DrivePro. (device driver) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Tom Campbell
DrivePro, a hard disk set/diagnostic/maintenance product, more than lives up to its name. At $129.95 suggested retail, its superb documentation (both online and printed), extensive capabilities, and pile-on-the-bells-and-whistles design makes it perhaps the best deal around.
If you don't know an ESDI from an IDE or whether a sector editor might come in handy, you probably don't need DrivePro. If you're still with me and if you have at least a 286 (it won't work on a slower CPU), read on, because DrivePro is a real barn burner. You're expected to operate it from a high-density floppy disk. DrivePro has a dazzling user interface and comes with a lot of extras, so it takes up just short of a megabyte of disk space. Don't expect to run it on a 360K floppy, although DrivePro will squeak by on a 720K low-density 3 1/2-inch drive.
DrivePro has everything you need to diagnose a hard disk, repartition it (even to boot from multiple operating systems), replace FDISK with a far superior utility, examine the BIOS drive table, search or edit particular sectors of the disk, and so on. There are some even more interesting features, however. Unlike most other such programs, its disk analysis can be adjusted from a quick look-see to a downright anal-retentive thoroughness. DrivePro can also low-level format just parts of a drive. That's a fantastic help in the case of a drive that doesn't work because of bad sectors, but which still has intact data on it you can't get to. Another intriguing feature is the ability to create a master boot record for a custom hard disk that's not in the BIOS table. So if your BIOS is slightly out of date and the disk is new, you can patch information about the disk into the boot record--even though the BIOS itself doesn't support that disk type--and still use the disk.
I continue to be impressed by the printed documentation, which is rife with all of the illustrations, tables, and definitions I needed, right where I needed them. One of my favorites lists cluster and partition sizes for all major versions of DOS, including the wacky Compaq 3.31. Why was I so happy? Because it's typical of DrivePro's documentation in that it made the difference between my being able to fix or not fix a DOS 4.0 hard disk.
Another very strong area is the chapter on physical drive installation, which shows every kind of controller cable, power-supply socket, and interface connections you need to know about. So if you're faced with a hard disk of unknown origin and have never before seen an ESDI, you can use this chapter to identify it correctly (as I did). Other pluses include an extensive, well-illustrated glossary and plenty of screen dumps, right where you'd expect to find them. Nothing is gratuitous or out of place in DrivePro's manual--a rarity, especially for highly technical tools such as this one. My only complaint is with the index, which covers only a dozen and a half topics (but covers them extensively).
Owners of IDE drives will find a host of new features mentioned in the README file but not in the manual. One of the most amazing is the /IDE command line switch. It figures out which drive type to write to the CMOS, partitions that drive, and does a high-level format of each partition--in a minute.
Another useful option I wish I'd known about (I forgot to read the README until later) is the /G switch, which steps you through the installation of a hard disk automatically. This is the perfect solution for in-between users like me, those who aren't afraid of playing with the precious innards of a hard disk but who aren't yet experts at it. I hope the next version of DrivePro makes it a menu option.
Perhaps the best freebie is DrivePro's Tables and Databases option. This alone is worth th price if you're involved in the ongoing process of maintaining systems. It's an online listing of drive-controller card specifications, names and address of hardware companies, an interrupt table, a list of BIOS calls used by the hard disk, and 8Ox86 assembly language opcodes! Bells and whistles to be sure, but bells and whistles that could save you hours or even days of research.
DrivePro is truly a pro, and it represents a great value for its price.