was ten years ago, although you might not feel the need to run it as often as you did back then. Still, I can safely say a DiskWarrior optimisation every fortnight keeps my system humming along as reliable as it was when I first started it up.

DiskWarrior 5 costs approx. €99.50 for a full licence. An upgrade costs approx. €49.75.

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