Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 155 / AUGUST 1993 / PAGE 100

DosUtils. (performance analysis software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Tom Campbell

There comes a time in every disk's life where it suddenly begins to show problems, at least every once in a while. If you're lucky, you've been keeping regular backups and can safely reformat your hard disk. If you haven't, you'll need a product like DosUtils.

Sometimes just reformatting won't do the trick. Worse, the underused (and properly so) DOS VERIFY command doesn't do a very good job of verifying disk writes. What's more, DOS gives the hard disk several tries before it decides there's a problem writing to, or reading from, the disk. That why, for example, you might notice that a hard disk or a floppy has slowed down for no apparent reason before errors are reported. The disk may in fact have been defective for a while as DOS silently ignored the problem, stoically rereading or rewriting the disk until it got the job done.

DosUtils handles a wide variety of tasks. It lets you recover deleted files; acts as a kind of super-CHKDSK with its SCAN function; reads, writes, and searches the physical disk itself; changes file attributes; tests the disk controller; determines the speed of the disk controller; finds defects on the disk; and performs a number of related feats. It does these for all popular hard disk types: ST506 MFM and RLL, ESDI and IDE, and SCSI. It can lowlevel initialize the ST506 and ESDI, but not the IDE or SCSI. A companion product from Ontrack, Disk Manager, handles all drive types, including IDE and SCSI.

I've laid on the alphabet soup for a reason: If you have no idea what kind of hard drive is in your computer or why you'd want drive diagnostics or a better CHKDSK, this product isn't for you. On the other hand, if you're the local power user and find yourself doing drive maintenance only because everyone knows you can do it, DosUtils might just be the product you need.

One very useful feature in DosUtils' DiskLook utility is the ability to back up critical sections of the hard disk: boot record, BIOS parameter block, file allocation table, and root directory. Since most disk problems originate in those areas, backing them up frequently could well make or break your efforts to recover data when the disk starts to lose its mind. DOS doesn't give you any means of backing up just these items, and the BACKUP/RESTORE programs found in DOS are best left untouched.

The SCAN utility will also find its way into your daily bag of tricks. Like CHKDSK, it cruises the entire disk in search of crosslinked files, bad sectors, and so on; but it roots deeper than CHKDSK. It's almost as fast, however, and well worth the very slight time penalty. It took only a few seconds longer than CHKDSK to scan my 400MB of disk space.

I appreciated DosUtil's wide variety of command line options. While switches like Force XT mode or Force DOS 4 rules may sound like arcana, they're lifesavers when you're working with a clone drive mechanism that didn't quite copy the programming interface correctly or you're working on a system that has acquired more than one version of DOS. (I once fixed a machine that was sputtering along with hidden system files from DOS 2.11, a COMMAND. COM from DOS 3.3, utilities from DOS 4.0, and some leftover files from DOS 3.0.) Unfortunately the Force DOS 4 rules option isn't explained anywhere in the manual, and I had to call tech support to find out what it does. The documentation is slim and missing a lot of tutorial information that might sell more copies of DosUtils to slightly less experienced users. Many important functions are given no explanation at all--the programmer and the person who wrote the manual might have known what Scans (Writeread) all UN-USED data clusters meant, but I sure didn't. There are other significant problems with the manual. There's no index, the print is very small, and some useful illustrations are marred by their execution--they literally look as if they were done on a typewriter. I still found them quite useful, though, because they explain different configurations of cables and interface cards.

Is DosUtils worth your money? If you know you need it--if you need to revive hard disks on the job--probably so. If your computer is new, and you couldn't tell a cylinder from a file if it jumped out of your system unit and bit you, then you should save your money.